It is hard to believe, but it is time to breed the sheep again already. This will be our first season with 4 breeding rams and we have planned out which ewes each of them will cover. We are limited on our birthing space, so, to attempt to avoid hypothermic lambs and loss of any lambs, we are trying to space out the lambings (and thus the breedings) so that we only have a couple ewes due at a time. Experience tells us this will not go exactly as we plan, we humans don’t have as much control over these things as we wish we did, but we are hopeful it will line out pretty well and we will be able to have all the ewes in a dry, warm place for their lambings. Our first breeding group has been put together and our first breeding has already taken place. So we are off and running.
Since I didn’t get to blog much about this last lambing/kidding season, I decided to catch you up on what happened as far as lambing and kidding this last year…
Lambing/Kidding Season 2022
Since the new farm property was built to house adult horses, there were no enclosed barn areas, only loafing sheds. So we decided last winter to build what we call the birthing barn. It has 2 permanent jugs (jugs are sheep birthing stalls that are about 5ftx5ft) and a way to set up a 3rd temporary jug. We finished the birthing barn just in time for our first two ewes to move in and bless us with a birth of twins and then triplets all within 8 hours of each other. Both ewes did great and all the lambs were healthy and strong. It was an exciting start to the season.
We added a camera to the birthing barn this year. I am well-known as a low-tech person. But I must admit, the addition of a camera to the birthing area made SUCH a big difference in our lives. We were able to get so much more sleep, which was especially useful this year as we spent a lot of time at the pediatric hospital during lambing season and thus were not getting much sleep anyway. If you haven’t added one to your homestead yet, you should seriously consider it. I love it. No more hiking out to the barn every couple hours at night when we think a ewe or doe is close to giving birth. The camera is great.
We thought the next two females that we needed to bring up to the birthing barn were our two Nubian does, but one of our ewes surprised us. We had never had a surprise lamb born before. We keep a really close eye on everything during breeding season and keep very good records of each ewe and when she goes into heat and gets bred. This ewe had been bred 3 different times, coming into heat on the expected schedule for a ewe. So I marked the last breeding down as the one she got pregnant on and gave her a due date according to that. Little did we know that she had gotten pregnant before any of those heat cycles and breedings. Why she had “fake heats” on schedule and allowed the ram to breed her even though she was pregnant…we are not sure.
Because we had been in and out of the pediatric hospital with our son that month, and because we thought none of the ewes were due in that time period, we weren’t keeping a close eye on them and their symptoms. If we had, we would have noticed the udder development on this first-time mother. Instead, we went out to feed one morning and found a hypothermic ram-lamb, born out in the elements at 26F. Despite the fact that his mom was a young first-time ewe, she was doing her best to get him up and going. From what we could tell, he stood and nursed some before he laid down and became hypothermic. We rushed him into the house and started working on heating him back up. He was the worst case we have dealt with and we really didn’t expect him to make it. But, two hours later he was still alive, and we decided to re-unite him with his now-frantic mother so they could bond and he could hopefully get up and about on his legs. We had moved his mom into the birthing barn and we set up a heater and took turns sitting out there keeping an eye on him. He was still weak for a few days and definitely took longer to get going than our other lambs. But he survived and his mother bonded with him well.
Next were the two Nubian does. The first doe’s first kid presented with just one leg coming. And Daniel wasn’t home. And I was sick with a nasty cold/cough. But that was OK, because the last couple of years, Sunshine has been doing more and more of the deliveries and trying to learn how to help when help is needed. So she was going to handle the delivery. She tried and tried, while Little Miss held the doe and I talked her through it, but she couldn’t figure out what was going on and finally I had to take over. I quickly saw why she was having so much trouble, it was quite a tangle in there – all legs and heads. It was triplets and two of them were tangled together, with one leg from one trying to come with the head of the other behind it. It took me awhile to figure it all out and I kept working through the legs and heads trying to figure out which went to which. What ended up making it so I could figure it out was that one had smaller legs (a doeling) and one had larger legs (a buckling). Once I realized that, I was able to get the front two legs and head of one and bring it forward and out. Then I went for the second one and it was pretty easy because the third was still in it’s sack so I could tell which was which, I just had to get its head to come around, it had gotten pushed back during the untangling. Then the third came fine. All three survived (praise the Lord) even though it took a while to get them out. The doe was fine too.
We were hoping for no problems with the second doe, but ended up with another difficult delivery. I was recovering from the nasty cough, but I had fractured 2 ribs from coughing so hard. Yes, apparently this is a thing, I went to the doctor and it was confirmed. So I was nursing those very painful fractured ribs under strict instructions to not do anything physically strenuous when this doe went into labor. And no one was home except Little Miss and I. The doe was taking forever, 5 hours had gone by with obvious labor but no pushing, and since she was an experienced Mom, we started to realize that something was wrong, but there wasn’t much that Little Miss could do on her own. I called to try to figure out the ETA on help arriving in the form of anyone in the family over the age of 7 without broken ribs. It was not looking promising. So I called our vet – he was out of town. Little Miss kept watch on the doe and she started laying down, giving a tiny push, and then getting up, and then repeating the process over and over. It was definitely looking like a stuck kid. Finally, she laid down, with her behind away from Little Miss’ view, and pushed over and over again. We thought she must be finally making some progress, but when she stood up and turned around there was just one huge head coming out, no legs. Little Miss yelled (via the birthing cam) for me to come help. Right then, Daniel arrived home. To save my ribs, Little Miss tried to do the delivery while Daniel held the doe and I gave Little Miss instructions. But the doe was pushing so very hard and the baby was so thoroughly wedged she could not get the head back in, nor could she get in to get the legs forward. It had been so long already and the kid’s head was swelling and we were starting to worry for the kid and any other kids inside, so fractured ribs didn’t matter – I had to help. It took quite awhile, and hurt oh-so-badly to work against the constantly straining mama. It was killing me, but I had to keep going because I didn’t want to lose any of them. But no matter how hard I tried, I could not get that huge head back in so I could bring the legs around. Finally, I decided that I had to just try to get the legs around with the head out. It was tight and very rough on doe, kid, and I, but I was finally able to bring one leg around. At that point I remembered that our friend, who is very experienced with birthing goats, had told me that she has had several does successfully deliver a kid with one leg back. It had been so much time and work to get this far, that I decided to just pull with the leg back to get it out. I wasn’t even sure the kid was still alive, and the doe was going downhill. So I didn’t bother with the second leg, I just pulled the kid with the one leg and head out. It took a little resuscitation, but the large doeling recovered and survived. She was quickly followed by a small buckling. Praise the Lord, both kids and the doe were fine. I, on the other hand, was not. I was really really hurting. I messed up my back in my attempts to protect my ribs and was in so much pain between the two. I spent a few days in bed recovering and eventually was none worse for the wear. But 5 goat kids joined the 6 lambs born at that point and all were doing well.
Thankfully, the rest of the season went by without incident, and the birthing barn worked out great for each ewe to have a chance in a jug when it was her turn. We had 3 more singles born to the first-time moms, and another set of triplets, and another set of twins to experienced moms. Only 1 ewe didn’t take, and she was one of the ewe lambs born last year, so it was expected. We were very surprised that the other 3 ewe lambs born last year plus 2 other first-time ewes (not born last year) all took and lambed. Usually ewe lambs are about a 50/50 chance to get pregnant. So it was a good year as far as ewe lambs getting pregnant.
We will see how this new breeding season goes!