It’s not easy waiting around for the best part of a shepherd’s life….lambs! For the last 16 days, every morning, we have declared that today lambs would arrive! Any moment, surely. And……nothing. It is hard to believe that our poor ewes might be able to contain growing lambs any longer. The mama’s bellies are taut, rolling and bumping lambs can be seen inside bellies (even little hooves are sometimes visible pushing from the inside), and their udders are full.
Around the clock, through the night, I am checking for signs of imminent labour. My routine is simple, wake up at 5am and dress for the early morning cold and go peek in the barn. I approach with my senses on high alert, lest I can discern the distinctive mama cooing to her newborn lambs. Every morning, I am disappointed but sure it will happen today. The sun rises behind the mountains as I feed them a little extra rich hay, and we do the rest of the farm chores with an eye on the home pen. One of us is constantly nearby, assessing rear ends and facial indications that labour might indeed have begun. Usually, Sunshine is camped out in the sheep yard, watching and waiting, snuggling mamas and her favourite yearling, Lilac. Late in the afternoon, the sheep get an afternoon meal of more hay and Sunshine and I set up the barn with fresh straw and clean water for the night. After dinner, she and I head back down with grain to entice the pregnant ewes into the barn, while nudging the adolescent stragglers out the door. I then do three more checks at 10 pm, midnight, and 3am (my husband usually does this check, thank goodness!). Sixteen days since lambing season opened for us, all I have to show for it is dishevelled hair, dark circles under my eyes, and enough excitement to spill over into the next day to do it all again.
Sheep grow their lambs for 152 days, give or take. That amounts to roughly 5 months. When a ram is placed in with the ewes, you mark on your calendar the date and that lets you know when your lambing season is open. According to the lambing calendars, our season at Gladsheim Farm opened on April 2…16 days ago.
There are certain signs that a ewe is in labour…full udders, very red and sometimes swollen lady parts, self-isolation, and some stop eating. Depending on the individual, some ewes may groan and curl their lips when they lay down. As restlessness increases, a water bag may be apparent. Within 30-45 minutes, in an ideal presentation, you will see two tiny hooves emerge with a little nose in between. Delivery should take no more than an hour and then it is time to place mama and lamb in a quiet pen to themselves to solidify their nursing relationship. They will stay there for two or three days and then rejoin the flock.
I have 7 pregnant ewes this season, our most ever. By all indications, I expect my original five ewes to birth within a day or two of each other, with the Shetland girls not lambing for another few weeks. Then again, what do I know? I expected lambing to begin a few weeks ago now!
Stay tuned….with any luck we will have lots of newborn lamb photos arriving any day!