Lambing season can be a stressful time for shepherds and not a year goes by that we don't learn something new or have a new problem that needs to be solved. It's important to be prepared for lambing season (and late gestation) to prevent overnight shipping fees and hurried trips to Tractor Supply and Runnings- which we just did yesterday.
Here is a list of some of my lambing essentials and what they are used for. Please don't take this as veterinary advice, but rather tips from a fellow shepherd and things I have learned over 15 years of lambing. Everyone has their own lambing tips, tricks, supplies and ways of doing things.
Let me know if there's something else that should be included in my list! Is there something you have found useful that I should also have on hand?
1. Scale & sling- Every lamb is weighed immediately following birth
2. Iodine & surgical scissors- For removing the umbilical cord after birth
3. BoSe & Vitamin E- For lambs with potential white muscle, or perking up weak lambs
4. Gloves (both regular latex & breeding gloves)- For pulling lambs and messy situations
5. Clean towels- For assisting ewes with drying off lambs in cold weather. We like to put in the drier for a few minutes to warm up
6. Colostrum & milk replacer- When the ewe may not be able to provide
7. Pritchard teats & 16 oz soda bottle- For feeding milk if needed
8. Stomach tube- Truthfully I have almost never tubed a lamb in my 15 years of lambing, but others would tell you this needs to be on your list
9. Heat lamps- Helpful on very cold February nights! I really like the new ones from Premier 1
11. O-rings/ring expander- For docking tails and castration
1. Nutri-Drench- I give this to any ewe when off feed or seaming weak
2. Vitamin B12- For so many things!
3. Penicillin- For preventing and treating infections
4. Syringes and Needles- I keep mostly 18g x 1" needles on hand and have syringes from 3cc to 20 cc.
5. Drench gun- For giving meds, water, nutri-drench, ANYTHING
6. CalNate/Dextrose/Propylene glycol- For treating ketosis
7. Prolapse retainer and harness- Because at some point a ewe will likely prolapse
8. Uncoated aspirin- For use as a mild painkiller
9. A box or tote for carrying supplies to the barn
And last but not least, the books I LIVE by during lambing season:
"Managing Your Ewe & Her Newborn Lambs" and "Lamb Problems: Detecting, Diagnosing, Treating" by Laura Lawson
I cannot tell you how many ewes and lambs we have saved using these books! They are the most comprehensive and practical veterinary books for sheep that I have found. Her approach sometimes seems like "throw the kitchen sink at them and see what happens", but we have had good luck.
There are many other things I have on hand that I've accumulated throughout the years, but this is a good list for someone just starting out and many things I did not have on hand my first few years of lambing. When in doubt- call your vet and have them provide you with the supplies you need. Often, specific items cannot be found at your local Tractor Supply and need to be purchased online at Premier 1 or Valley Vet. I have found that asking questions of other shepherds has been one of the best methods of learning.
I thought it would be fun to post a photo from each month of this year to highlight and remember all that I've accomplished this year on the farm. It was difficult to choose just one photo for each month. From the most lambs we have ever had, to grazing our newly seeded pasture, to the release of my first farm yarn- 2019 has been a great year for our little flock! To keep up to date with my happenings throughout the year, follow me on Instagram or Facebook: @OrchardViewLincolns.
Lambing began on January 9th and began several months of excitement.
This photo is obviously not of my farm, but of a sheep on its way to market in Kenya. I had the opportunity to travel to Kenya in February and saw LOTS of sheep!
We ended the season with 40 lambs- the most ever!
Lambs on spring pasture.
At the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, I had the opportunity to have my sheep judged by Ian and Louise of the Risby Flock of Lincolns in the UK. Such an honor and so great to have them here in the US!
A VERY wet May and June led to a very lush pasture. It was exciting to see my pasture in full production after seeding last summer.
One of my yearling ewes enjoy a summer evening on pasture.
Breeding season was in full swing in August.
Beautiful fleeces and a pasture full of white clover.
Here is a #nofilter photo for you! There were so many gorgeous sunsets this October. It was hard to choose just one photo.
Shearing day in November resulted in some of the highest yielding and highest quality fleeces we have ever had.
December means time to stay feeding hay again. Pregnant ewes are preparing for another lambing season.
,The past couple weeks have been filled with pregnancy announcements for both family and friends of mine and Orchard View Farm has an announcement of our own: we will be expecting around 40 lambs starting in January 2020!
Yesterday, we had Dr. Andrew from Attica Veterinary Services come to ultrasound my ewes. Last year was the first year we did this and it was very helpful to know which ewes were confirmed pregnant and how many lambs each ewe was expecting. We were even able to save at least one lamb when we realized the ewe had only birthed one, but the ultrasound said she had two.
Ultrasounding the sheep is similar to ultrasounding humans. The probe lays against the ewe's belly and the vet then can see the images through a headpiece. They look for images of a head and spine and can often determine the age of the fetus. The vet checks both sides of the ewe to determine whether there are twins. While telling the gender of the lambs is possible, it is difficult with the lamb moving around and it must be positioned correctly. The best time for ultrasounding ewes is 45-90 days of gestation.
