Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Lambing Saga 2013

Our 2013 experiment in lambing is becoming enough of a fading memory to blog about. We decided we'd like to try raising some cross bred lambs from our Scottish Blackface ewes and a few other assorted ewes that we had. We wanted some new sheep for dog training. We bought a nice cheviot ram lamb. We weren't sure if the ewes got serviced because the Scottie ewes were constantly beating up the young cheviot. Time marched on. The Cheviot went to another pasture to live with some wethers, the first of January. A couple of weeks later, we noticed that the first young ewe, not a Scottie, was making a bag. Well OK! The Cheviot ram lamb had bred at least one ewe. We prepared. Or at least we thought we prepared. Wrong.

We'd had a few lambs in the past, but only from hair sheep or hair sheep crosses. The ewes popped them out. We'd had few to no problems. What's the big deal with lambing, we thought? Wrong!

On Super Bowl Sunday the first ewe, not a Scottie but a St Croix/Dorper cross, decided to lamb. Unfortunately by the time we saw her trying to have her lamb, she had already given up. The end result was that the lamb's head was turned all the way backwards over it's back. The Worst Case Scenario, we were told, by one of our sheep mentors via I-phone. We (barely) saved the ewe but not the lamb. That's the short and sanitized version of the ordeal. After that we did not look forward to the rest of the ewes' progress.

We quickly called our shearer and asked him to come out and tag the Scotties so we could at least see what was going on. Upon inspection with him there we found that most of them were making udders. Oh my. The Cheviot lamb had been much more successful in his efforts than we had imagined.

Within another couple of weeks we were fully into lambing. The first day, three ewes lambed. The first three were experienced ewes who had had a lamb before and none needed help with pulling. The first Scottie had twin ram lambs. All OK. Whew! The second ewe, another Scottie, had triplets! Oh my! Things were looking up. That night, the third ewe, a Barbados (who had successfully raised a lamb before) had a single large ram lamb. And promptly rejected him. We tried all the tricks the next day and part of the next: we tied her up in a small space, and tried to get her to accept him. She was in fact violently opposed to the poor lamb who was loosing condition. We started bottle feeding him just to get him some nutrition. He sucked it down hungrily. We were learning encylopedias of stuff about lambing, daily. Fortunately there was a family who wanted him to raise a bottle lamb. Off he went, much better fate for the lamb. Non-Mother of the Year Barb, was kicked back out to the pasture.

Meanwhile one of the triplets got slammed into the fence in a brief moment when the ewes were too close together when we brought them in for the night. One of the other ewes who had not lambed yet I guess took a dislike to her. We lost that lamb the next night. So the ewe with triplets was now down to a pair. We were sort of in shell shock by this time knowing that we still had three first-timer Scottie ewes left to go. Everything in the book was being thrown at us, we thought.

From that point on we had to pull a lamb every two to three days. The next ewe had a pair of twins and we were only able to save one of them; they both had to be pulled. The next ewe had a single ewe lamb, again, it had to be pulled. By this time we were just resigned to pulling all of them. The last one, had a pair of twins on a Sunday, thankfully, the day before Zamora Pro-Novice trial. Again we had to pull both; the first one in the right position and the second one breach, with back legs first.

The Barbados ewe, who rejected her lamb but used to be a pretty good puppy training, quiet sheep, has subsequently lost her mind. She has adopted the white ewe who lost her lamb on Super Bowl Sunday and they are inseparable. It is a wacky bunch. She runs.

All of the Scottie ewes are doing well with their Cheviot-sired babies. We ended up with some nice lambs. It was an ordeal that I doubt we will repeat, however. The Scotties are much more fierce as mothers than our prior hair sheep had ever been. The dorpers and other hair ewes we've had in the past, were absolutely placid, even the most protective of them, in comparison to these horned furies who will race across the pasture to try to take out a dog who might be looking in the vicinity of her lamb.

We learned a good many things. The finger pointing the strongest is that we fed the ewes alfalfa hay all fall and winter. The consensus is that they were too well fed. This is in the live and learn category as we did not know that they shouldn't have alfalfa. Grass hay is quite a bit more expensive and I am wondering if we would have taken that advice, even had it been given, late last summer, and into early fall.

Rather than just tagging I think we would just completely shear the Scotties before lambing so that you could better see what their bodies are doing. Underneath so much wool it was harder to see the signs of imminent lambing.  We certainly were glad we had them tagged though.

Lambing at a location where you do not live is an undertaking that I don't think we will do again. I think in the future we will just buy lambs when we want to add or change out dog training sheep.
But, we did learn a lot. Like we weren't already appreciative enough of those who continue to raise sheep year after year so that we can train and trial our dogs on sheep. And we learned a lot about each other and the true grit that people have who are your good friends and sheep mentors.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Nice Workday in Boonville

RESDA sponsored a nice workday yesterday just outside of Boonville at the Johnson Ranch. The workday's purpose was two-fold: to train the tough Targhee ewes to work a little better for the dogs, and to let the dogs have some exposure on that type of sheep so that we and they learn to handle them better. These ewes and others like them, from the same ranch, will be used for a few of the RESDA trials this season.

The handlers were split into three groups: working dogs, letout, and exhaust, and we all rotated positions.The shared work duties seemed to play out all right. The exhaust group needed to guard areas where the sheep were not supposed to go, as well as to channel the used sheep into their holding area. There were some tricky bits of pulling sheep out of between the parked cars and so forth but all good work for the dogs in getting acquainted with these ewes.

Ryme proved to be really handy as a backup dog and I was very pleased with what appears to be progress in his ability to hold his cool and be a good helper. I have been getting quite a bit of encouragement from several respected friends telling me not to give up on Ryme. So he and I are continuing to work together and his attitude is definitely showing a lot of improvement. There were several times yesterday when he could have blown his cool, shouldered a sheep or run through them with his tail in the air but he did not. In fact there were a few times where he nipped one on the nose out of necessity, and then got the group moving while maintaining his cool. So it was a very good outing for him.

Coal ran like a top. I could not have been more pleased with him. After two trial weekends in a row on range ewes where we retired three out of four runs, culminating with a smash into a ditch, it was so nice to send him on an outrun and have him do a great job through the whole run. He didn't show any sign of the tentative dog that was seen at Zamora and Sonoma Wine Country. I am not sure what the difference is since he's never been to this field at Boonville before, and the sheep were very similar to the Sonoma Wine Country sheep. Anyway Coal worked well too and it was a great confidence builder for both of us. I made the RESDA course into a driving course (you could do anything you wanted in your eight minutes of working time) and ended with a shed. The sheep were very nice to drive and shed.

Thank you RESDA for setting up these wonderful opportunities!

The Boyz at Carmel, our favorite place