Matching Game

Spring lambing is beginning to come to a close here, and that means a bit more time to make some posts here on the blog. Throughout lambing we took some pictures and over the next little while I’ll try to catch you up on some of the things we do here during lambing.

As on most Canadian sheep farms, once a ewe has had her lambs we put them together in a ‘jug’ (small aprox. 4’x4′ pen) to bond with each other. After a few days the lambs get their tag and are ready to head out into the ‘hardening pen’ which is a group pen with ewes and similarly aged lambs. This pen usually has 6-12 ewes in it, and it gives the lambs a chance to learn to find their mother in a group setting. This stage can be a little challenging for some of the triplets, especially if the ewe is a little flighty. Usually if a ewe has multiples and we don’t think they are getting enough milk we pull one or more off and put them on our milk feeder, but occasionally we have a set of multiples that seem pretty good but we aren’t 100% sure of. Other times when lambing gets really busy we run out of jug space and have to move some sets into the hardening pen a little younger than we like.

This is the lambing tray we use when tagging lambs. It has all the supplies we need on it so we can just carry it from one jug to the next.

This is the lambing tray we use when tagging lambs. It has all the supplies we need on it so we can just carry it from one jug to the next.

In the hardening pen there are lots of lambs running around and napping all over the place. It can be hard to spot a problem lamb when you are busy doing chores around the barn. Often by the time you notice one that’s hungry it’s gone too long. So we finally came up with a relatively simple solution. Since there are usually only a few lambs in a hardening pen that we want to keep an eye on we needed a way to spot them easily from a distance. Tag numbers are no good because they can’t be read from more than a few feet away.
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What we decided to do, is to give a matching paint mark to each set of lambs as well as their ewe when we want to keep an eye on them. The paint is designed for marking livestock and we buy ours at the local UFA. The other nice thing about this is that it gives a matching visual to know which lambs belong to which ewe. We can now see at a glance if the ewe is letting her own lambs drink, or possibly ignoring them. And of course we now know that any lamb who has a paint mark in the hardening pen is one we need to keep an eye on.
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For this group I decided to paint their right hind legs where the paint wouldn’t stay in their wool and would wear of quicker since it doesn’t need to be a long term identifier. The nice thing about doing legs is that you have four to choose from, so if we have more than one set of lambs in a hardening pen that we want to mark, I can just do a different leg. Alternatively we could use a different color of paint for different groups of lambs which would give a nice clear visual.
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I know I have seen pictures from some flocks where every lamb is painted with a number which matches it’s ewe. For our needs though it seems to be working just fine to mark only the ones we want to keep an eye on. It’s quick and easy to do, and saves lambs in the long run.
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-Miles

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