Feeding Runty

I always hate leaving the property during lambing season; you never know what you’ll find when you come home. Still, you can’t simply suspend the rest of your life. So, after getting the flock as well-situated as we could yesterday morning, we went to my father-in-law’s house and enjoyed a nice Sunday afternoon visit and dinner. (Including a leg of lamb from last year’s flock, which we did up in the Crock Pot with potatoes from last year’s garden.)

As nice as the visit was, I was anxious to get home and check on the sheep. Last April, over the course of a 48-hour period early in the month, we had something like a dozen lambs born. It was pure chaos in the barn. If a deluge like that was coming, I wanted to be there to help manage it.

Fortunately, the lambs appear to be taking their time and spacing themselves out for now. None was born while we were gone. After getting hay for the sheep and goats, I climbed into the makeshift separating pen we’d built yesterday morning for Cocoa Puff and her twins. The larger twin seemed to be doing quite well. The smaller one was looking much worse. She was curled up in pretty much the same place where we’d left her in the morning. I picked her up, and she seemed very weak. I knew it was time to intervene.

Homeschooled Farm Girl and I got a pan of warm, soapy water. I then used a towel to clean Cocoa Puff’s udder thoroughly. The warmth has the added effect of helping the udder relax and the milk to let down. I held Cocoa Puff securely, and HFG milked about two cups of colostrum into a bowl (leaving plenty in the udder for the larger lamb). After milking Cocoa Puff twice a day last year, HFG knew exactly how to do it. It was just like old times, and those two cups of colostrum came out in a flash.

I found one of the bottles and nipples that Little Miss Sweetness had used in the NICU as an infant, filled it with fresh colostrum, and sat down to feed Runty. My fear was that she would be too weak even to suckle. Fortunately, we’d gotten to her in time. As soon as the first drops reached her tongue, she went right at it. Within a couple of minutes, shIMG_20160404_111650265e’d taken all 2.5oz. I refilled the bottle, got her back on the nipple, and she took another half ounce or so.

Just to make sure that everything was going well with the other new arrivals, I offered the bottle to all three of the other lambs. I caught each one, sat down with it, and put the nipple into its mouth. None was the slightest bit interested. And that was a relief! Combined with how substantial each of the lambs felt, their disinterest in the bottle confirmed for me that they’d been getting plenty of milk from Mom.

Runty took another bottle before I went in for the night, and one this morning when I came out to do chores. (No lambs were born overnight, BTW.) I just checked on them again at 11:30, and gave her another bottle. She’s not really strong, but she did take 2oz. I’m definitely concerned about her small size, and not terribly optimistic about her long term prospects. But as long as she’s going to keep fighting, I’ll keep feeding her. For me, it’s a difficult emotional balancing act: I want to do everything I can for her, while not getting too attached. That’s tough to do sometimes, when you’re working so closely with a little creature.

While she was feeding, her twin sister nursed directly from Cocoa Puff. That was good to see. I put Runty down, and Cocoa Puff sniffed her all over. Then she did the same with the other lamb. This is a bonding ritual, and the primary way a mother sheep recognizes which lambs are hers. When she sniffs one that isn’t hers, or that she’s rejected, she typically head-butts it away. Cocoa Puff didn’t do that with either lamb, so that’s a good sign. If we can get Runty big enough and can teach her to nurse directly, that would be excellent — and, for her part, it’s looking like Cocoa Puff will take her back.

In the meantime, it’s looking like Runty is going to be a bottle baby. And that’s okay. Cocoa Puff is a very milky sheep, so this will mean a good bit of milk — and sheep cheese — for our family.

Sunday Twins

We had two more lambs born early Sunday morning, this time to one of the black polled ewes. Both are females. One is a distinctive white-and-black color, but the other looks just like the larger female born last night to Cocoa Puff. (Cocoa Puff’s other lamb was also female, and solid brown, but so much smaller that it’s easy to distinguish.) On top of it, all four of the lambs born so far appear to be polled. We can’t feel even the slightest beginnings of horn buds on any of their heads. There was so much chaos in the sheep pen this morning, including considerable confusion by all four newborn lambs, it wasn’t clear any of the lambs would be able to bond with its mother. We had to take action quickly.

