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18 lambs and counting…we have one ewe who hasn’t given birth

We try hard to not have our lambs until the weather warms up a bit here in Walla Walla. We don’t really have an enclosed barn for our ewes, just a few open ended horse stalls. And the ewes don’t want to be in a horse stall anyway. They want to be out in the far end of the field when they give birth. And catching ONE ewe right before she gives birth is nigh impossible on our farm. We want them to have as natural an experience as possible, keeping ourselves out of the picture and letting nature lead the way. But that means NOT having babies in January, when there is snow on the ground.

So, we try to keep our rams separated from the ewes from May to early October, so that we have predictable lambs in March. The gestation for our sheep is almost exactly 5 months, and the estrus is every 17 days. Which means as soon as we have the first lamb, we usually have them all in 17 days.

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Very pregnant American Blackbelly ewes pose for their new album cover, dropping any day now

That worked fairly well this year. We had our first lamb on February 20th (the rams got let in a bit early last year, in late September – I think my husband took pity on them), and our last one was born on March 14th. (So the rams must have missed one or two in the first go around.)

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Maggie and her triplets, just a few days old

We have 13 ewes and 2 rams right now. This year we’ve had two sets of triplets! And in both cases, the mama’s are managing to raise all three themselves, with no rejection and no help from us. Both of the ewes who did this have some Soay in them, and we are thinking that the Soay might be more prone to having triplets (our ewes normally have a single the first year she’s bred, and then twins after that).

IMG_20180304_143620293We had two sets of twins where we lost one (one was just super small and weak, and the other was clearly having breathing problems). It should be noted that we do NOT try to save every lamb at any cost. One, we’re breeding for strong genetics, and saving every baby just allows weak genetics to proliferate in the breeding lines. Two, the whole reason we raise American Blackbelly (ABB) is because they are so self sufficient and inexpensive to raise. One trip to a vet with a baby lamb would likely cost us over $200, not including medications, and bottle feeding a lamb runs in the $75 range before they are old enough to ween, not to mention the huge amount of time it takes. Since we only get between $100 and $150 per ewe when we sell them, it doesn’t pencil out economically to try and save every baby at any cost either. (Another reason to have lambs in March is that the ewes seem much less likely to reject a lamb when the weather is warmer). I know to huge animal lovers, this may seem harsh, but sometimes having deadstock when you raise livestock is the nature of farming.

In past years, we’ve often had a huge percentage of rams born to our ewes. Somewhere in the 75% range. This year, we’re experiencing the opposite. We have mostly ewe lambs this year, with only 4 or 5 boys out of 18 babies. Go figure. We don’t know if its diet, or the ram, or what. SO weird.

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Not much time to sit around, but I try to take a few minutes where I can.

But the cuteness factor is still the same. Every year, I have moments in March where I could just sit in the field and watch baby lambs for hours. Cocoa, our favorite ewe, who is an ABB/Soay cross, always throws lambs with spots, rather than the traditional light and dark brown markings. This year she had two girls and a boy, and the boy has a big white star splotch on his back. Since we name our rams after towns in Washington (Pasco, Kennewick – Kenny, Richland – Richie, Milton-Freewater – Milty) we think this baby needs to be named Starbuck. Or at least I think he does, lol.

Meanwhile, its full on spring, and I’ve decided that March is just as busy as August, but in reverse.

  • Starting seeds in the greenhouse. Everything hinges on getting the tomatoes and peppers sprouted in March!
  • Raising up baby chicks (ordered 25 Rhode Island reds from Dunlap Hatchery in Idaho – they shorted me one and I lost two, but the other 22 are going strong). I alternate years between Golden Sexlink, Black Sexlink and Rhode Island Reds so I can keep track of how old my girls are without leg bands – because evidently a chicken leg band that stays on for more than 6 months but also fits right and doesn’t do damage doesn’t actually exist!
  • I’ve got a mama bunny with 6 babies that are almost 3 weeks old. I’ll be breeding another doe here in a week or so.
  • 19 turkey eggs are in an incubator, due to hatch on the 14th. I’ll be selling some for $10 each if you’re interested. Bourbon Red’s.
  • Turkey hens also sitting on their own nests – one in a horse stall and two sharing a nest in the coop.
  • Every egg laying bird I have is laying eggs right now (SO many duck eggs – $6/dozen – call me!) so cleaning/sorting/packaging eggs is taking quite a bit more time than it did during the winter. But bonus, I picked up some new egg buckets (aka Easter buckets) for 99 cents each on sale!
  • The garden irrigation system has been pulled, and everything mowed and tilled and fertilized in preparation for the coming season.
  • Today I direct seeded beets, spinach, and peas (the peas are just for us – unless you are a very special friend – they take too much labor for me to sell them commercially).
  • A friend, who needed something to do before he moved to Australia to join his wife, built me a cold room for produce this summer, by insulating a shed we already had and installing a window style A/C unit and a coolbot cooler. Super excited to have more room for fruit storage this summer! A bit spendy in materials costs, but SO much less than an actual walk in fridge with a traditional compressor. And BONUS, I was able to use this highly insulated room to start tomatoes and peppers in March on heat mats. It held the heat so well that 8 flats of seeds on heat mats overheated the room!
  • I’m making soap like crazy, getting ready for May, which is ALWAYS a very busy month at farmers market.

So yeah, March is August in reverse. But the daffodils are blooming, the fruit trees are blooming and we are SO happy for spring!

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Weeping Santa Rosa plum. Just stunning every year.

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Pears JUST starting to blossom.

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Helleborus. I want 20 more!

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Pussy Willows. Bees have been loving them.

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Honeysuckle soap

Miles Away Farm Blog © 2018, where Spring is here, but we are still getting cold nights (don’t plant your tomatoes yet!), and we never get tired of watching the babies!