We are at an any Day – any Hour – any MINUTE point with my two pregnant ewes.
I hope to have a security system set up soon so that I can watch them from my iPhone, but unfortunately such is not the case at the moment. And like many people, I simply don’t have the luxury of being around them every minute. Ideally I’ll be there for the births, but reality is, that simply might not happen.
Most sheep (Shetlands especially) are very good natural birth-ers. They don’t usually need much help. I think as shepherds we sort of like to think that we are helpful by being there, and I definitely know of some shepherds who have done amazing things to save their ewes and lambs during birthing, but for the most part, they’re pretty good on their own.
But, especially since I can’t be there all the time, it’s important that I give them the best chance they have. One of the things that often happens, especially with new moms, is that they don’t quite realize the lamb is theirs.
I mean… think about it. As people, someone can explain to us that we’re pregnant, and going to have a baby. While sheep clearly have communication I’m just not sure it goes that far. So it’s probably more like this…
Hey… I feel funny. I’ve been gaining weight, and feeling hungrier for the past few months. Wait… what is that? Ouch. Hey! Stop that! BaaaaAaAa! Ugh! OooHHhh BBababaaabbbaa! Oooph! That was horrible! What is THAT thing? Is THAT what was hurting me???!!! Screw that, I’m outta here!
Ewes will sometimes walk away from their newborn lambs, leaving the lambs struggling for food and that liquid gold colostrum.
So it’s common practice to put pregnant ewes in individual jugs (very small stalls) right before they are supposed to give birth. This way, they can’t get too far from the lamb. They then are close enough to smell the lamb and hear it bleat (cry), and that’s how instinct kicks in.
Nature’s neat, huh?
So here are mine.
That back door you see is actually the door to the back pasture. I didn’t want to have to walk all the way around the barn every time I’m out here (which especially right now is as often as I can be!). So we made this gate:
It’s just a simple 2×4 that folds around with a latch on top to lock it closed: Close UP:
With the ewes in their jugs I can at least be comforted by the thought that I’m doing all that I can to help them.
My biggest tip for the jugs is this: Be sure that whatever you use for sides (we used hog panels) the lambs will not be able to get out, or get their heads stuck in. They are curious and tricky little creatures. If they squeeze out and cannot get back in they will get upset and confused. And sheep WILL try to stick their heads through things (the grass is ALWAYS greener over there!). If their heads get stuck, they PANIC. Sheep have died from this. Last year, we had a ram die because his horn got caught in a tomato cage. The tomato cage didn’t kill him. The panic did. It was very sad, and not a way you want to lose an animal.
Here is a close up of the bottom of our panels:
This way, the little guys will have no way of even getting half a head through there!
Since this is the first time I’ll have lambs born from my ewes, I’m far from the expert on how to tell when they’re about to go into labor. I do know from talking to my expert friends that the ewe’s vulvas get very pink a few days before lambing and a clear mucous discharge means they’re basically dilating and soon to pop!
Keith has been laughing at me, as I do what I call “vulva checks” once or twice a day.
I’ll keep you posted on whether or not I actually am able to notice these things.
It’s a bit stressful, especially since I don’t have the security cameras to be able to keep an eye on them. But I have faith in mother nature. Lambs were being born long before we were so concerned with HOW to help them do it.
I can’t WAIT to have lamb pictures to post up here. Fingers-crossed! Until then, Elsie and I are signing off!