This year, it appears that we have a 100% conception rate! We will be expecting around 40 lambs with only a few singles and a possible set of triplets (which are more difficult to tell via the ultrasound). Most of the ewes are around 100 days of gestation. A sheep's gestation period is approximately 148 days, meaning that we will be having a very busy few weeks at the end of January.
Now that we have confirmed pregnancies that are a month from lambing, it's time to start prepping the barn, our supplies, and ourselves!
If all goes as planned, lambs will be ready to be sold and go to their new home beginning in May so contact me if you are interested in lambs for spring 2020.
This past weekend was our fall shearing day. I have been looking forward to seeing all my summer fleeces; they look so much better after being outside on pasture all summer than coming out of being in the barn all winter. I was not disappointed!
We sheared all 38 sheep, including yearlings and lambs that did not get sheared in the spring. This means I have over 15 fleeces with 10"+ staple length, and most were stunning! I have decided to not shear my lambs until the fall, and let yearlings go a year after their first shearing to better evaluate the fleece genetics in my flock. It has definitely been useful to see which sheep are able to grow a year of fleeces that remain open and beautiful, without matting. The ewes that are able to grow a dense, lustrous and open fleece will be the ones I keep for breeding.
It was not only my long stapled fleeces that I was excited about, but my "normal" fleeces with 6 months of growth. Many of my ewes had fleeces that were 6" or longer since just May! Even Colin (my shearer) commented on the staple length this shearing. The only change we have made is grazing on the new pasture that we seeded last fall. This pasture has a very high percentage of white clover, which adds more protein to the diet than a regular grass pasture, which could've contributed to better fleece growth throughout the spring and summer. Since I started grazing my ewes on pasture with no access to the barn, my fleece quality has improved so much- they have clean, open locks that make skirting a dream! There is no straw, and the dew/rain washes out any dirt.
I have lots of orders to start filling, so let the skirting begin!
Vacuuming the carpet and changing the sheets are things we do to clean our own houses, but cleaning my sheeps' house (ie. the barn) looks a little bit different! We finally have had the opportunity to do a big clean out this week that involves the tractor, a manure spreader and a some muscles.
Cleaning out the barn involves taking down the wooden gates, shuffling the sheep around and putting bucket load after bucket load of manure into the spreader. We are lucky to own enough land that we are able to spread the manure right behind the barn. A local dairy farm rents our fields, so we had to wait for the corn to be chopped off before we could clean the barns this year. The manure spread on the fields will be used as fertilizer for next year's corn crop. We borrow the spreader from a friend down the road, which is very helpful!
This job is very muddy (always), very stinky, and a lot of work but looks so good when we are done! I'm not entirely sure the sheep notice a difference, but it makes me feel better knowing they're on a cleaner pack. Half of our barn has a concrete floor and the other half has a dirt floor. Lambing takes place in the half with concrete, so we want to give the sheep enough time to build up a bit of a manure pack to keep the floor warmer in the wintertime.
I am SO thankful for my dad who did this project entirely on his own while I was at work during the week. He's a trooper! It looks so much better and we can continue our prep for the winter.
If you weren't at the Purple Pained Lady or the Naples Grape Festival, you might've been at the Finger Lakes Fiber Festival this weekend! Every year in September, fiber artists from around the Rochester area and beyond gather at the Hemlock fairgrounds for the Finger Lakes Fiber Festival. Organized by the Genesee Valley Handspinner's Guild, this festival is a fun time to meet up with other shepherds, fiber artists and old friends.
While I have yet to take advantage of the many classes offered, I love to go to pick up some local yarn (as if I need any more...) and catch up with friends I haven't seen in a while. This year I decided to take my grandma and spend the afternoon browsing gorgeous fiber.
As I continue to build the fiber side of my business, fiber festivals are a great way to see how others package, display and market their wool. There's a lot to be learned from others and the fiber community is a very caring community who is very willing to talk with me and share ideas.
One friend I stopped to talk to was Holly of Peartree Farm. She has beautiful Teeswater sheep that are also a British longwool breed. I went to high school with her kids and it fun to now connect on fiber. She taught me how to spin last winter and has been a great mentor of mine as I begin to delve into the world of fiber. Holly is a talented spinner who makes beautiful art yarns spinning with the locks of her sheep. She recommends "Ideas & Patterns for Art Yarns" and "Unleash Your Inner Design Power" as great books for knitting and creating with art yarns. I would love to do make some of these amazing patterns with my Lincoln Locks. Someday...
The other person I enjoyed talking with was Karen of Windsong Wensleydales. Wensleydales are yet another British Longwool breed. Though different than the Lincoln, I loved her display and how she is marketing the beautiful locks. Karen spent a lot of time talking to me about preparing the longwool fleeces for sale and how best to package the roving and locks. I learned so much and am very thankful for the time she spent chatting! We had previously connected through the LocalFiber community in Ithaca and it was great to chat again. I hope to take her up on her offer to come visit and play with wool sometime soon!
