Opa’s Believe It or Not!

Here’s how it happened. I was working in the barn with Alyssa’s dad (Opa to our kids). We were installing some new water bowls in our lambing jugs. Lambing was already busy, and as new lambs were born we would put away the ewe with her new lambs in a jug. Towards the end of the day Opa was working near one of the lambing pens where one ewe had a nice little set of triplets. He brought her out of the pen, down the alley and into her 4×4 jug. We checked her milk, marked her down on the chart and, after finishing up our work, headed in for the night. 

Later that night, I came back to check ewes. From some distance away I could see the ewe with triplets. It looked like there were more than three lambs in her pen. It’s not unusual for a ewe to drop another lamb after a delay of a couple hours if she gets interrupted in the process. So, I went to check her. The closer I got the more lambs I saw. Four, five, six! Nope SEVEN! I couldn’t believe it! Seven healthy active lambs. A new record for us! We have seen six in the past, but they are rarely strong and healthy. These lambs were certainly below our normal birth weight but, considering that she had about 3 times as many lambs as our average ewe, the lambs looked amazing. She had them all up and drinking and she wasn’t rejecting any of them. 

The interesting thing is that if she had lambed out in the group pen I would have assumed that she was stealing some lambs from another ewe, but since she had the last 4 of them in an individual pen I knew they had to be hers. 

I put her out into a makeshift pen in the alley so that she would have enough room for all her lambs. In keeping with our protocol for large sets of multiples I fed colostrum to all the lambs to ease the competition pressure among the lambs and to make sure that all of them received adequate antibodies. In this case I had to put a blue spot on the lambs as I fed them to make sure that I didn’t miss one. 

The next morning she was still beautifully mothering all her lambs and everybody came out to have a look. What an exciting event. It made me think that if every ewe could manage this many lambs so well it would be great to have seven all the time, but it’s probably better if this is just an occasional surprise.

  

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Rideau Ewes

I was walking pens today and I could not resist taking this shot. I have to admit Rideau ewes are amazing. Obviously we have some lambs on the ground now. I am going to try posting some highlights from lambing in the next while.   

Lamb Coffee!?!

Lamb coffee and my coffee... don't want to confuse these at 2am!
Lamb coffee and my coffee… don’t want to confuse these at 2am!

Yeah I know it sounds crazy. But we were looking for something this year to help our lambs really get up and go. We wanted to make sure that they had the best possible start and got up to eat well right away. At first, we researched into some of the available lamb formulas (Nutri-Drench, Kick Start, Survive!, etc). They all make some pretty incredible claims, which I think have to be seen partly as marketing. But at the same time, they’re not a complete hoax. The ingredients in them would certainly provide some good energy and vitamins for the lambs. Most of them are made up of either molasses or vegetable oil and they all have a certain level of vitamins. So we started looking at the cost of giving each of our lambs a dose at birth to ensure adequate energy to get up and feed well (since mama’s colostrum is the real ‘magic formula’). As our research progressed, we realized that we could easily make most of those concoctions ourselves. So, after talking to our vet we decided to do a little bit of an experiment this year. At first, we were leaning towards a vegetable oil mixture, but our vet didn’t think the lambs would be able to metabolize the fat very well. So we opted for a molasses based mixture. Molasses is about 50% sugar and lambs seem to like the taste, so it makes a good energy supplement.

What I wasn’t expecting our vet to suggest was to try coffee! She told us that she had tried instant coffee mixed into milk for calves, and that it really perked them up. So, we added instant coffee to our grocery list.

 

We mixed up our recipe and put it in a bottle with a squirt cap like a soap dispenser. The first batch was a little thin and runny, so the next batch had a little more molasses to thicken it up. So far we have given the mixture to every lamb born as soon as we put them in the jug. I can’t say that I have noticed the lambs perk up when the caffeine hits their system the way I do, but it is seeming like we have less weak lambs who run out of energy before they get a good feeding in. Maybe some day we can do a more objective analysis of how well the stuff actually works. But for now it is a really inexpensive way to make sure our lambs get up and suck on their own. It sure beat milking and bottle feeding.

Lamb Drinking Lamb Coffee

 

I don’t know if anyone else out there has tried feeding coffee to livestock, but if you have I’d really like to know what your recipe is and how it works for you. I’ll share ours below and you can give your critique. Remember it’s always a good idea to talk to a vet before feeding something like this to your livestock, but the nice thing is, that it is completely made out of edible ingredients that you have in your own kitchen. So you know it’s a safe feed. As a ‘foodie’ would say, “I like it, cause I know what’s in it!”

 

We also included Selenium and vitamins E, A, and D. However I’m not going to include those in the recipe as Selenium can be potentially toxic to sheep if incorrectly dosed (though sheep also die without it). These ingredients you would definitely want to talk to your vet about and make sure they are properly dosed and administered.