For starters, the 13 year old helped me build a makeshift separating pen in a previously unused portion of the barn. It’s not pretty, but it’s going to get the job done. We moved Cocoa Puff and her twins into it. We gave her some hay and water. Already, she seems more calm, and the lambs are doing a good job nursing. This is really important, because that one lamb is so runty, I’m a little concerned. She needs to get her mother’s full attention.IMG_20160403_111717832

We can’t make another separating pen for the other ewe, but we’re hoping that getting Cocoa Puff out of the way will help. She’s definitely attentive to her lambs. She licked them off all the way, and she’s staying near them. When they bellow for her, she comes. Here they were, this morning, when I first came out:

BelleTwins 3Apr16-2

And here are the two of them, once they’d gotten up on their feet:

BelleTwins 3Apr16

We’ll see how they do today. Hopefully all will be well. If necessary, we may have to swap them out of the new separating area with Cocoa Puff.

 

 

Taking the Fourth … And Lambs!

I’ve been an active member of the Knights of Columbus for many years now; the Knights are a Catholic men’s service organization, whose members give countless volunteer hours (and dollars) helping the Church and the community. I’ve also found that being active in the Knights is a great way to meet other like-minded men, and I very much enjoy the time we spend together. My oldest son (previously known on the blog as Homeschooled Farm Boy … which no longer really fits, because he’s no longer a boy and he’s graduated from homeschooling to college, but whatever) joined about a year ago as well.

The K of C has four “degrees” of membership. The First is where everyone begins. Over time, as members decide to make more of a commitment, they can advance to additional degrees. I quickly advanced to the third degree, which is considered “full membership,” and had been there for a long time. I guess I just hadn’t felt a big sense of urgency about taking the fourth degree; it is an optional “extra” on top of the full 3rd degree membership, so not strictly necessary. One practical barrier: it seemed the exemplification ceremonies were always a long distance from home, and would require too big of an investment of time. Don’t get me wrong: I did want to become a Fourth Degree Knight. I just wasn’t sure when I’d be able to do it. (For those unfamiliar, this link has a good summary about degrees of K of C membership.)

This spring, the opportunity finally presented itself. There would be a Fourth Degree exemplification not only in the area — but at our own parish. How could I pass that up? What sealed the deal was that my son also wanted to do it. We’d be able to advance to the highest degree of Knighthood together.

The standard “uniform” of the 4th Degree is a black tuxedo, and everyone needs one for the exemplification ceremony. (A small number of 4th Degree knights make up the “color corps” that most Catholics are familiar with: those are the tuxedo-clad men with cool hats, capes, and swords who sometimes form processions at Mass — but that’s only a small number of 4th Degree guys. The rest of us don’t dress up like that.)

I hadn’t even worn a tuxedo since my wedding, which was more than 20 years ago. My son had never worn one. I ended up buying one for myself, and we rented one for him; he needed it for the exemplification, but he’s probably not finished growing. Chances are, he’s not going to attend another ceremony where he’ll absolutely need the tux before he does finish growing, so we figured a rental made sense for now.

The exemplification was today. It was an absolutely wonderful experience. Not only the ceremony itself, but the full day of fellowship with my brother Knights from all over the region (some drove quite a distance). After the exemplification itself, we all attended the 4:30pm Mass at our parish with our families. There was then a reception, and a big catered banquet. If anyone reading this is a 3rd Degree Knight who’s been on the fence about advancing to the highest degree, my advice is: just do it. It’s totally worth it.

