Sunday Evening Surprise

Lambing season is definitely upon us, and every trip to the barn now brings with it a sense of expectation. Which ewe will be in labor? Which might have even delivered?

This evening, we discovered that our pure white ewe had given us a beautiful pure white female lamb:

While mom dove into the hay with the rest of the flock, the happy new arrival stayed close by and observed the action.

Here’s hoping that the rest of the lambing season goes this smoothly. Tomorrow is supposed to be 62F and clear, easily the warmest day of the year so far. Would sure be nice if a big bunch of ewes decided to deliver then.

The Last Check

One really important thing to remember, on a farm with livestock, in the spring: making that last check of the barn each night. It may be past midnight. You may be tired. You may just want to go to bed. But if you skip that last check, something very small might just develop into a very big problem.

That was certainly true a couple of nights ago, when the “last check” revealed two newborn lambs. I didn’t mention it in the post, but the outside door to the sheep area had been left slightly open. One of the lambs had tottered through it, and the mother was urgently trying to call the little one back inside. The other lamb looked ready to totter outside as well. Of course, it was dark and cold, and neither newborn had any idea what she was doing or where she was supposed to be. I retrieved the lost lamb, set her inside, closed the door as far as it would go, and used a snow shovel to bar the remaining opening. Had I not come to the barn, both lambs may have frozen to death outside.

Another example was a cold night early last spring, when we had baby chicks brooding under a heat lamp. One of the cats had accidentally knocked the cord out of the socket. I noticed it during my “last check,” and got the lamp plugged back in before the chicks froze.

Last night, the issue was again in the sheep pen. One of the ewes has been looking extremely pregnant, and ready to deliver at any time. She’s crazy big. Swallowed-a-washbasin big. And when I peeked into the barn last night, she was laying down and thrashing her leg in a strange manner. Thinking she may be in active labor, I hustled to take a closer look.

And discovered that she wasn’t in labor at all – but in a more dangerous situation. She was flat on her back, panting and grunting, trying to roll over so she could get up. Because of her enormous size, she simply couldn’t do it. I wasn’t sure how long she’d been stuck like that, but if she spent the night that way she’d likely have been dead in the morning. I grabbed her, rolled her over, and she scrambled to her feet as she joined the rest of the flock. I caught her again, confirmed she was fine (and not in labor), and then wished all the animals a good night.

That particular ewe is from a long line with a tradition of having “-belle” as a suffix to their name. One of our very first ewes was named Maybelle, and all of the “belles” are descended from her. Maybelle died last year, in lambing, at an advanced age, and we still miss her – but with the naming tradition, she still lives in a sense. Anyhow, we’d had trouble coming up with a name for this ewe…so we’d just been calling her plain old “Belle.” Last night, I finally decided on a name that would fit:

FletcherBelle.

Best Roost Ever?

With both Michigan and Michigan State playing this evening in the Sweet Sixteen, even our chickens seem to be getting into the spirit of March Madness. Check out the place one of our Buff Orpington hens decided to roost for the night:

Yes, it helps that we have hay bales stacked up to within a couple of feet of the rim. But this is still the first time I’ve seen a chicken actually roost on the hoop.

The basketball hoop is in the cavernous upstairs part of the barn, and in the summer (when there’s less hay blocking it), our kids enjoy shooting baskets. It’s like having a huge gymnasium to run around in.

Most of our poultry lives in the downstairs part of the barn, which has a much lower ceiling and tends to stay significantly warmer. For whatever reason, though, we always seem to have a few rogue birds which insist on finding a way upstairs. Once there, those birds are extremely difficult to extract. At night, they find crazy-high places like this (and the rafters) to roost. During the day, they usually see us coming and scramble way up out of reach on top of the hay.

We’ll catch her someday. She’s way overdue for the soup pot, and I think she knows it. Chickens may be dumb, but they’re not stupid.

Spring is Back! (And so am I…)

Where has the time gone? One thing led to another, and the next I knew…the blog had been dormant for two years. Thanks to all who sent messages encouraging me to post again, and my apologies for the length of time it has taken to get back in the saddle.

