A Farm Story for May 28, 2011
Deb Potter, Merciful Hearts Farm
We began our lambing the first week in February. That is a few weeks early for us but we try to stay ready for anything and the first lamb of the season was a big healthy ram lamb born with no complications to a seasoned mother who knew what she was doing. I say there were no complications at the birth but the little guy did go through a bit of a detour before resuming a normal lamb’s life.
Last May we acquired a six month old Great Pyrenees/ Kangal cross pup that Katy named Baloo. The rest of our livestock guardian dogs are Anatolian Shepherds but after Rudy, our old Great Pyrenees, died last summer I missed seeing a big fuzzy fellow in the pasture. When we stumbled across this litter in North Carolina I was thrilled. We went to visit a wild litter of pups in a field of goats. We chose a very shy but handsome fellow. He weighed 60 pounds at six months of age. He was so shy that the owner had to lure him in with food and sneak up on him to grab him. On our trip home we made a quick stop and bought him a hamburger, hoping to help him warm up to us. He was so anxious that he refused to eat. Because Baloo was so people-shy we kept him in the house with us for the first few days. He initially cowered at the front door but soon fell in love with us. Now he is just a big cuddly baby who seems to adore everything about living here. He even tolerates his weekly ear cleaning like a gentleman.
Baloo was 15 months old when lambing began and he jumped into it whole-heartedly. Last year’s first lamb came during the first week of March so we weren’t watching diligently for lambs quite yet. I had noticed a Tunis ewe that had separated herself and was laying on her side for a while but she got up and went on her way. The thought crossed my mind that before long it will be lambing season so I'd better get some decent sleep in the next few weeks before things start.
Al went out about eight o'clock to finish up chores but soon returned. He announced that we had the first lamb but that he didn't know who the mother was. I told him about the light colored ewe I'd seen earlier in the day so we took a flashlight and went back out. Al said he'd found Baloo with the lamb but no mother nearby. The lamb was perfectly clean and dry. Baloo was babysitting it. After some searching, we came up with the mother. Interestingly enough, the whole time we searched the lamb stood next to Baloo watching the process. Baloo continued to lick at it and nudge it closer to himself.
We got mother and son into a stall. The lamb was not only spotless, seemingly thanks to Baloo, but had a round little belly meaning he'd already eaten. It seems Baloo did allow mother to give him a first meal before kidnapping the little guy. We checked the ewe's udder and one side was already open. I popped the wax plug out of the other side and after we'd seen the lamb nurse we left them alone. Mother was gently licking his head as we tucked them into bed.
The next morning when I checked on them they were just fine. I borrowed the lamb for just a minute to show to Baloo. Mother was standing nearby. He enthusiastically began to lick it again. He also shoved it to his far side so that he was between mother and "his" lamb. I gave him just a brief visit and returned the lamb to its mother. Baloo trotted happily out of the stable.
This was Baloo's first assist at a birth. We were so glad that, even though he should not have really borrowed the lamb from the mother, he was not aggressive or hurtful. And since the ewe had lambed in the past and was a competent mother she was quick to take her lamb back.
Gwen, one of the Anatolian sisters, has also done beautifully this baby season. Last year Gwen was still a rambunctious pup during lambing and we kept her from the birthing ewes. This year she was fascinated and laid protectively near the ewes when they were in labor. She stayed about six feet away but watched calmly. On more than one occasion I observed her behavior once the lamb was born. She let the ewe clean her lamb and then gently snuck in to lick at the lamb and also at the ewe. She carefully cleaned up the damp spot on the ground where the lamb had been delivered. I believe that is an instinctual behavior to eliminate a sign of birth that might draw predators. When we carried the lamb into the stable with mother trotting behind Gwen always looked torn as if trying to decide if she should come along to protect this new one or stay behind in the pasture with the other pregnant ewes. We made her stay in the pasture so that the ewe and her lamb could have plenty of quiet bonding time together.
Even Sadie, our youngest Anatolian, has been a good helper. I’d told you previously about how she helped with little Ralphie, our abandoned kid. Sadie has a bad habit of climbing over fences to visit different pastures so it is a good thing that she is gentle with the babies. I’ve found her observing births from a few feet yards and cautiously trying to help clean everything up afterwards. She is still young enough to remember being slammed by a sheep or two when she was little and doesn’t seem to realize that she is approaching one hundred pounds and could hold her own. She is quick to jump back when a defensive mother turns toward her to butt and defend her lamb.
We haven’t had any more babies in nearly a month. It was a fairly uneventful lambing and kidding season and we are grateful for the dogs’ help. The dogs still enjoy the babies, often napping peacefully in the pasture while the babies romp around and on top of them. The lambs are as apt to curl up with a dog at nap time as with their mothers or siblings. And when all of the enormous dogs playfully roll through the pasture in a ball of flying fur the lambs are now quick enough to jump out of their way rather than being knocked to the ground. We never cease to be amazed at how God has programmed these livestock guardian dogs and their special relationship with their herd and flock. They are a valuable part of our farm family and we just love them!