We opened up the barn over the weekend, letting the lambs romp in the fresh air and sunshine for the first time. The mention of sunshine is a bit misleading, since the temperatures on Saturday when we opened up were only in the 30s and much of the day ended up overcast. I had checked the weather forecast all through last week, and since the prediction was for warmer temperatures, we decided it was finally time to empty the barn and clean out the winter’s soiled bedding.
This decision did bring some complications. Liberty had just delivered her lambs last Wednesday, and I felt they were too young to be removed from the lambing jug and put directly out into the cold. Instead, we moved Liberty and her twins into a temporary pen in a clean back corner of the barn. In this way, the small family would be out of the way of the general cleaning but still within the protected space of the barn.
Grace, one of our older Romney ewes, also posed a bit of an issue. I had not seen a marking on Grace during the breeding season, but she had scanned with twins during the ultrasound in December. Having no marking date meant that I have no accurate due date for her; the best I have is the ultrasound due date, which the technician said was March 27th. Since we pulled the rams on Nov. 1 and Romneys have a gestation of 148 days + 2 days, the last possible due date for her would be Sunday, March 29th — yesterday — and the latest delivery date would be tomorrow, March 31st. I didn’t want her to deliver her twins out in the cold and windy field while we cleaned, so we penned her back in the same corner next to Liberty’s family. In the end it didn’t really matter, since she didn’t go into labor on Saturday or even yesterday; she is still waiting as of this writing.
With Liberty, her twins, and Grace tucked away, all of the remaining ewes ran for the field as soon as we opened the door. It had been weeks since they had been outside, and back then the world had been covered by snow and ice. They were now eager to nibble the new green growth in the pasture, lie in the sun, and romp across the field. They were eager to enjoy their freedom. Their lambs, on the other hand, had never been out of the barn — and they were not thrilled about running out into the unknown. We herded some of them outside with their mothers in the initial push, but many stayed behind in the barn, afraid to move out. They knew that their dams would come looking for them in the last place they had been.
When we got out as many as we could, we closed the door. The lambs that were still indoors had to be caught and carried to the field, reuniting them one by one with their mothers. Although this process took some time, we haven’t found any other way that works with less stress. Within about half an hour, all the lambs were happily outdoors with their mothers and we were ready to clean!
Watching the lambs outside is always entertaining; I can enjoy it for hours. We didn’t do much watching on Saturday as we needed to get the barn cleaned and fresh straw bedding put down in time for the mid-afternoon feeding. By the time we finished, the flock was hungry and ready to reenter the clean barn for their hay and grain ration.
The barn has remained open since, and the entire flock — including Liberty and her twins — have access to the West Pasture 24/7. The only sheep still penned in the barn is Grace as she waits for her twins. I’ve been walking the field multiple times each day to make sure all of the lambs are still healthy and safe, finding their mothers to nurse, and generally doing well. So far, so good.
Even better, Grace looks to be in labor — so perhaps in a few hours, lambing 2015 will be officially over!