Lambing starts four days early

This morning I got up as usual around 5.30 and started work on the blog, writing something to appear before next Sunday, when Time Team is showing one of my sites.  At 6.30, as soon as there was enough light, I checked the ewes. All was peace. I returned to my desk. Had breakfast.  After breakfast I fed the ewes. Then, at 11.00, as I was forking through some hay, a young ewe, to judge from her ear-tag number, she’s one of the 2009 crop, walked towards me. There was something about the way she held her head that aroused my suspicions. So as she passed, I looked at her back end. Two front legs were sticking out. I reached into my shirt pocket for my phone to call Maisie, but I’d left it on the breakfast table. Muttering something rude under my breath, I gathered up a couple of hurdles and steered her into a temporary pen. Then I spread some fresh straw and filled her a bucket of water. She munched straw contentedly, as if nothing was protruding from her hind quarters.

I sprinted indoors and bellowed for Maisie who was on the phone to an archaeologist somewhere. She hung up and joined me five minutes later out in the barn. I held the ewe while Maisie gently massaged her vagina to help it dilate. Then I rubbed some of the hormone-rich liquids from her back end around her nose.  This worked and soon she was starting to push and was licking her lips frantically. The hormone also stimulates the let-down reflex that produces milk. Meanwhile Maisie, who unlike me has tiny hands, had managed to work out why there were just legs and no head protruding. Two lambs were tangled together and had jammed. So she pushed one back and gently pulled on the other’s legs, while I poured on liberal quantities of lubricant. Out came a small male lamb.

Ist lambs 2012

The first ewe to lamb with the two lambs she will be raising herself.

Then a female, which the ewe immediately set about licking. Soon both lambs were spotless white. Then, almost as an afterthought she podded-out a second male, which we whisked away to the heat lamps and the bottle bar. It’s very unusual indeed for a first-lamber to have triplets and she almost certainly wouldn’t have had enough milk to feed all three, so it’s safest to remove one and raise it on a bottle. Sometimes we manage to adopt a triplet to a ewe who has lost a lamb, but it isn’t always successful. So these days we tend to play safe and raise them on bottles. Later they’ll graduate to a semi-automatic milk bar.

Bottle lamb 2012

The triplet lamb we are raising by hand.

The first lamb is officially expected next Sunday, which will be precisely 21 weeks (the usual gestation period) after the tups (rams) went in to the ewes, back in early October.  So our first-time lamber is a remarkable mother: three lambs, four days early. They’re not very large, but they’re alive, active and she’s certainly got enough milk for two. Not a bad for a beginner. So now the lambing routine starts and one of us must check the barn every hour from now until the last lamb, which could be as late as Easter Day.  Anyhow, who needs sleep?

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