I’ve written about our white Romeldale ewe January many times over the years. She was a bottle lamb after her mother tried to kill her at birth. Although she was returned to the barn after only a couple of weeks in the house, she had imprinted on me, and we have been fast friends since. She is the girl in the barn who will call out to me when something is terribly wrong (I can hear her calls as I sit in the house), thereby saving a flockmate from a horrible fate. From this and other attempts over the years, she come to understand that her actions can be interpreted to express her desires, giving her some minimal control over her world in my presence. She is the girl who will volunteer to be sheared, standing in the opening of the pen as we select our first ewe (now, always January), and will come and push her big head under my hand as I work, asking to be rubbed and petted for just a while. We have become close, and our friendship has only deepened over the years as we have learned how to communicate with each other more efficiently.
Last December, January scanned with “three or four” fetuses, putting her in that small club of ewes who continually produce multiples for us. I had two possible marking dates for her: one for lambs on February 27th and the other for March 17th, which would normally mean that the ultrasound would be the determining factor – but the scan put her due date at March 8, precisely between my two possibilities. I watched her closely near the end of February, and although she was quite large, it was obvious that she was not yet due. As a result, I shifted her due date of record to March 17th, and she stayed in our general population pen as she watched ewe after ewe move into the drop pen to deliver her lambs. With each new ewe that I moved to the drop pen, January expressed her disappointment that I had not come to move her. She would stand firmly planted in the pen opening, insisting that I move her in. She has come to know that moving into the drop pen means that the lambs are close – and entry to that pen means that the struggle to carry so many pounds of lamb is nearly at an end.
After all, when all is said and done, January puts on a total of about 90 pounds of lamb plus associated fluids and tissues during each gestation. That is a lot of extra weight! Imagine having to carry around an eighty to ninety pound front-pack everywhere you went, day and night – it would be exhausting! I don’t doubt that, as she nears the end of her pregnancy, she wishes those lambs would come out and she could begin mothering instead of carrying!
Finally, the day came last weekend when it was January’s turn to move into the drop pen – and she was thrilled! When she stationed herself in the opening, I didn’t try to move her away – I called her in, and she ran (as well as she can run at this point!) to enter before I changed my mind! Once in, she came to me, rubbing against me in thanks for allowing her entry. The drop pen has several advantages over the general population pen: better feed and more space without the crush around the feeders, plus heat lamps if it gets cold are all perks for those at the end of their gestation.
Yesterday, Liberty delivered her single white ram lamb, Quill, in the drop pen and January really, really wanted that boy. She knows that her babies are always white, and this boy looked good and healthy. She was happy to overlook the fact that he is Romney and she is Romeldale. Although I blocked her at every attempt, January was insistent. She first tried the direct route past me and to the lamb, but I held her back. Then, she tried to get me to rub her belly while her head found its way over to lick the boy – but I got wise to her ways and again pushed her in the opposite direction. Not to be deterred, she went around the hay feeder slowly, and lumbered toward the lamb from the other direction – head down and looking anywhere but at me. Once again, I pushed her back and away from Liberty and Quill, but she continued to try to steal him until I finally moved the new little family into a jug, away from January’s reach.
The fact that January tried to steal this lamb yesterday tells me that she is close to her own delivery – and her due date is today. I got up several times during the night to check the monitor, not wanting my friend to have to deliver alone – but there was no labor. Not yet. When I entered the barn this morning, it was obvious that January’s lambs were moving into position – she had dropped, with obvious deep hollows in front of each hip. I am fairly certain that today will be the day – but there is never a guarantee until labor begins, and we aren’t there quite yet.
I know that as soon as her lambs arrive, we will both feel the lifting of a heavy weight – for January, it will be the weight of the lambs she no longer has to carry, and for me, the worry for my friend, and that it will all turn out well for her. For now, we both wait – as do you! Just know that when it does happen, I will immediately post a photo and info on our New Lambs page – and then celebrate that my good friend is once again surrounded by young lambs. She is never happier than when she is surrounded by the new lives that she has brought to the flock!