Let us know what you think, crazy good idea or just plain crazy.

– Miles

Lamb Coffee Recipe

Eighty-Five Down… Three Hundred to Go

Yikes, where did January go?  I had intended on making a few more posts before lambing. I wanted to write a little bit about some of the unique things we’re trying out this year. Instead, what we’ll have to do is make a few posts as lambing goes along.

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January started off with a bang… literally. Our barn was one of the many in this area that had it’s roof collapse. Thankfully the main part of the barn was unaffected. Only the service room on the south end was damaged. Still, it set us back quite a bit in our preparations for lambing. We were extremely blessed to have lots of help getting things cleaned up and keeping the farm running at the same time. A huge thank you to all of our family, as well as the Pearson boys, who came to help out. All the wreckage is cleaned up and utilities are connected so that the barn functions as normally as possible.  photo

In the end, we were able to get everything set up in the barn, and lambing started pretty much right on schedule.


As of right now, we have about 85 ewes done lambing and things are going quite well. This is one of the first times that I have managed this many ewes lambing at once. We have nearly 400 ewes in this group. We have done groups this size in the past, but we always had at least one person hired to help out. So far, this year we are keeping up, and I have to attribute it to how much Alyssa has been able to help out. She has been coming out about twice a day with the kids and helping with getting jugs watered and grain fed. Timmy is really keen on learning the ropes and really enjoys using the garden hose to water jugs. All the kids enjoy coming to the barn, even Henry who likes to sleep in his car seat.


We have a few new things that we’re trying out this lambing season and we’re going to try to share those with you as things progress.

Take care
-Miles

Away in a Feed Bunk

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feed bunkI was blessed to spend a little time in the barn this morning doing the feedings.  Come Christmas time, I am always reminded of the manner in which our Savior entered the world.   So often, we forget to even consider the birth of Jesus this time of year.  In our best moments, we think about the baby wrapped up in swaddling clothes lying in a manger, but as I look at the nativity sets all around, I think that we have missed something of the reality of what Christ came into.

As I hurried my way through the barn this morning, hundreds of noisy ewes bellowed at me in their greedy quest to fill their stomachs.  They jostled and pushed their way through the straw and manure to find a place at the feed bunk.  I’ve always been quite happy with our feed bunks as far as feeding sheep goes, but Christmas morning the feed bunks take on a new appearance.  They look dirtier and dustier, the bottoms are caked with old bits of feed and manure and dozens of drooly sheep mouths plunge into the barley that I’m busy pouring.

I stopped to think about the feed bunk.  You see, when I ask my kids about the Christmas story I always ask them where the baby Jesus was laid.  They usually answer, “The manger.”  To which I quickly respond, “But, what is a manger?”  Now, even a lot of farm kids might have a hard time answering this.  Manger is a bit of an out of date word.  My kids have learned the right answer though, “A manger is a feed bunk!”

This is a stark truth when you are nose to nose with a two hundred pound panting drooling old ewe looking into her feed trough.  THIS is it! This is where the newborn baby Jesus was laid those many years ago.  This was his bassinet.

A fresh understanding of what it means that the Creator of the Universe stepped down into the form of a helpless baby to be born like any one of us.  The perfect God surrounded by the filth of a creation so utterly ruined by the sin of each one of us.  One has to ask the question why?  Why would he do that? It’s simple really.  It’s because he loves you!  It was all part of his masterful plan to redeem a world lost and without hope.  His plan to take our sin upon himself that each of us might have the opportunity to trust him and be saved from the consequences of our own sin!  What amazing love, what amazing grace!  And it started here, in a feed bunk.

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christmas

 

Counting Lambs Before They’re… Hatched?

Well, it’s now confirmed that about 400 ewes will be lambing here through February and March.  Yesterday was a full day of running our first breeding group through for ultrasound preg-checking.  We’ve been ultrasounding our own ewes now for a number of years and, though it is a big job, we find that it really pays off pretty quickly.  It allows us to identify our open ewes and, either give them another chance to breed, or identify cull ewes sooner than otherwise.  It also means that we aren’t feeding several open ewes all the way through late gestation and lambing rations, which is costly enough for pregnant ewes.

