This is our second lambing season and we have learned quite a bit since last year. We now are familiar with the tell tale signs of an expecting ewe. Her swelling bag of milk and loose hind quarters. The subtle change in behavior that comes during early labor. The old timers talk often about lambs dropping when the temps get really low at night and it does seem to hold true for us a few times over the season. The guessing games are fun! When will the lambs start coming? And will they be ewes? Rams? Singles or twins? It’s a reward after spending a year of moving fencing, hauling hay, trimming hooves and monitoring the land to play the lambing guessing games.
Our first lamb born was a ewe! A healthy happy singleton that was eagerly nursing and well bonded with her mother. Oh, the sounds they make to each other could melt your heart! Soft bleating followed by lots of licking and nursing. That early bonding was missing from our first lambing experience in 2018.
Last year we only had 3 lambs and 2 of them did not bond to their mother initially. We chalked it up to them being first time moms. There are mixed feelings out there in the sheep farming world about whether or not a ewe who rejects their lambs should be kept or culled. Genetics play a massive role in so much that happens with livestock. Probably in more ways then we even know. So I can see the importance of culling bad genes from your flock. But feelings seem to be mixed on whether mothers rejecting their first lambs is a genetic trait. After thinking on it we chose to keep them and give them a second chance this year, and we are glad we did. (More on that in another post!)
As lambing season is upon us we make a point to watch everyone more closely. The ewes, the ram, and even the dogs. One of our biggest signals that a ewe is close to lambing is our Livestock Guardian Dog’s (LGDs) behavior. During early labor a ewe doesn’t show any physical signs of labor. No pushing, pawing, no sounds or straining. (Shes dilating, not yet at the pushing stage.) She may find a quiet, dark place to lie down. She may go off her feed and distance herself from the rest of the flock (although I’ve heard plenty stories of ewes eating and lambing at the same time!). For our first 2 years we have noticed something we were not warned about. Our sheep seem to prefer the presence of our guardian dogs. We are always impressed by our dog’s instincts that make them extra sensitive to the subtle change in behavior (or possibly scent?) the sheep display. I also think it speaks volumes about our dogs that a prey animal would choose to lie down with a “predator”, a canine, during the most vulnerable moments in their life!
Last year our Great Pyrenees, River, was not yet 2 years old and therefore still considered a puppy. And while she did display many wonderful guardian dog qualities (and many puppy antics), this year we have noticed a big change in behavior! As each lamb had been born she has shadowed the mother closely, helped clean lambs and mother’s backsides to the point we were sometimes confused who had even lambed. That’s a guessing game all its own!
As our lambing season is winding down we are moving on to the next phase in the seemingly endless cycle of life as a shepherd. We will catch everyone one up on vaccines, castrate the ram lambs (so we don’t have any irresponsible breeding take place) and start discussing where the flock will begin grazing. It won’t be long until we have lush grass and sheep with their lips stained green from returning to pasture. It brings us so much joy to witness nature as it was intended. Beautiful, gentle sheep thriving on grass alone!