We are pretty well through our lambing and kidding season. There is one more goat who looks like she may be pregnant but for all practical purposes we have finished the baby season. We currently have two new goat kids and fourteen new lambs. They all have attentive enough mothers so that we only have to check on them throughout the day and enjoy watching them play. That is a bit of a change now compared to when we were in the thick of lambing and kidding.
Breeding takes place in the fall. Our only intact buck is aging and we are cutting back on goats so we were not disappointed that only three does were pregnant. The gestation period for a sheep or goat is five months. It is easier to spot a pregnant goat early on in her pregnancy than it is a pregnant sheep. They tend to show a swelling udder sooner, there is a special feel to their tail and they take on that pregnant lady waddle. One gal delivered a stillborn kid but the other two had healthy kids that hopped right up and got busy being goats. The little buckling and doe were born a week apart and are fast friends who have discovered that there are a few fences they can slip through without being followed by their larger mothers. They are the ones who have taste tested all the newly planted pastures that are supposed to be off limits. They zip around much of the day but frequently return to their mothers for a quick snack and a little affection. I’ve noticed just this week that they plop down and nap wherever it is convenient rather than seeking out their mothers for a nice snuggle. They do sleep curled up with their mothers each night, though.
Our lambing has been spread out over two months. We begin looking for signs of coming babies at the end of February. We feed a little more grain than usual each night and, as the gals are busy eating, we give everyone a good looking over. There are many little things that we watch for that indicates birthing is close. We watch the pastures throughout the day for any animal that separates itself from the flock. Sometimes ewes that are nearing labor spend a lot of time getting up and down and rubbing against fencing or rolling on the ground. Others just become very quiet and stoic.
Some of our sheep have much woollier bellies than others so I always ask Al to shear around their udders if I am not certain the lambs will be able to find their teats. That seems like a silly idea except that I have laid on the ground in the stable and tried desperately to help a lamb find a teat rather than exert all of its energy sucking on a few ringlets of wool. Lambs can be persistent little things but with no nutrition they quickly stall out and can be in trouble without a good nursing early on.
We do have a good number of simple births. Many times we find a newborn lamb with a filled little belly standing happily in the pasture with mother. We always bring them into a stall so that mother can have lots of fresh water, grain and hay to herself as she quietly bonds with her baby. We always check her udder to be sure that the wax plugs that protect her teats are out and that milk is flowing well. And we make sure that mama is taking to her baby. It is not uncommon for a first time mother to refuse to let her lamb near her. I imagine it makes sense to be a little nervous after spending a few hours in pain and suddenly find this little alien thing who insists on chasing you around and poking up under your belly. Fortunately after the lamb has nursed a few times all the mother hormone things usually kick in and even the less maternal sheep get the hang of it.
Our funniest lambs this season belong to the Shetland sheep. Shetland sheep are small and their lambs can be simply tiny. We have had rabbits larger than some of the current Shetland lambs. We’ve separated the Shetland ewes and lambs into their own pasture. All five of the lambs have discovered that they can slip through the fencing and venture out into the adjoining pasture without the oversight of their mothers. At first the sight of their lambs popping out of the four inch by six inch holes in the woven wire fencing upset the mothers. Now that the lambs are a little older the ewes seem fine with the peace and quiet. The lambs graze a bit and then return to nurse a bit.
The Shetland lambs often encounter the two goat kids in the pasture. The teeny tiny ram lambs love to challenge the kids who are easily three times their size. The bitty rams drop their heads and run up on the kids who stare at them, step aside or even rise up on their hind legs to try to butt them back. It is so comical to watch as lambs and kids are all just gently playing. No one really gets rammed hard but they do push each other around in play. This little game can go on for several minutes until another lamb begins to run and everyone suddenly plays chase. They run large loops around the pasture with the leader often turning suddenly and running back into the line behind him as everyone scrambles to turn. After a good play the lambs all shove through the fence again and return to their mothers for a little snack and snuggle.
One little ram lamb is quite the adventurer. He is a handsome brown Shetland with a small white patch on the top of his head. He loves to slip through the fence and spend time in the backyard. He gets to see the geese, visit the trio of larger sheep that have backyard privileges and also watches the house dogs who pass through the backyard to follow me to the stable every time I go outside. This little ram grazes happily but seems to keep one eye on all that is going on around him. If the house dogs start to chase each other he will quickly walk back to the fence as if trying not to draw attention to himself. He will then graze near the hole he likes to go through just in case the dog wrestling gets too close for comfort. He will let us walk up on him. If we pick him up he enjoys a good cuddle and does not struggle to be put down but he will not stand by us to be petted.
The tiniest ram lamb is spotted brown and white. He will wander far from everyone, graze contentedly and then suddenly lift his head and look around. It seems to dawn on him that he is on his own and then he will begin to bawl. He is Jezebelle’s little man and he has a loud and grating bawl much like his mother’s. She is one of our oldest Shetlands and has always been the most vocal and demanding. We can pick out any of her past lambs simply by their persistent bawl when they want something. And this little man is no exception. When he starts to holler for mother she begins to bawl back. She simply answers him to call him home. Sometimes he talks to him without even lifting her head from her grazing. After a moment to orient himself he always shoots back though the fence and to her side. I imagine that, at her age, this will be her last lambing so I hope she is enjoying it. But I believe I told myself the same thing last year and she surprised us by lambing again this year!