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We have been using a small portable ultrasound unit from Intriquip.  It’s about the perfect balance between cost and performance for our operation.  We use it simply to identify open and pregnant ewes.  As much as I would like to be able to count the number of lambs per ewe, it would require much more experience and training on my part and probably a more expensive ultrasound unit. IMG_8288[1]

 

IMG_8289[1]We were thankful to have Connor and Brayden Pearson join us for the day.  Once again they blew me away with their industriousness, and we managed to get through the whole group of a little over 400 ewes. IMG_8293[1]

 

Overall everything went very smoothly.  Brayden got to put our new alley system to the test while he ran the ewes up to us.  The night before last, I finished building and installing two guillotine gates in our curved lead up alley.  The idea was to be able to keep small groups of ewes moving up the alley in a way that they could always see sheep ahead of them.  To accomplish that, I used some pieces of overhead door panel for the bottom portion of the gates.  They are nice and light weight and don’t have spaces where sheep can stick a leg through and get injured.  The top portion of the gates is a panel made of galvanized steel rods.  The sheep can see through this part of the panel to the next pen ahead of them.  Sheep love to follow other sheep and it helps them move up the alley when they feel they are following rather than leading.  I ran cables up through a pulley and across the handling pen then through another pulley and across over top of the squeeze.  The plan was that the gates could be raised from either position.  It seems like the design worked, because Brayden didn’t seem to have much trouble keeping us supplied with ewes nonstop all day!  I’m thinking that the only change I will make is to add a counterweight to the lift cable so that the gates can be lifted a little bit more easily and quickly, but so far so good!IMG_8292[1]

 

IMG_8295[1]Meanwhile on the front end I was doing the ultrasound scanning while Connor recorded tag numbers and pregnancy status in the handheld.  We also decided to give these ewes their dewormer while we were handling them, and Connor took care of that while I was busy scanning.IMG_8290[1]

 

This is one job where I am extremely thankful for our Racewell Superhandler squeeze.  It works perfectly for ultrasounding.  What I do, is set the ‘eyes’ to catch the ewes early so their back end is hanging out of the squeeze nicely.  This gives me good access for scanning while keeping them restrained.  It is also very nice to have the ewes up off the ground so I can sit in a chair rather than squatting all day. IMG_8296[1]

 

Ultrasounding ewes is done externally between the left hind leg and the udder.  With a bit of practice most pregnant ewes are fairly quickly identified and the process moves along nicely.  Some ewes seem to require a little more probing around to determine.  The ones that I find most difficult are the open ewes.  Probably because it’s a difficult search when you’re looking for something that’s not there.  I usually spend a fair bit longer on ewes where nothing is immediately visible.  Sometimes it turns out that she is pregnant, sometimes my searching yields no results.  In that case she gets a pink mark and goes into a separate pen.  In our flock, I will wait a few days and re-scan the ‘open’ group of ewes just to make sure that they are all actually open.  At that point I can make a culling decision.  If a ewe is one of our lower producers and is now open, then it’s a good opportunity to ship her.  If she’s normally a good ewe and just didn’t take for some reason, then she will go in with the next breeding group and get another chance in a month or so. IMG_8297[1]

 

Ultrasounding sheep isn’t all that common in Alberta yet.  Likely because the vet association won’t allow technicians to offer the service, as it is technically a veterinary diagnosis.  If you are a mid to large sized flock owner it might be something that you want to look in to.  The cost of the equipment probably doesn’t make sense for anyone with a smaller flock, though several small producers might want to have joint ownership in a unit or some such arrangement.  If you are interested in learning more about ultrasound scanning sheep let me know and I can try to answer any other questions that you might have.

 

Next on the road to lambing will be shearing.  Stay tuned.

 

-Miles

 

Timmy’s First Flock

Last summer we had our hands full. Our oldest child turned three in September 2012 and so for a few months we had three kids under the age of three. For this reason, as well as the fact that we live pretty close to a main highway, we decided to build a little fenced in area in our yard for the kids to play in.

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Since the kids were all a little older this summer and our oldest seemed to have a better sense of danger and boundaries, we were thinking of just taking down the fence. That way we wouldn’t have to mow around and in it and quite honestly, it didn’t look very nice having a page-wire fenced in area on our front lawn. It looked a lot more like a sheep pen than it did a nice play area.

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And that is exactly why we turned it into just that, a little lamb pen! Just days before Miles was planning on tearing down the fence, I came to him with the idea of putting a couple of lambs in there for our kids to play with.

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The more we thought about the idea, the more it grew on us. We began to realize the opportunity it would provide for our oldest son Timmy to learn some responsibility as well as give him a chance to learn more about taking care of animals first hand.

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Now, everyday Timmy looks forward to watering his lambs. Miles had the great idea to use an old milk jug to haul the water in because it is easy for Timmy to carry and it has worked great.

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Timmy has not only enjoyed the task of watering his little flock, he also has fun running around and playing with the lambs. So far the lambs are still quite timid around Timmy but I’m thinking if he spends enough time playing in their pen, they’ll eventually warm up to him.

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We started out with two female orphan lambs and then after a few weeks we realized they weren’t quite big enough to keep up with the grass. So Miles brought over a male orphan lamb that needed to get weaned. We figure we may try to sell him as a grass fed lamb just as a bit of an experiment to see how much demand is out there for grass fed lambs.

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We’ll try to keep you updated on what happens to Timmy’s first flock as the summer goes on.

~Alyssa