Sunday, April 21, 2013

One happy ending

Yearling mama and the chosen one
With all of the dreadful happenings lately, I'm happy to say that we have had at least one happy ending. But first, I have to tell you the story leading up to the happy ending. (I know, suspense is not my forte.)

After ten years with sheep, we had our first Shetland ewe to ever reject a lamb. It was a yearling, and I'm thinking that maybe there is a reason why most yearlings only have a single lamb. Maybe they can only count to one, or maybe the idea of mothering two lambs is simply too overwhelming. Whatever the reason, last Wednesday a yearling lamb had twins, and she would only let one nurse. She was tap dancing around the pasture refusing to let the other one nurse. After watching this sad story for about half an hour -- and watching the lamb trying to nurse on every other critter in the pasture, including the llama, we finally decided to call it quits. The saddest thing was when the little ram tried to nurse off Kewanee, an adult wether, and Kewanee butted him, flipping him onto his back so hard that he completely rolled over like a dog.  And mind you, this little lamb was at least a couple of hours old. He was mostly dry, although filthy, so mama had done nothing to clean him up after he was born. When picking up him and his brother, it was painfully obvious that his tummy was empty while his brother's tummy was quite full.

I was not terribly happy about having a bottlefed ram for multiple reasons. First off, rams should not be bottlefed, and if they must be, then they need to be castrated because intact rams that have been bottlefed tend to be extremely dangerous. They think that you're one of them, and they treat you the same way they'd treat another sheep -- ramming you whenever the urge arises. What's wrong with a bottlefed wether? Well, I can't see myself butchering a bottlefed animal of any species. I just get too attached to them. And I don't need more sheep. I'm trying to cut back. Remember?

Sarah and the rejected lamb
Challenge #2: I'm leaving for New York City on Monday, and Sarah our apprentice was going to be leaving on Saturday, meaning that Mike and Jonathan would be stuck with caring for a newborn bottle baby that needs four bottles a day. I tried my best to convince everyone that there was an upcoming "take your lamb to work day" next week, but they weren't buying it.

Saturday afternoon, a lovely family with two young children came to pick up a couple of goat wethers that would be family pets, and while they were here, I showed them the lambs in the barn. Without even thinking about it until the words were already out of my mouth, I said, "I've got a bottle lamb that you could have." The mom's only question was whether it would need a bottle in the middle of the night, and as soon as I said no, they were sold on the idea. The children were ecstatic about having their very own little cuddly lamb. We talked about lamb care, and they said they'd bring him back in a couple of months for castration.

Part of me was very sad to see the little guy leave, but it's a little easier when I know he's going to such a great home where he is going to get lots of love and attention. And seriously, I have to admit that I'm already over-extended, especially with our apprentice leaving. Speaking of Sarah, even though she left yesterday, I'm hoping to provide you with a couple more posts from her!

Clean-up from the flood continues. Mike is out in the pasture working on the fence as I type. One good thing about the rain is that it did cause the grass to go through a big growth spurt!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Flooding woes

Photo: How our back 20 acres looks right now. If you don't see me over the next couple days it's because I'll be helping my family build a makeshift ark.
That's the top of a fence post in the lower right-hand corner.
Life just keeps getting more complicated. We've known for the past two days that we were going to get a flood today, but there was not a lot that we could do about it. I hate feeling helpless.

I woke up this morning at 6:30 after less than six hours of sleep. I told Mike he needed to get going because there was likely a lot of damage control that needed to be done before he went to work. In my mind, I was thinking about how much I wanted to catch another hour of sleep, but as soon as I looked out our bathroom window I was shocked into reality. There was water everywhere. I immediately knew there was no way I was going to fall back asleep as the adrenaline kicked in.

We put a pot of steel-cut oats on the stove and started coffee, and Mike and Sarah went out to do chores and whatever else needed to be done. I saw the horse in the pasture, blocked by the flood from getting to a shelter, so I went to the barn, grabbed a lead rope, and led him through the front yard to another pasture where he could get out of the rain. Then Jonathan came outside and told me that our turkey poults were at the post office.

I jumped in the car and headed towards town. The road next to the bridge to the west of our house was flooded, so I turned around to take a different route. I passed by Mike fixing a fence in the sheep pasture. I could see where the road had been flooded overnight in four places on my alternate route. Driving past other intersections I saw debris covered roads and a "Road Closed" sign. The intersection at the post office was completely flooded. I parked and went inside. As soon as the postmaster saw me, she knew I was there to pick up my poults, and I asked her if that intersection usually floods. She shook her head and said, "Not like that!" I told her that our road was flooded west of our farm, and she yelled back to our mail carrier who was sorting the day's mail. And then she said, "The worst is yet to come," which I had seen on, but it still make my throat feel tight to hear it.

Driving home with chirping turkey poults on the seat next to me, I alternated between crying and chuckling like a mad woman. I knew there wasn't anything that we could do other than simply deal with whatever happened to get thrown our way. I remembered my mother saying "if the good Lord is willing and the creek don't rise" sometimes, and it suddenly made sense to me. It was not just another cliche.

Mike and I spent most of the day organizing paperwork as I tried to distract myself from the constant rain. I had convinced him to not go to work. If we lost electricity, we'd need everyone at home to deal with the basement flooding because our generator didn't start the last time we tried to use it.

As the rain seemed to slow down and finally stop, I felt a little guilty about keeping him from work because nothing horrible had happened. And then the phone rang. It was our neighbor. Our cows were out. I immediately assumed it was because the electric fence had shorted out in the flood. But when we went to retrieve the cows, we realized that as the flood waters were receding, they were exposing large sections where fencing no longer existed.

