Chores this morning took an extra hour and a half. Normally that would lead to some long, sad story about how everything went wrong and broke down. Not this time. It was a “good” hour and a half extra. Sure, it had its moments, but I came back into the house with a good feeling.
It all started with the first check of the ewes. Usually I can tell if we have new lambs before I ever get to the pens, and this morning that was exactly how it went. Halfway down the alley to the pens, I heard motherly noises. A quick shine of the flashlight and there was a new lamb and momma. Jennifer and I went into the pen to herd it up to the lambing barn.
OK, I know you are supposed to have them in the lambing barn to lamb, but this was a surprise. I am notorious for being wrong about which ewe is going to lamb and when. We had sorted the ewes into three pens by how close they were, and this ewe was in the middle pen. You would think I would get better with experience, but it doesn’t appear to be so.
In any case, we worked at getting the lamb and securing the ewe to move them to the lambing barn and out of the mud and muck. That was when we noticed that the motherly sounds were not coming from the ewe with the lamb but another ewe close by who was very much in labor. Lucky for us, she was an old 4-H show ewe who was very tame and very halter broke.
We got the ewe with the baby situated and bedded down, and Jennifer took care of the ewe in labor. A quick assist and we soon had a new, very large lamb added to the morning total — and all before my first cup of coffee. As soon as everyone was situated, I hustled up to the house for that very essential caffeine.
As soon as it was light enough to see without a flashlight, I went back down to feed the ewes. Both new babies were doing well, and when I got to the first pen (the pen of ewes that were supposed to be the closest) I found another new lamb. This one proved to be a little trickier. It was her first lamb, so the ewe was not completely sure of what had happened, and to top it off, I was trying to take her away from breakfast.
I probably wasn’t as patient as I should have been, but eventually I did manage to catch the new momma and remove her from the pen. She was renamed in the process, and I might have made two or three disparaging remarks about sheep and their intelligence during the altercation, but eventually I persuaded her to go to the barn.
After I caught my breath, I went on about my normal chore routine and continued to feed the ewes. Nothing more in the middle pen, but when I got to the final pen — the one that had the ewes that were nowhere close to lambing — I had a surprise. Trailing behind its mama was a very energetic, very alive little lamb. It was a good surprise, but I must admit it hurt my sheepherders pride a little bit to be that wrong. The ewe was another former 4-H show animal and was easy to catch and lead.
Upon returning to the lambing barn with the new arrival, I found that my earlier, more difficult ewe had jumped out of the pen and wanted nothing to do with her baby. She once again got renamed, and her heritage was again reviewed. She was shoved back into the pen with the lamb she was more than a little dubious about. At this point, I was somewhere around an hour behind schedule and that was OK if this lamb did not become a bottle lamb.
The rest of the chores were cattle-related and they went along smoothly. We were at least two weeks from the cows starting to calve, so just a quick check to make sure they were where they were supposed to be and had enough hay was all that was required.
Then I came to the last bunch. I thought it looked like a calf nestled up to the feeder, but it couldn’t be. Well, it was, and by all accounts it seemed to be a healthy, happy calf with fire and vinegar and no adverse signs of being maybe a little premature.
I returned to the house, and with some feelings of trepidation, I checked on the unwilling mother. I am not sure what happened, but the lamb was nursing, and all seemed good. I finally made my way back to where I started, an hour and a half behind schedule for the day. And you know what? I didn’t care. It was a good day.
Glenn Brunkow is a fifth-generation farmer in the Northern Flint Hills of Pottawatomie County in Kansas. He was a county Extension agent for 19 years before returning to farm and ranch full time. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.