Here we were, after the ceremony, while waiting for Mass to begin:

IMG_20160402_160417

We finally got home sometime after 9pm. I changed out of my tux, pulled on my junky farm clothes, slipped into my boots, and headed to the barn. And … found a wonderful surprise. The first two lambs had just arrived! It’s hard to get a good photo in the barn at night, so this will have to suffice for now:

Cocoa Puff Twins 2016

They are twin females, from a chocolate brown ewe we call Cocoa Puff. She’s a good mother, and was busy getting them cleaned up. She still had afterbirth hanging from her rear end, and both lambs were still pretty wet, so they’d only recently been born. I was really glad I’d decided to keep the barn door closed tight today while we were gone; it was a pretty chilly day, with snow and wind gusts (so much for Spring). The temperature inside the barn stayed reasonably comfortable, so I’m hoping both lambs will be fine. I’ll check on them again before I go to bed, but Cocoa Puff is a pro.

IMG_20160402_213023532

Last year, Cocoa Puff’s lamb died. That was sad, but Homeschooled Farm Girl saw an opportunity to begin trying to milk our sheep. Cocoa Puff gave a lot of milk, and we made quite a bit of really outstanding cheese (cheddar) from it. By summertime, HFG had gotten Cocoa Puff pretty tame and trained for milking — and really enjoyed it. The only disappointment about Cocoa Puff having twins is that they’ll need all her milk. We won’t be able to milk her again this year.

There are still about a dozen more ewes to deliver. I’m sure at least one of them will have a singleton, or will lose a lamb, and thus give us a chance to make sheep cheese again.

What an amazing day! From ceremonies with tuxedos, to the lambing pen, all within a couple of hours. I can’t imagine a better life.

Easter Goat Update

Things are settling down after our Easter Sunday goat kid adventure. The kid spent the night in my office, and then on Monday morning we moved him to the barn with his mother. They’ve been together in a separating pen, to facilitate their bonding. It’s a lot easier on them if the rest of the herd isn’t constantly walking through and causing disruptions.

The biggest problem was that the kid never nursed immediately after his delivery. He did take a bottle of colostrum, which was good, but he needed to figure out how to get his milk directly from his mother. We weren’t even sure if Thistle would take care of him at this point.

Homeschooled Farm Girl went out several times on Monday and Tuesday, physically putting the kid on one of Thistle’s teats. Fortunately, he got the hang of it quickly. Even better, Thistle stood steady while he took the milk. By Wednesday morning when I came out for chores, he was on a teat and suckling all by himself. That was a big relief. The process doesn’t always go this smoothly.

Thistle-Kid 2016b

There was another potential problem, however. While putting the kid on a teat Monday, HFG noticed that Thistle’s birth canal appeared to have prolapsed somewhat as a result of the delivery. I looked at it, and agreed. The same thing had happened to one of our other goats; the vet was able to get it back in and sew it in place, and that goat was able to breed again without issue.

Tuesday morning, Mrs. Yeoman Farmer ran Thistle to the vet. By the time he looked at Thistle, the goat’s vulva had largely drawn itself back inside. The vet said it definitely had prolapsed, but was fixing itself — so wasn’t going to need medical intervention. He gave us some advice for getting her cleaned up and continuing to make sure it healed properly, and charged us just $25 for the visit.

Although it was sad that Thistle’s other goat kid was stillborn, that does mean she has plenty of milk for her surviving kid — and for our family. HFG has begun milking her twice a day, and we’re getting around a quart each time.

Thistle Milk

One last note about Thistle: a couple of years ago, she had a really nasty growth of some sort in her left eye. We took her to the vet (same one), and he said the eye was already ruined. The only real treatment was to remove the eyeball before the growth spread. Apparently, popping an eyeball out is a pretty simple surgical procedure (who knew?). He then sewed Thistle’s eyelid closed, to protect the empty socket. She was back with the herd in no time.

Does she look funny? Absolutely! But at least she’s now very easy to catch. All you have to do is approach her from the left rear. She can’t see you coming. She’s a very gentle goat, quite milky, and easy to milk. I’m relieved she’s doing so well after this latest scare, and back on her feet. Here’s hoping we get to keep our “one-eyed goat” in the herd for many more years.

Thistle-Kid 2016a