Using hay, Sarah lured the cows to the section of pasture farthest away from the damaged fencing as Mike came to the conclusion that it couldn't be fixed before the sun went down. Luckily we have temporary electric fencing that is very easy to put up quickly. Still he had to make some adjustments to get electricity where he needed it, and I was really grateful that he had not gone to work today. Shortly after the last rays of light were gone from the sky, he came inside and said that the cows should stay put now.

Even though I no longer feel guilty about asking him to stay home from work today, I'd have been happier if there hadn't been so much fencing damage and the cows had stayed home.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Lamb challenges

Yesterday afternoon, Sarah came inside to tell me that the ewe lambs that had been born a couple hours earlier still had not nursed and that the mama's teats were huge. We had something similar happen six or seven years ago, and we had to milk the ewe for a couple of days to keep her teats small enough for the lambs to be able to latch on. So, Sarah, her boyfriend, and Mike went out to the pasture and brought Godiva and her two lambs to the barn.

That sounds so simple, but it really is not. Godiva is a little crazy. While most ewes are "sheepish," Godiva is doing her best to be the absolute opposite! If she feels cornered, she'll ram you, which is very un-ewe-like. I was happily surprised when we put her on the milk stand, and she stood there like an angel while I milked her. I'm sure she realized that it felt good to relieve the pressure on her udder, which was as big as one of my milk goats -- and that is highly unusual for a Shetland sheep. Usually we can barely see their udder because it's so small and they have so much wool. Her teats were stretched out so long that I could easily wrap all four fingers around them to milk her. I easily milked out a pint of colostrum and filled up a bottle, which Sarah fed to the babies while I put the bucket back under Godiva and milked out another four ounces!

Thankfully her babies took to the bottle like pros. Each one quickly sucked down six ounces each, which is more than the five percent of their body weight that they need to consume within the first six hours. A few hours later, Sarah offered them another bottle; one took three ounces and the other took six. This morning they were crying like they were starving when we went out to the barn, so Sarah milked Godiva and gave the babies another bottle. After getting the ewe milked out, she and Mike held the lambs up to her teats, and both babies nursed well. This afternoon, however, one side was quite huge again. The babies didn't seem terribly interested in the bottle, only taking about an ounce each, and their tummies don't feel empty, so I think they were getting a decent amount of milk from the one side that they had been nursing on. We milked down the full side, so maybe the lambs will be able to keep up with both sides now. Since Godiva's udder isn't so uncomfortably full now, she wasn't as cooperative at this afternoon's milking and laid down on the milk stand.

Of course, there is a tiny, silly little part of my brain that would be totally okay with the idea of them not being able to nurse because I love sheep yogurt, and if we had to milk the ewe every day, I'd probably be able to sneak a little of her milk to make yogurt a few times over the next few months. But it's not like I have hours of spare time every day and need something to do -- like milk a ewe and bottle feed two lambs. So the logical side of my brain says it will be a good thing when these little ewes are able to nurse full time.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Birth and death and ...

I miss blogging so much, but life has become completely overwhelming. Has it been a year (maybe longer) that I've been saying that I have to cut back? Well, I really have to cut back. I can't believe it's been almost a month since my last blog post. What's been happening around here?

My father-in-law died. It was barely two months since the passing of my mother-in-law. They had been married for almost 55 years, so even though he had Altzheimer's, I feel sure that he missed her presence in this world and didn't want to stick around without her.

And then Julia farrowed, which was wonderful, except then the piglets started dying. We're accustomed to the idea that one or two runts will die within the first 24 hours, but we lost five of the eleven piglets. After losing the third healthy piglet in three days, I finally realized that Julia's older daughter was wanting to sleep so close to her mama that she was suffocating the piglets. Since we moved her out of the barn, we haven't lost any more, so that's good. Julia is an outstanding mother.

And then the sheep started lambing. They're all doing great. Of course, they weren't supposed to be lambing. I'm cutting back -- remember? But alas, I was traveling last fall as my second book came out, and I was writing my third book. Somehow it completely slipped my mind that the young rams should have been removed from the pasture with the ewes no later than September -- before breeding season started. I'm not sure what's worse -- admitting that I forgot to remove the ram lambs or letting people think that I was silly enough to breed the sheep when I need to be cutting back. Either way, I lose. So, we have some "illegitimate" lambs. If no one wants to buy non-registerable Shetland sheep, I may just have to get over my aversion to butchering ewes. Plenty of people butcher ewes, but I don't like to. There isn't anything "wrong" with doing it. It's just one of my personal neuroses.

And in the midst of all the lambing, Gerti the blind goat died. We knew she had other "issues" because she was getting more difficult to feed. She would fight like you were hurting her as you were trying to get the nipple into her mouth. And then one day she stopped sucking on the nipple. Of course, there isn't anything you can do when a goat won't suck -- other than tube feed it. Knowing that she had multiple problems, it made no sense to prolong what seemed to be inevitable. I had even talked to a vet at U of I about her, and without doing lots of expensive testing, it would not have been possible to figure out what was wrong with her beyond a fairly simple diagnosis -- and we already knew that she was blind and had sensory issues -- but there wouldn't be a way for them to help her.

I'm in the final edits of the manuscript for my goat book. That should be done by the end of this month, and then I'll just have to do the final proofread once it's typeset. It will be in bookstores in September.

I'll be heading to New York City in another week. I'm speaking at a writer's conference there, and a friend convinced me to come a few days early for a vacation with her. A vacation was -- is -- a great idea. I know I need one. Hopefully I can get back to regular blogging soon.


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