I've been trying to blame something or someone other than myself for a few hours now, but can't quite manage it. I killed a young lamb yesterday.
How? By not being there when I was needed.
This is the problem with part-time farming: You have to have a day job. And while mine affords me far more flexibility than most would, there are still those horribly frustrating days when my time is unavoidably tied up with work requirements.
This particular yesterday, Monday 31st March, was my first day back at work after two week's off. I was responsible for class from 10am through 2.20 pm and then again at 6pm through 7.15 pm. I had to prepare materials for the 10am class, so I did all my chores as usual by around 7am, took a shower, put on clean clothes and headed for work around 7.30am.
I noticed just before I left that one of the two lambs was shivering a little under the heat lamp, but thought little of it at the time. It was cold and the lamb had been doing fine so far.
But if I'd thought about it, I would have remembered that this particular ewe didn't do such a great job of mothering last year. It probably would also have entered my consciousness that her two lambs this year were sorta quiet, for lambs, and not exactly jumping around. Lambs usually begin to bleat when they get hungry soon after birth, and they also begin to move around a bit more the second or third day after birth. These ones were born Saturday night, had only bleated a few times that we heard, and had spent most of their time lying down.
They were feeding though, or seemed to be, and they had a heat lamp, so we thought they'd be fine.
As soon as I could after the 10am-2.20pm class ended, I drove home. I was anxious, but not for the lambs already born. I was primarily worried that I'd missed another birth, and that some tiny mite was struggling for life because its mother had given birth over a snowbank in the rain. That stuff happens, and is why we always delay lambing until late March or early April, when the Maine weather can usually be relied upon to provide at least some warm sunshine.
But, of course, only a fool relies upon Maine weather for anything. It is always intrinsically unreliable. We had ice, sleet, rain and strong cold winds yesterday. Neither were the bad spring roads particularly helpful. Even in the Land Rover I could only manage 25-30mph on the back roads. But the teaching schedule schedule that tied me up from 8am to 2.20 pm was what really did it. Even then, it was under my control, or at least partly under my control. I probably should have cut class early and driven home during my lunch break.
If I'd stretched lunch to an hour instead of half and hour, I might have found the poor cold lamb before he died of hypothermia and popped him under the wood stove and given him a tube-feeding or a bottle.
Most likely he'd been trying to feed, but his mother was balky and wouldn't let him get enough milk, so he lay down under the heat lamp and slowly got colder and colder and died.
As it was, I didn't, and it was my fault. Not the ewe, who is stupid, but not any more stupid than most ewes, not the weather, not the roads, not even the schedule. I could have and should have put two and two together, and figured this might happen, but instead I was preoccupied, too busy-minded with work and other things to see and hear what was right under my eyes.
We're not going to make that mistake again this lambing season. The survivor has been checked four times tonight already. The mother remains balky and the lamb is still not filling out, but is at least warm, eating when she can, and has the suckle reflex. If the weather warms up, she'll get stronger. The weather is supposed to warm up after today. I have to go teach again today, but will come straight home after class. I can work from home, on grading and correspondence and committee work, and go check on the surviving lamb every hour or so.
Next year, if I get a teaching schedule like this one on Monday or any other day of the week, we'll hire a student to come by and check the lambs.
Which is what I need to be doing right now, too. Off to the barn again. Fifth time tonight.
PS: When I checked, I noticed two things, lots of lamb-poop, and a lamb that kept trying to poop, and even when she wasn't pooping, was hunched over.
Then the penny finally dropped: White muscle disease. The lamb very quickly was given a 1 cc Bo-Se injection. I expect before the day is out she'll be much better.
This is a problem endemic to Maine. The hay around here is selenium-deficient, so we give a small ration of expensive bagged feed to the ewes, as well as cheaper, and generally healthier oats for energy and protein. You should give too much bagged feed, or you get fat ewes that struggle to give birth, but we give enough to offset the low selenium in the hay. We also give free-access minerals in the form of a mineral block.
But that doesn't mean to say the ewe will eat enough of the bagged feed, or lick enough of the block, or pass enough selenium on to the lamb, especially if the ewe is balky and the lamb not getting enough milk.
We'll have to check with the supplier to make sure that they haven't changed the formula. The mineral lick may need to be put somewhere more obvious. Right now it's probably under some bedding. And we can give the newborns some vitamin paste after they are a day or so old.
It would also help if the wind would die down and the sun come out.