Saturday, March 23, 2013

And First Across the Finish Line is......

.....Kahlua!  I would have put money on four or five other ewes first but Kahlua had a pair of twins up and walking around at bedcheck last night. 

A ten pound black ewe lamb and an eleven pound white ram lamb
They are sturdy and perky and a good start to lambing if you don't count all the other stuff that's already been going on.  

There is supposed to be a low pressure system developing over the weekend and those always bring on births, whether it's lambs or calves.  Judging from the size of many of the ewes it looks like it will be a very busy week.  And just to make things even more lively, the contractor is finally able to come start our main bathroom renovation....Monday!  Yay!  It's been a project that's needed doing for some time since it's in the original (well, pretty well used now) 1964 condition. Once he agreed to put us on his schedule we started ordering and accumulating all the things we need.  But oh crap, that means I have to strip the bathroom bare - closet, medicine chest, countertop, walls - and put. it. some. where.

Meanwhile, spring has NOT sprung and we're still getting snow off and on all day, every day.  Still, the redwing blackbirds have started returning.

And that means the poor cats are saved from boredom and can watch Bird TV allll day long.
Must. Fight urge. To join them.

Friday, March 22, 2013


What the heck is THAT, and why did you bring it in the house??
I'se just a widdle lamb.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Loss and a Win

Lambing season hasn't even begun yet and we're having problems and losses.  Knowing that the poor quality (too mature) hay is not nutritious enough for pregnant ewes we've been supplementing with a grain ration earlier than usual.  Even that hasn't fixed the situation for everyone and we've treated a few more ewes for ketosis symptoms through the last week.

Saturday night a Cotswold ewe named Hazel appeared very bloated at the barn bedcheck.  She wasn't in any respiratory distress so we drenched her with sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) in water in case her rumen was getting a bit too acid from the grain ration.  She looked better in the middle of the night, but was bloated again in the AM and off feed.  This time we dosed her with the ketosis treatment and by the time we got done making her take it she was breathing pretty hard and quite depressed.  To make a long story short, the vets made three visits to the farm to give IV ketosis therapy besides our oral dosing and while she got a boost in her attitude for a brief time she remained off feed and also didn't want to drink.  Blood tests showed a low ketone body count so the condition should have improved with treatment.

By this morning it was pretty apparent that she was not going to turn around and that in fact her strength was waning.  Still believing the issue to be ketosis we considered our other options for treatment of her condition.  Since ketosis is a problem of pregnant animals the ultimate course of action would be to make her un-pregnant.   Because of her girth we had to think that the lambs she carried were getting pretty much to full term.  We could give hormones to induce labor but she would probably not have the strength to deliver and a prolonged labor would be hard on lambs who were already stressed by mom's condition.  We decided to go with the 'nuclear option' of a C-section.  If all went really well, we'd have a live ewe and live lambs.  If problems did arise at least it would be in a controlled situation and hopefully someone would pull through.

We made a nice cubby of hay bales for her in the nose of the trailer and I rode there with her to the vet's.  It was a surprisingly pleasant trip with no draft to speak of and she remained calm (and standing) through our ride.  The doctor who would be doing the surgery assessed her in the trailer and agreed that this was the course that would likely give the most positive results.  We were ushered in by a cadre of personnel and I knew she was in good hands.

The end result was one deceased lamb, one live lamb and Hazel passing away after the surgery was over and she was closed up and ready to come off the anesthesia.   The doctor did everything right, I'm sure, but she had some underlying problem beyond ketosis.  While the lambs were at term, there were only two which shouldn't have made her as big as she was.  There was a much larger quantity of fluid in the uterus than is normal.  Also, blood work taken before the surgery showed an absence of ketone bodies, so ketosis was not the main problem.  A type of cancer or a pathology in one organ or another could have caused her deterioration.  Without an exhaustive post mortem the ultimate cause of her problem will remain a mystery.

So, the one bit of good news is this little girl!

I haven't had a chance to weigh her yet but she's full term and nicely hefty - probably in the 10 lb range.  We pulled Andy's baby playpen up from the cellar and set it up in the sunroom where The Little Princess will stay until it gets warmer in the barn.  It will make feedings in the middle of the night more pleasant too.  Of course it immediately had to be cat tested and cat approved.

