Sunday, 13 January 2013

Winter Lambing

Lambing in the heart of winter brings a certain number of challenges with it.
It is certainly not for the feint hearted nor
for people that really love their sleep!

Our January lambing started on Christmas day.
It was -30C.
For brand new, wet, slimy lambs that's tough.
Coming from plus 37,
they definitely get a cold shock once they are born.

However, we are diligent and have made certain infrastructure to help in this transition.
So, for those interested here is a little description on what we do and how we cope with a winter lambing here.

We have a large cold barn,
that means it is not a heated barn.
They pregnant ewes are brought inside a few weeks before lambing.
They have a thick bed of straw and are fed grain, peas, minerals and hay in the barn.

A few days before lambing officially commences, we start our watch.
Some ewes always like to surprise us with some early lambs.

We have a system in the barn where the animals rotate through.
So, the lambs are dropped in the group pen that houses all the pregnant ewes.
As soon as the lambs are born we move them and the ewe to a warming box.
We have made 26 warming boxes.

In the dead of winter we use a solid door and have a forced air heating system.
During a spring lambing,
these boxes are the lambing jugs,
except the heat is off and hog panels are used for the doors.

In the barn we have a pump house.
This is about 16 foot square.
In this pump house we have our tools, refrigerator for colostrum and medications,
and this is where the water system for a whole ranch is centralised.
This area is always kept warm.
We use a large space heater and have a second heater as back up.

What we do is;
heat this pump house,
and then with a ventilator we suck this warm air out of the pump house,
into a pipe that runs through all the warming boxes.

With small fans in this pipe we can force the air to the boxes.
In each box we have made a number of holes in the pipe so that the air goes into each box.
This warm air, plus the heat from the ewe keeps these pens nice and toasty.
In two boxes we have additional heat lamps for the really weak, small and needy lambs.

So, the ewe drops her lambs, we move the little family to a box for about 24 hours.
We make sure the lambs suck the first colostrum.
If they do not do this on their own within about 30 minutes,
we will milk the ewe and either bottle feed it to the lamb or stomach tube it.

While in these boxes, we will tag, vaccinate, castrate, dock the tail, mark and enter the ewe and lamb into our management program.
A brand new, still attached, slimy newbie..
If all is well, the mom and her 24 hour old baby moves to the next stage.
This is an group pen containing  no more than 20 ewes and lambs.
Here the lamb can get accustomed to the colder temperatures, learn to find its momma in a group situation and we are able to keep an eye on them to see if the lamb is (still) doing well.

From here, normally also within 24-48 hours they ewe and lamb moves to the big group pen that houses all the ewes and lambs.
The ewes and lambs can go inside and out of the barn in this area.
The lambs have lots of other buddies to play with,
can lay inside if the weather is wicked and have a creep feeder available for them.

Our own routine is a bit tough at times.
Our day usually starts between 6 and 7 am.
Roy usually gets up first and makes breakfast for the family, coffee and tea. ( We love him for this!!)
Eric usually goes out and checks the ewes and lambs and then gets ready  to leave for his work.
During the day, I feed sheep, cows, horses, check animals, catch lambs, mark and move lambs , weigh any animals that need weighing, walk the dogs, feed, clean etc..
When the kids come home from school they usually help out with the afternoon feeding round.
In the evening Jess will often do a round in the barn.
After 8pm Eric has lambing duty.
If it is really cold, we are every hour in the barn checking.
If it is somewhat warmer then every 1.5-2 hours is usually good.
Eric's shift ends somewhere between 12 and 1pm.
I am usually in bed by 10- ish and my alarm wakes me at 2am.
I stay in bed pondering the meaning of life for about two minutes
and then finally guilt gets the better of me
and I heave myself out of bed, get dressed up and head out to the barn.
On the way there, I will usually stop to admire the stars, enjoy the quietness, the darkness, listen to the coyotes howling, listen to the snow crunching under my boots, enjoy the northern lights and ponder once more the meaning of life..

In the barn the first job is to check for any newbies.

Move the new babes and moms to the boxes, check all the other animals in the barn, say hi to the 4h steers.
Once all the that is done,  I feed all the ewes in the boxes, grain, hay and water them.
If it is not too busy then it will be about 3am by the time I am done.
Quick check at the pregnant ewes and see who is thinking about dropping their lambs.
Make a mental note, so I can check on those again on my next round.

I walk back to the house,
make a cup of coffee.
Sit on the couch,
watch all night news,
maybe Facebook a bit,
bug some friends in Holland as it is day time there.
Sometimes, I doze off a bit.
After watching the same news broadcast two  or three times over, its time for another check.
Once again, it is sweater, coat, toque, scarf, gloves etc and back out into the barn,
where the routine starts again.
The only difference this time around is that the ewes in the boxes only get an extra watering now.

At about 5am I crawl back into bed for another hour of sleep.
I am not really interested in finding out the meaning of life at this stage.

Our January lambing is just about done now, another few days.
The weather has been averagely mild, with some really cold days in between.
Lambing has gone well,
the lambs born alive are still all alive,
no bottle babies,
only had to pull one big lamb,
ewes are good mothers,
no drama.
So, all in all we can't complain...
(it would be nice though to have slightly higher lambing numbers...)

So, that just about covers what we have been up to the last few weeks.
We will have a break now from lambing until April when we go at it again,
this time we are combining lambing with calving time then.

Hope you had a great weekend!

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