Hands down, the sheep represented the biggest learning curve for 2011. I don’t know if I mean that in a good way, but we still own some, so that has to count for something. I hope.
In early February, we returned Zeus, our rent-a-ram, to his rightful farm. A few weeks later, our neighbor’s puppy (who we were honestly rather taken with), took up sheep chasing as a hobby, causing Big Bertha to run head first into a tree and knock herself blind for almost a month. This was Vet Visit No. 1 for the girls. In mid-March, a professional sheep shearer came over and gave everyone a much needed haircut.
We sent the wool to our local mill and were told that the fibers were too short to machine spin into yarn, so we opted for felt. I really need to call that lady, as I still don’t have our wool back. Hmmm.
Next set in the great lambing wait. The shepherd from who we purchased our sheep let me come to her farm and observe some newly born lambs, which was incredibly helpful. Although nothing would fully prepare us for lambing season. The last day of April, the first of our ewes went into labor. It was a disaster, resulting in Vet Visit No. 2, a dead lamb and a mother we had to put down for the sake of mercy. The second lambing went perfectly, in that we simply walked outside to find the mother licking clean Grace, the first lamb of Red Row Farm.
The fourth and final lambing was unsuccessful, but much less tragic than the first. We lost the lamb, but the vet (Visit No. 3) was able to save the mother. All in, we started out lambing with five ewes and ended it with four ewes, two lambs and three vet visits. Clearly this was not a money making operation.
Regardless, I think we will always keep sheep. There is something remarkably calming about watching them graze while the lambs frolic, and that truly is the best way to describe how they play.
In August, we purchased five more lambs so that we would have enough to make the trip to the abattoir worth the drive. Eleven sheep probably pushed our pasture to it’s limits, so we’ll have to be better about rotation next year.
In early November, Will took the lambs for processing. We sold all but one to local restaurants and spit roast the one we kept. We sent the pelts to Pennsylvania for tanning and I now have the luxury of a lambs wool rug to greet my toes each morning.
Currently, Zeus is back, servicing the ewes and setting us up for lambing 2012. We’ve since learned that our troubles were likely due to over feeding, so we’ve cut out grain from our sheep’s winter diet and are sustaining them on hay alone at the moment. Since only one of the ewes is under 1 year, it is likely that we’ll have some twins come spring. My biggest concern is that the sheep involved in the foruth lambing may have sustained some damage during last year’s birthing which will either hinder her getting pregnant or result in another year of complications. This time around, Will and I have a new rule – if an ewe is having trouble, we give ourselves one shot at attmepting to assist with the birth, after which we immediately call the vet. It seems both more prudent and more humane. Also, next year we’ll try to better time our animal processing so the freezer isn’t so filled with pork that there is no room for lamb. I do feel a bit robbed of a winter filled with shepherds pie right about now.