This past week has been one fun exciting ride. The arrival of our first baby lambs at this little farm homestead was just the pinacle of a lot of dreams, wishes and hard work. A few heartaches and a whole lot of good positive thoughts and blessings to come down. We have had 8 successful births with our first group of lovely ewe moms… only one left to go… Little Bridget and she is a good 4 to 6 weeks behind this batch of home bred sheep. So I can finally rest easy at night, no more late night checks with lantern in hand and expectant hopes for another lamb or two.
I can only thank the Lord that every birth was uneventful and seemed relatively easy. Only Iris’s second lamb, a big ram we named Harley, seemed to be a little tricky. He was just big and it was just painful to watch poor Iris try and get him free and into this world. But she did, and we didn’t have any truly bad presentations or issues that caused us much concern, other than our own inexperience at actual sheep births!
Most of the births we were not present for! I think you would have to pretty much live in the sheep barn to catch them all. Generally, I would go out, check the ladies and everyone would be eating, sitting around, showing NO SIGNS of labor. And then, an hour or two later, I would go out and there would be wet, just born babies in the straw!!! In fact, one birth we did witness, was over in about 20 minutes… twins! Thank goodness, I suppose that they are quick!
Our ewes all lambed in the morning, between 8 am and 11 am. We had 3 sets of twins, and 2 singles. We have 4 ram lambs and 4 ewe lambs! And every single one is dark fleeced!!! Either brown or black! Now, that is crazy, genetics at work! Because three of the ewes are cream colored and Gideon, as a brown and cream spotted ram! You would have thought we might get a few creamies! Now, I don’t mind at all, because I wanted brown in my flock! And as cute as they are, the spotted fleeces are more work than solid fleeces! Now we do have a little face spotting and cute patterns so I’m super happy! Just a wonderful first crop of lambs!
On Sunday afternoon, the temperatures were nice in the high 60’s and we had a little bit of sunshine… so it seemed a great time to let the older lambs and their moms out for a little grazing time. The babies did awesome! They are bonded nicely with their mothers, so we didn’t have too many distressing moments and the moms were certainly happy to get out of the sheep barn for the first time in 3 or 4 days! We can’t let them out all day long because the babies are still pretty young and we don’t want the moms to overgraze the new grass and also get sick from fresh grass. But they got about 2 hours out and it was delightful to watch them frolic and explore their new big world! How delightful to see baby animals taking those first brave steps into their new world!
We’ve had many people ask us what our plans are. Well… to be perfectly honest, I’m not totally sure! I do want to keep most of the ewe lambs certainly. And I would like to pick a new herdsire from the boys. I have in my mind at Harley will be my choice, but I want to see how they mature in the next week or so. The lucky ram to be will not be breeding this fall, though he might be able to, I’d like him to mature a full year. I would like to consider an unrelated ram yearling to add to the flock for this 2013 Fall breeding. But these are all just plans at the moment.
I believe that a few of the lambs will be for sale. I’ve had a few people already interested in them, so I will see how the wind blows the next few weeks and make more final decisions. We could easily keep them all, but that is not really the plan. The sale of a few lambs each year, helps to pay for the rest of the herd’s winter hay costs. Based on close records of feed costs and shearing, etc., each sheep costs us $90 a year to keep. If we keep too many, then we must supplement with more hay so we don’t overgraze our pastures. If we sell fleece/roving for $50-$75 a sheep, and sell a few lambs each year, then we have a lovely break even point and that’s fantastic! And if I take some of that fleece and weave rugs for sale, I can increase the ‘earnings’ of each sheep a bit more.
I suppose if I were to raise up a great line of sheep, pedigreed and all, I might be able to make a little money at this all. But that’s not really my goal. I would like all our livestock to help provide some of the keep in the way of wool, meat, eggs or offspring. Its what makes it a thriving homestead rather than an expensive zoo menagerie. And of course, the companionship of the animal is very important to us as well, we adore all our critters and enjoy watching and experiencing their lives as much as we do ‘harvesting’ their offerings.
Hopefully this time next year we will be learning a new skill with our pair of little dairy goats! Buttercup and Daisy are doing fantastic, just both little cutie pies! Daisy is getting to be quite the little pistol and Buttercup is much more refined and a polite, loving little creature. That will be super neat, as I have wanted a milking critter since we began this adventure. However, a cow is just too much for our little family and resources. We will have to see how our little does mature to see if they are old enough in the fall to consider breeding. With goats it seems more to be a weight and figure over just months on the calendar. Should be interesting!
All of this represents a great new shift in the way we are living. It’s so unlike anything we’ve experienced in the past! We are living by the seasons, and encouraging new life, starting new chapters that just are so wonderful. Each and every day just seems to be more and more rewarding and contented. Our work is not so hard now, most of the heavy lifting has been accomplished. Now we can proceed with smaller projects at an enjoyable rate. We spent most of the afternoon putting up a rag tag collection of fencing to get our back pasture ready for the flocks! Out in the sunshine and warm breezes of spring, with my dear daughters, it was fun to work hard and feel the burn in our arms as we pounded fence posts and pulled on rolls of fence. We have 50 feet and about 6 or 7 posts to go! It will be so wonderful to take turns being shepherdesses out in the new pasture as we let everyone out to test it’s strength and integrity! (Livestock are master escape artists, we have come to learn!) At first, we will let them out for an hour or two at a time, so that they want to be out there to GRAZE, not escape. After a week or so, we can let them have a little more time and possiblly unescorted, if they respect the fences. It won’t be perfect, but it will work. Our budget has not included space for 400 feet of beautiful new field fence. However, we’ve been gifted and have found deals on several different styles of suitable, used fencing, so we don’t have the price tag associated with 400 feet of new fence! As we can we will continue to upgrade. It’s how it works around here…
I just can’t describe the feeling of watching a little lamb being born and taking it’s first steps, it’s first little frolic and play with siblings… it’s so darling and delightful, it nearly makes you cry! The emotions well up and you find yourself just overcome with hope and delight. I can’t wait to see these little darlings grow up and find their place in the world!