Lambsicles? Or Lambing in Artic Conditions
Kimberly Hagen – Grazing Specialist, UVM Extension Center for Sustainable Agricultlure
Tomorrow is the last day of March. I like the sound of the word April and saying it feels so inviting, but it flutters around like a butterfly – all particular and fussy about where it will land. It can and will be, a trying month, no matter what Persephone’s state of mind on the return. But it will be April. All the lambs are born now, filling their bellies with rich ewe’s milk, and a chubbiness starting to round out their middles and little legs. After the most challenging lambing season I have ever encountered, with regular temps of minus 15 degrees or lower every morning during this lambing season, there is a strong feeling of relief that April is indeed here – no matter the fickleness that accompanies, it can’t have the prolonged deep cold that settled here through March.
Somehow the ewes and I matched our wits and determination for a pretty good track record, with only one loss in the whole bunch of arrivals. One small one from a group of triplets on a morning of minus 20 degrees froze before the ewe could get it cleaned off. Another of the group almost didn’t make it, but I tucked into my shirt, brought it back to the house, dunked it into a sink of warm water, and toweled it dry. After a squeeze or two of warm milk into its belly, it fell asleep, but still doing the shiver/shudders of a low body temperature. Keeping it inside my shirt for the rest of the day, it finally poked its head up and gave a very loud bleat around 3 in the afternoon. It was ready to go! A syringe of moms milk, and a visit to the barn to see if the ewe would take it back. She did! Spring – here we come!
Since the ewes usually lamb sometime in the morning hours between 6 and 10 am, rarely have trouble, and are quite good at taking care of their new lambs – (I don’t keep those ewes that are not good mothers) I don’t spend all my waking hours at the barn waiting. However, I do get to the barn extra early on these cold mornings, with my “ little black bag” in hand. It has iodine, syringes, a tube, and there is a stack of towels and lamb jackets kept at the barn. If the ewe is already working on a lamb I let her have a few minutes with it before I pick it up and towel it down. I let it go to try and nurse from the ewe, and let her clean it some more and get it’s scent before I put the wool jacket on. But if she has left it to go have another lamb, I move a little quicker since negative temperatures can have a deeply chilling effect on wet objects – Lambsicles? The jackets have made all the difference in the survival rates for early, cold weather lambing, and I thank my neighbor again for giving me the boxes of Christmas stockings for recycling into lamb jackets.
And I give a nod of thanks to that great yellow orb in the sky, and Ra’s return journey to the northern hemisphere. It is deeply welcomed, folks (and lambs) turning their faces to feel the drench of basking warmth. You can’t help but think about how dear it is, and why human cultures all over the planet created deities for the role of taking and bringing back this most important force of life. Where indeed would we be without this heat and light? The focus now turns to the contest of when pastures are ready to be grazed, and whether the hay supply will hold out. It’s going to be a close one on this farm, and it might be prudent to locate a few extra bales for a better cushion should the need be there. It always amazes me how quickly these lambs start nibbling on hay and sipping water from the bucket, adapting to the next phase of their life within weeks of their birth. Tough little buggars…..