We put cardboard bumpers around the perimeter to prevent her walking through the bars.  The cardboard is folded now, but I can flip the pieces up to double the height which will be necessary quickly since she will be feeling adventurous and try to hop out in a day or two.
For now she's happy to rest in between bottles.  Fortunately I could dip into my freezer stash of colostrum to give her what she should have had from a mom.  A few feeding of just colostrum and I'll start adding in some formula.

I might end up calling her Fortune since that's what she cost.   Eeesh.

It's a darn good thing she's so stinkin' cute.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Shearing Time

Despite the recent return to cold weather we have now finished shearing all the bred ewes.  We can close up the barn doors if necessary and with the bedding pack that's built up since the last barn cleaning they are very comfortable now.  We've already decided to shear in mid-February next year.  This may help to forestall some of the ketosis problems we've seen this year.  Because they will be cooler the sheep will be more active and more energetic about eating.  We will be able to assess body condition better and add grain sooner to the diet if necessary. They will also be more comfortable being shorn then since they won't be so heavily pregnant.   Since we can close up the big doors it will be easier to keep them comfortably warm than it was to keep them comfortably cool.  It's a plan.

Shearing was broken into three episodes this year and we will still have to have the rams, replacement ewe lambs (now yearlings) and older unbred ewes shorn at a later date.  There isn't much time to fine-tune the camera to optimal settings, so the pictures won't win any prizes but they show some of the action.

Kisses  (Cotswold)
Snowflake (crossbred Border Leicester/Rambouillet/Finn)
Star (crossbred CVM/Rambouillet/Border Leicester) and her white splashes before.....
.....and after
Wabbit (Border Leicester/CVM/Rambouillet/Romney) who is so large we sheared her standing up rather than stress her with the normal tipping up and rolling around
Buttons (CVM/Rambouillet/Corriedale) has become quite calm and friendly and hung around the shearing boards watching each sheep be shorn and enjoying back scritches.
Shorn sheep in several shades
Ivan, senior barn kitty at sixteen, snoozed on a pile of loose bedding through the whole afternoon. Eat, do kitty things, sleep, repeat.
In all, we sheared seventy-eight ewes.  Lambing is due to start at the end of the coming week.  I have five wool orders to pull together and then I can start on getting reserved fleeces checked over and sent out.  There's enough wool here to clothe a small army - I'd love to see all the things it will become.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A Sad, Hard Lesson

Every year we see something new in the flock.  If you raise animals long enough you eventually have a broad knowledge base to call on and fewer problems crop up that truly surprise you.  We had a big one last night and it cost us one of our favorite ewes, Pearl.

Yesterday at AM chores Pearl was "off".  Didn't want to eat grain which is a very telling sign in this crowd and she seemed tired and wanted to lay down when everyone else was diving in.  Her ears seemed pretty warm and having treated a ewe last week for pneumonia I thought that she might be in the early stages so I treated with penicillin and Banamine (antibiotic and 'liquid aspirin' to fight fever and inflammation) and then we had to leave for an appointment.  We didn't return until about 4 PM and we expected to find her somewhat improved.  The Banamine usually give a good boost of relief.  Instead she was more depressed and rose only with difficulty, staggered a few steps and lay down again.  My mind is racing and I'm thinking 'aggressive virus that antibiotics won't affect'.  This time I take her temperature so I have something to tell the vet who I am going to go and call.  Temperature is 102.  Normal.  That sure doesn't fit with her demeanor.  So the vet is called and we change into barn clothes while awaiting her arrival.

By the time she arrives Pearl is very 'down'.  The vet asks if she's pregnant.  I say, "If she is she is a good ways off yet as she doesn't have any udder started.  It's possible she didn't catch this year."  An exam by the vet confirms there's no udder happening.  Earliest possible lambing date is March 22 so if she's bred she doesn't seem anywhere near close up.  Trying to get her to rise sends her into a coughing fit and leaves her gasping and almost unconscious.  We discuss possibly adding a different antibiotic or giving IV fluids, but her condition is so bad it's pretty clear that antibiotics aren't going to have time to improve anything.  The vet suggests that something catastrophic may have happened - a twisted gut, a cancer that reached a critical point.......    It's 6 PM and we make the decision to put her to sleep. 