What’s been happening? After my last post, in the spring of 2012, professional work more or less took over the rest of that year. As a public opinion research consultant, presidential election years are my absolute busiest time — and 2012 turned out to be even busier than usual. In addition to voter microtargeting, and analyzing survey data, I am also part of CNN’s election night decision team; we’re the ones who decide when to project a race for a particular candidate.

Then, shortly after the election, we got big news of great joy: Mrs Yeoman Farmer and I were expecting a baby. However, the pregnancy turned out to be a physically challenging one for MYF, which meant the rest of the family needed to come together in supporting her and picking up a bigger share of the farm work. The garden was scaled back, as were the numbers of livestock we were raising.

Our new baby girl was due in mid-August, but couldn’t wait to join the fun. In mid-July, more than five weeks ahead of schedule, she decided it was time to get moving. At 7am on a Monday morning, in the car driving home from the airport after a wonderful weekend trip visiting friends and family in Seattle, I got the call from MYF that her water had broken. Once back at the farm, I whisked MYF to the hospital. We spent the rest of the day there, undergoing tests and observations, until the medical team decided Baby Girl needed to come out by emergency Cesarean.

Baby Girl is doing well and thriving now, but there were numerous complications that kept her in the NICU for nearly a month. And then she needed heart surgery in October. I will write more about some of these issues in future posts — but for those interested in a general overview of what we went through, I recently had an article published which describes that roller-coaster. Thanks to the skills of some truly amazing medical professionals, and the prayers of countless people all over the world, Baby Girl is expected to live a long and very happy life.

I don’t want to dwell too much on the brutal winter we’re now finally emerging from here in the Upper Midwest. Suffice it to say that this was easily the worst winter I’ve personally experienced in my 45 years. The snow that fell before Christmas is still out in our pasture. Our hay field finally became visible again last week, as did our lawn. We expect cold winters in Michigan, but what made this one so difficult was its relentlessness. Usually, we get an arctic blast and some snow — and then a few days where the temps go above freezing, the snow melts, and it’s merely “cold” for a little while before the next storm passes through. Those periodic thaws are the stepping stones that make Midwestern winters tolerable.

This year, we didn’t get a single thaw for the entire winter. All the snow that fell…stayed. And no one knew what to do with it. We shoveled and shoveled our driveway, but soon had walls of snow high on both sides. Our church, and many big shopping centers with large parking lots, have enormous mountains of plowed snow that have now turned into stubborn icebergs. We joke that kids will still be sledding on these things in mid-May, when it’s sixty degrees out.

Today it’s in the forties, and is expected to stay above freezing all the way into next week. Our whole property is rapidly turning into a mud bog, but I’ll take that over the snow. It’s unclear when things will dry out enough to allow planting, or when the pasture will revive enough to turn the animals out on it. This year, it seems that all bets are off. So, we’re taking things one day at a time. I’m just glad we put in a larger-than-usual supply of hay. And firewood.

We had several goat kids born over the course of the winter, and are now enjoying an excellent supply of milk from the does. Surprisingly, despite the bitter cold, almost all of the kids survived. We lost a  couple of them, but for the most part were able to keep the barn buttoned up tightly enough to keep them from freezing to death. I also discovered a very useful tool for winter kidding: a blow-drier! The mother goats usually get the kids licked off to dry them, but in the dead of winter…a nice warm blast of air from a hair drier gave some much-needed assistance. Also, getting the kids thoroughly warmed up means their bodies are less stressed. It seems to have helped a lot.

But the true heralds of spring are the lambs. And our first ones were born last night! I went out to the barn a little before midnight to make my final checks, and discovered that one of our mature ewes, Conundrum, had delivered a set of twin females. Both were on their feet, but pretty wet. I tried to give an assist with the hair drier, but Conundrum objected loudly. Given that it wasn’t terribly cold last night, and that our Icelandic ewes are outstanding mothers, I decided to butt out. And, indeed, they had a good night. Both lambs were dry and dancing around this morning.

I’ll leave you with some pictures of them (note the snow shovel used to block a gap in the door — there’s a stubborn chunk of frozen dirt that’s preventing the door from sliding all the way shut):

Notice the black one was even climbing all over Mom:

It’s good to be back and blogging again. I promise the next post will take less than two years to go up!