The first lambs

It was early Monday afternoon as I sat in the straw of the drop pen in the barn, sunlight streaming in the open doors and windows. Although the weather was incredibly warm for early February in Iowa, my hours of sitting without much activity had chilled me to the bone. In fact, I had just returned from a “warm-up” trip to the house to put on another layer of clothing for my vigil.

Nypsi had been in active labor for quite some time. I had checked the monitor in my bedroom when I awoke at 8 a.m., and she was already obviously uncomfortable, pacing back and forth and digging in the straw. There was no sign of amniotic fluid, so I knew that it would still be a while, although I had no idea how long. I quickly got ready for the day and once again checked the monitor. She looked about the same — not happy, but not yet ready to get down to the business of birthing. I decided to run a quick errand, since I knew that the opportunity would become increasingly rare as lambing season progressed. I returned at 10:30, just in time to feed the sheep in the other barns: rams, unbred ewes, and ram lambs.

I made my way to the lambing barn when I finished, about an hour later. The bred ewes were hungry, calling to share their disappointment that I hadn’t arrived earlier. As I fed, I kept an eye on Nypsi, who was now calling to her unborn lambs, getting up and down, licking both the straw and her side in anticipation of the amniotic-fluid-soaked lambs to come, and yawning to relieve stress. She continued to pace with no signs of a water bag or newborn hooves, so I continued through my routine, knowing that eventually my attention would be focused on the new arrivals.

By the time my phone displayed 1:30 p.m., I had long ago finished feeding and had begun the wait, getting colder and colder as the minutes ticked by. Nypsi’s labor continued to progress slowly, and that is how I ended up sitting in the straw in the barn, waiting for lambs and watching the other animals around me.  I was entertained by the fighting barn cats and the antics of the many birds who flitted in and out of the barn, nesting in the rafters or drinking from the open water. Finally around 2:00 amniotic fluid gushed onto the straw, and I knew that Nypsi’s slow labor was  beginning to move along!

I don’t believe that lambing is a process that should be rushed. I’m a strong advocate for allowing nature to progress at its own pace so long as everything is still moving forward. Typically, the only time I interfere is for a quick check to make sure that the coming lamb is situated in the birth canal with “nose and toes forward,” the most common and easiest delivery position. If I find this to be the case — as I did with Nypsi — I just let things happen unless it becomes obvious that something has gone awry. As always, I kept a close eye on the color of the fluids dripping into the straw — as long as the fluids were clear and not turning orange or brown, I could simply wait. Nypsi took her time, but within a couple of hours, she gave birth to a nice 10.8-lb ram lamb named Quade and then a lovely 9.0-lb ewe lamb named Qorianka (nicknamed Qori). This is the year of Q names, which has been a small challenge in itself!

DOB 2/13/2017: Moorit Romeldale Nypsi with newborn twins Quade (R) and Qorianka (E)

As each lamb was born, I helped Nypsi dry it off. The Romeldale lambs are generally much quicker than the Romneys to get up and latch onto a teat — this seems to be part of their overall temperament. In contrast are the Romneys, which are so stoic that it seems everything is slow and deliberate, even their first moments of life! Nypsi’s two were up within moments of birth, and they almost immediately began the search for sustenance. I had stripped her teats (removed the plug that seals the end to keep bacteria out) as soon as Quade first got up. He latched on hungrily, sucking and wriggling his little tail rhythmically as if he had done this many times before. Qori was up just as quickly, but it took her longer to find a teat. Because she was attracted by her brother’s sucking sounds, she had trouble finding the open teat on the other side. With a little encouragement, however, she latched on and began her first meal.

Now a couple of days later, both Quade and Qori are doing well. Nypsi is a good and careful mother, keeping her lambs well-fed and warm. These two newborns mark the first of about forty-three lambs we’re expecting this season at Peeper Hollow Farm. Lambing is a time of intense work, great joy and sometimes terrible heartache. It seems appropriate to welcome new life as the world around us begins to awaken from winter’s slumber. If these two are any indication, we are in for a very nice group of lambs!

Skirting progress: Progress has been slow but steady through the forty-nine fleeces sheared at the end of January. I’ve finished with the Romeldales and am working on colored Romneys, the last group to be skirted. I’m hoping to post our fleeces to our list sometime late next week or early the week after (somewhere between February 23 and March 1). Check back here for more updates!

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