There is nothing like sitting in a barn on a still, cold night watching a new mother and her lamb nestled in the hay in a warm circle of lamplight. No matter the temperature, you feel warm inside. You can see your breath, and hear owls calling softly in the woods. It seems as if this is the only place in all the world and you are enveloped in a golden glow of magic. I never fail to think of Christ’s birth and I wonder if this beautiful, snug feeling of peace is one of the many reasons He was born in a lambing cave.
In the year 2000 we were given a mixed flock of sheep and our great adventure began. As time passed and we learned how to manage them, we culled and bred down to a flock of almost pure Suffolk sheep. Suffolk are wool sheep, and require a lot of maintenance. We did our own shearing, and had to keep up with hoof care, which meant foot baths and regular trimming. Foot rot was our worst enemy. If not treated properly, it could leave an animal lame for life.
We had very little trouble with lambing. Our girls were healthy and strong and we only had to pull two or three lambs in all the years we had them. But we always had to be on hand for the birthing, or soon after because of all the extra care. The mothers had to have shots of calcium, B-12, and plenty of water with electrolytes and molasses. The lambs also got a B-12 shot and a paste called Pro-Bias, which is a compound of mostly yeast to “jump start” their digestive system. We also put little wool coats on them for warmth for the first 48 hours. Hypothermia was always a concern.
When the lambs were a week old, we would band the tails to make them shorter. Long tails on a wool sheep can lead to all sorts of problems during the summer months due to flies and other insects. Also, we sold lambs to 4-H students for showing in the local fairs, and the rules were very strict about the tails.
I loved my Suffolk dearly. They were gentle, loving and fun. I had my special pets who would eat out of my hand. Greg and I worked with them together and it was some of the best days of my life. But, the climate has begun to change, and we began to have serious health problems with them due to the weather. Wool sheep are not suited for extreme heat, and we lost several due to diseases. At last, we knew we could no longer keep them. So, last year we sold the flock, and began again with another breed.
Our new sheep are hair sheep, which means they shed their wool in spring like a dog. We now have a Dorper/Katahdin mix with a little Jacob sheep thrown in. Jacob sheep are wool, so one of my new girls never quite sheds all of her wool and we have to shear off her back every spring.
We have always had lambs beginning in January and going into February. But this year, we had lambing season early. The weather has been so odd with cold days here and extreme heat there that nature has gotten a bit confused, and my sheep have lambed early. So far we have had one lamb, with at least two more to follow in the next few days. Hair sheep are much more resilient than wool. The mothers only need the electrolytes and molasses in water, and the lambs only need Pro-Bias. They are thick and furry and have no need of little coats. And there is no need to be on hand for the births.
We have discovered that the dreaded hoof rot doesn’t seem to apply to our new sheep. We check and trim their hooves whenever we worm them, but so far there are no problems, even in really wet weather. And they are very friendly. They all eat from my hand and follow me wherever I go. But I still miss my Suffolks, and those cold winter nights in the barn attending to new mothers and lambs.
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