The lambs are all here! We greeted the last one to arrive on Saturday, April 19th—a little guy with jet-black wool and a very protective mama. All of our ewes and their babies are now out on the hillside behind the maintenance building, enjoying the fresh grass and warming weather. Stop by and see the lambs doing what lambs do best: running, leaping about like mad, climbing all over their mothers and baa-ing with surprising volume.
It seems like a long time since the first lamb was born; though, it was barely more than a month ago. Their little wooly faces marked an exciting new season at Merck: the long-awaited beginning of spring…or, at least the promise that spring was just around the corner!
The farm had been preparing for the new arrivals for a while: in the Small Animal Barn, we set up seven small pens (called “jugs”) to house delivering ewes and their newborns. We were also gradually increasing the nutritional density of the ewe’s meals, to deliver the larger amount of nutrients that their bodies needed despite the shrinking of their stomachs as the unborn lambs grew larger.
To the apprentices, the approach of lambing season also meant poring over books on sheep husbandry, learning how to spot a ewe in labour, and listening carefully to Colene’s exciting stories of sheep births in the past. As the flock’s due date drew closer, we helped set up the lambing bucket, full of the tools, towels, and vaccines we would need to take care of the lambs as they came into this world.
This year, about two-thirds of our flock were first-time mothers, and the first couple of births were complicated ones with no surviving lambs. When our third ewe gave birth, just a couple of days before the Maple Breakfast Celebration, we were all very happy to see an easy birth—and a healthy lamb!
In the next two weeks, we saw as many as seven new lambs each day, and for each one we carefully recorded the birth day, weight, parentage, whether they were male or female, and went through our process of “Clip, Dip, Flip, and Sip,” to make sure that each lamb was checked out, cared for, and had started nursing. About three days after they were born, the lambs went with their mothers back out to the flock, now sporting a bright yellow ear tag that we use to keep track of each one.
The roughly scheduled nature of lambing season means that there are many long nights—whomever is on duty will check the newborn lambs and the main flock every three or four hours. Especially on cold nights, it was critical that the newborns were dry and nursing, and some lambs needed help starting out. It can be frustrating to get a slimy, squirmy little thing to start drinking, particularly when it’s 2 am, the inexperienced mama won’t stand still, and the lamb seems inexplicably determined to do the exact opposite of what ever you want it to do… But there’s also nothing like the coziness of a little barn brightly lit against the cold, dark world outside, with all the mothers and babies inside sleeping warm and peacefully. And when you walk into the barn the next morning and all the lambs are healthy and growing bigger each day, there’s an amazing feeling of shared accomplishment in having helped the ewes bring all these tiny, adorable new creatures into the world.