After the vet leaves we move Pearl out of the group and into an empty pen to await burial the next day.  We go on and do chores for the rest of the flock.  While cleaning out the hay racks I see another ewe from the pen Pearl was in starting to do the same thing - dull, lethargic, not interested in feed.  This ewe was acting normal two hours prior when the vet was still here.  We take her temperature and it's a normal 102 degrees.  I go into panic mode and start thinking 'poison' or 'something contagious'.  The vet's emergency line is called and in two hours a second vet from the clinic is examining this second ewe.  The ewe is clearly bagged up and this vet treats for ketosis and hypocalcemia - metabolic diseases peculiar to ewes in late gestation who aren't having their nutritional energy needs met.  After IV therapy the ewe is standing up and eating in twenty minutes. 

We have to know.  We have the vet do a postmortem exam on Pearl.  To my horror we find she was bred and carrying triplets.  There are no abnormalities anywhere else.  I am beside myself, but the situation can't be undone.  The thing was.... she had NO udder development even though the lambs were of a size that indicate she should have lambed in the fore part of lambing season.  She should have had a sizable udder.  Could we have saved her with IV therapy?  By the time the vet finished that exam she was so far gone.... and yet...given what she needed right into the blood stream.... I just don't know.  All I know is that ketosis wasn't thought of so treatment wasn't done.  Even if we hadn't opted for euthanasia she certainly would have died shortly since we didn't have the right scenario in our minds.  Not having seen it in the flock we didn't recognize the signs.

So our painful lesson this year so far is
1. knowing the signs of ketosis and/or hypocalcemia in sheep (they often go together)
2. knowing that older ewes on poor forage (damn the drought) are most at risk even when being supplemented with grain
3. Ewes carrying mulitiple lambs are at risk
4. Ewes can be carrying lambs and not have an udder when they should
5. This problem doesn't always happen very very close to lambing, as the books say
6. If the ewe was with a ram and there's the remotest chance she's bred..... treat for ketosis.  You can't make things worse.

I'm so sorry Pearl.  I didn't get it right.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Dear Blog........

.....I'm sorry I missed your birthday.  You were two on March 1st and I didn't even mark the occasion with a post.  It's not for lack of thinking of you, I've just been really busy.  That sounds bad, as though you weren't worthy of my attention but really I was hoping for something excitingly blog-worthy to happen and nothing appeared. 

We've gotten the flock vaccinated so all the moms will have antibody-filled colostrum.  The entire lower barn complex was cleaned out and fresh bedding laid down in preparation for lambing.  Shearing is scheduled for March 7, 11 and 15 for the bred ewes and the rest will be done when weather improves.  The 2013 fleece list has been uploaded to the website and many reservations are already arranged.  Fleeces have been requested and older ones pulled out of storage and sent to Canada, California, Idaho and other states.  A Cotswold ewe - Fiesta - is being treated daily for a bout of pneumonia and seems to be gaining ground.  A group of 20 sheepskins has been boxed and sent to the tannery.  Frog Pond roving has returned from Acorn Works mill and been put back on the website.  Appointments have been kept, meetings attended, laundry and dishes washed, emails answered.......stuff, stuff, stuff to keep one busy.

We had snow, thawing and then more snow.   The conditions were just right to cause the snow on the wool shop roof to slowly slide and ooze over the edge, thankfully not taking off the gutters in the process.

 Then it turned colder and has snowed ever since.

Over the last few months we had quite a number of ash trees taken off part of the farm where they were becoming unhealthy.  Many logs went to Tru Temper to become handles for tools.  Andy also had some hemlock cut to turn into lumber, also a couple of very large oak trees.  A log hauler brought them up to the house today.

Watching him operate the grapple boom to take them off was fun. 

He made a nice neat stack.

Which will keep Andy busy at the sawmill for some time.  These big logs are the oak.

He's happier than he looks, really.  We're both just sick of winter.
And so, dear blog, I will do better by you in the future since fun things are coming up - shearing and lambing!  There should be no lack of material then!