Sunday, April 18, 2010

Too much fun on the farm

Yesterday was a day of agricultural complexities and ovine excitement, not at all what I had been expecting.

I was expecting rain and a stack of economics exam grading.

But the fun started with the snow. We had a couple inches on the ground when I awoke, and it kept coming for a while. We were supposed to get rain after 11am, but what we got instead was snow before 11am, and in fact most of it was gone by 9am. We're high here, so that might explain the fact that the rain was frozen.

I almost was upset by the sight of snow again after all that winter, but I knew it wouldn't be long for this world. And it wasn't.

I began my day with a headache that made grading impossible, so I ventured out in the snow to fence instead. Our paddocks come right up to the edges of the various roads and tracks in this neighborhood, and their fences are easily destroyed by snow plowing, and so many of them have to come down each fall and be put up again each spring. I put up the garden fence, fenced in the barnyard which we use for a small paddock, and fenced the New Paddock where I'm cutting brush. This work was done in two stints. I'm duty officer for the statewide SAR system all week, so I can't leave the phone unattended. When I ran out of fence posts, Aimee had to be the one to go get them. She was going shopping anyway. When she came back I finished the job. In between I took a nap and pottered around a bit happily enough in my workshop where I have a phone extension.

At around 2pm Aimee was back and we unloaded groceries and fence posts and oats for sheep. With me on duty all week I can't go get a cheap half ton load of oats, so we had to buy expensive 50 pound bags.

Then I went out to fix fence. We use a mix of #14 and #12 galvanized steel field fence and Premier brand electric mesh fence. We like both but especially the Premier which can be moved around to make new paddocks and accommodate other land uses, like lawn parties, earth moving, or daffodils. Each year we add a couple panels of the Premier to our supply. We have to buy it a bit at a time because it's expensive stuff, over a dollar a foot. These electric fences were in particularly bad shape. They had been taken down in a hurry in the fall (not by me!) and were full of grass and twigs and tangles and twists, and took a while to sort.

I managed to grade a few papers somewhere in there, but that wasn't too exciting.

What was exciting and a bit worrying was when I caught Nellie to give her a good dung tagging and found fly-strike maggots infesting her rump and crotch. This is our first case of fly-strike. I guess we've been lucky. Anyway, it was a bad infestation and took the clipping of most of her crotch and a fair amount of hydrogen peroxide to remove or kill or the maggots. By mutual and unspoken agreement around here, the most disgusting sheep maintenance jobs are mine to do and wifie just looked on for a second or two while this was going on, although as a biologist she's normally quite rugged about parasites. Poor Nellie was quite stoic.

Now I need to worry about the others. I've been dagging them all in sequence, one by one every few days, and am pretty sure that Poppy and Penelope are free of maggots, but each of the others will need an investigation, whether or not they have dags to trim.

The next big thing was Molly.

From fairly early on yesterday, even after they were let out to graze in the barnyard, Molly decided she wanted nothing to do with her mother, aunts, cousins, and sisters, and took herself off to the nether reaches of the North Paddock to sulk and await birth pains. This was hardly ideal as the back of this paddock is a long walk from the house and by evening it was clear the lamb or lambs would come that night. We tried herding her towards the barn and the lambing pen but she was having none of this. Molly is our biggest ewe and very sturdy and, although previously placid, had by now developed a serious attitude.

So we left her out there in the wilderness, way too close to a trail the coyotes use, and made the trek down to the far end of the sheep world every hour or so, all evening long, in between grading and TV and pudding (blueberry crumble) and so on. The lamb came somewhere between visits at 12 pm and 1 am. It was already standing when it was found.

This was our chance to get Molly in the barn. If you pick up a newborn lamb and carry it off, all but the most brain-dead sheep mothers will follow you as you take off with their baby.

But lamb-stealing is also a very grave crime in the mind of a sheep.

Aimee, who had discovered the newborn, was not going to be the one to risk picking it up. She came back to get me out of bed instead instead. There's a kind of finality to the wifely decision that a job just has to be done by the husband that brooks no discussion. Outranked. Yes ma'am. No ifs, ands, or buts.

Except for the butting.

Usually the ewe just exhibits great concern for the lamb and will follow you anywhere, but as soon as I snagged the lamb, Molly the Viking sheep went beserk and began to charge me and thump me pretty hard with her head, aiming of course for the crotch. The only way to slow the attacks was to hold the lamb between me and her and walk backwards. Even that wasn't too safe for either me or the lamb. But it got us about halfway. At that point a break in the action allowed me to run for it with the lamb,

(Aimee shouting the usual helpful wifely hints about how to play lamb rugby.)

I was able to jog without being attacked to within about 25 yards of the barn when poor Molly suddenly lost all her bearings and ran searching all the way back down to the far end again, bleating for her poor lost lambie. So I set the lamb down on all fours and it began bleating for Molly. This immediately had mum loop back around and come sailing at full ramming speed from all the way from the end of the paddock, a guided missile, and so I took off again with the lamb. I dashed through the lambing pen door, which opens on to the North Paddock, dropping the lamb as I went, slammed the gate safely behind me, then doubled back around through the front of the barn just in time to see Aimee deftly drop the latch on Molly, now suitably imprisoned in the proper pen, lambie and all.


Molly was of course furious to be caught and proceeded to alternate between tearing up all the bedding in the pen, and licking the baby vigorously, almost tearing up her precious lamb in the process.

But that wasn't the end of things, because now we had to decide if there was going to be a second lamb. No way were either of us going to get into the ring with Molly right there and then, so we decided to leave matters be for now. Hopefully any second lambie would come out on its own. Aimee set the alarm for 3 am.

And so at 3am I duly awoke and tottered off to the barn to see no new lamb, although the first one was doing fine. No placenta either, although Molly in her current mood might have made short work of it. If I was to get in the pen with Molly and have a feel for a second lamb, I had to lift the first lamb out. Of course, as soon as I did this Molly went beserk again.

Which made me think twice about getting in with her.

I decided, with some reason but possibly a fair amount of pure chicken, that Molly was obviously still strong and so if there was a second lamb it would come on its own, and went back to bed. At 5am I checked again but still no lamb. Molly meanwhile was relatively calm, obviously comfortable, and obviously no longer in labor.

Discretion still the better part of valor, I went back to bed until 8am. Still comfy, still fine, Miss Molly was, it seemed more and more certain, only going to have one lamb this year.

Which is surprising considering how huge she was. But now we're thinking about it she had only one the year before last and was huge then too. And the other thing is, she's only ever had males or poor Polly who had to be culled, so she's never had a lambie that stuck around. Maybe that's why she's so uppity.

This one isn't going to help that any. This is a ram lamb too.

Poor Molly. How's she ever going to be a grandma like this?

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