There were several vendors offering Shave 'Em to Save 'Em passport stickers, which was great to see. If you live in the Western New York area, it's worth checking out this great little fiber festival for beautiful yarns, fibers and classes! Add it to your calendar for next September.
For years I have been dreaming of creating a flock yarn out of my wool. This past winter I finally decided to make the investment and do it! I had a beautiful crop of lamb fleeces last fall and felt they would make the perfect first batch of farm yarn.
I really value local systems and having my yarn be a completely "New York" product was important to me, so I enlisted the help of Battenkill Fiber Mill to process my fiber. The owner, MJ, and I have been friends for several years, interacting through both the fiber and general NY agricultural circles. Since I know relatively little about the spinning process and what yarn would best show the characteristics of my wool, I trusted her to do what she thought would be best!
What I received was an absolutely gorgeous 2-ply DK weight yarn with amazing luster and softness unlike traditional Lincoln Longwool yarns, thanks to using lamb's wool!. She separated out the natural colored fleeces to develop two different gray colorways and I could not be more impressed!
The yarn came back from the mill in 4 oz skeins. Each skein is around 225 yards. I have spent the spring and summer washing the skeins and prepping them for sale. I'm still working on the ideal label, but am happy with my first attempt. It is so fun to look at the finished skeins and think " that's my wool!". I'm currently working on getting an online store finally set up.
I decided to name this yarn "Empire", to encompass the fact that it is a New York product and also go with my farm name, Orchard View. The Empire apple was developed at Cornell University in the 1940's and this sweet, crisp apple is one of my favorites. Many of you know Cornell is my alma mater, so the name Empire is relevant to me on several levels. As I continue to develop yarn lines, I hope to keep with the apple variety theme.
Need suggestions on what to make with this yarn? Once the weather cools and I have a little more time, I'm planning on making this hat (by recommendation of MJ, who spun the yarn), a cowl like this one or this one, and a shawl similar to this one or this one. Maybe I'll try my hand at my first sweater this winter; I've been eyeing this one for years and the charcoal gray might just be perfect!
Stay tuned as I play with the yarn and knit up some samples, but don't hold your breath because it won't be until the weather gets cooler this fall. I'd love to know if you have any pattern ideas that might work with this drapy, lustrous yarn. Or better yet- if you have completed projects, I'd love to see them!
Even though winter seems so far away right now, it's time to start prepping for those chillier days! As my flock has grown, our need for hay has also grown. Thankfully, we have a great neighbor just a mile down the road that is able to bale all the hay we need for the year. It is just a basic grass hay with a little bit of clover and it provides adequate nutrition for the sheep. He delivers the wagons right to the farm and with some help from friends, we get the bales unloaded and into the mow. With two people unloading bales onto the elevator and two people stacking up in the mow, the process goes pretty quickly. Despite all the rain this spring, July has brought beautiful baling weather! We got 10 wagons unloaded in 4 evenings over the past couple weeks. Thankfully, it wasn't too hot until the last night!
This year, we put almost 1,000 bales up in the mow. We can now sit back and enjoy the rest of the summer knowing that the sheep will be well fed this winter.
There's a holiday that shepherds celebrate one to two times per year... shearing day! Raising a longwool breed of sheep means that shearing happens twice for us; spring (April/May) and fall (November). I've known my shearer, Colin, since our 4-H days and he comes out from Connecticut to help with the task.
The first thing we do is separate the sheep into groups. This spring, we only sheared the mature ewes who had lambs over the winter, and the rams. The lambs and yearlings won't be sheared until the fall, as I am striving for longer fleeces in my flock. Having everyone separated and penned up at the start helps the day run efficiently. Once we get started, it's an "assembly line" of shearing, packing wool, hoof trimming and deworming. I help corral/catch the sheep, Colin shears, and my friend Anna is the designated hoof trimmer. Sheep's hooves grow just like our fingernails and need to be regularly trimmed. After the sheep are sheared is a great opportunity to do this, along with giving them a dewormer as the pasture is just coming on strong. Meanwhile, I inspect each fleece both on and off the sheep and decide whether it should be kept, and what it should be used for (sold raw, processed, etc.).
Shearing provides a great opportunity for the shepherd to inspect all the sheep and determine how they recovered from lambing, their udder health, hoof health, and overall condition. While I'm in the barn 1-2x/day throughout the year, I don't necessarily get up close and personal with every sheep like we do on shearing day.
This spring, we sheared 25 sheep and it took us 4 hours. We might not be the fastest crew out there, but going a bit slower reduces our stress, which in turn is less stressful on the sheep. And we have a fun time doing it as well! We always start with donuts and coffee and end the day with pizza from our favorite pizza shop in town.
I have a handful of winter fleeces available for purchase. Winter fleeces aren't the highest quality, as ewes use much of their energy for growing and feeding their lambs. There is also a bit higher vegetative matter (VM) since they have been fed hay all winter long. But, with a little love they would make an excellent raw fleece!
Now is the fun part, watching them grow their wool back all summer long.
At no point when I started raising sheep as a 12 year old, did I ever think I would reach the point where lambing season concluded with 40 LAMBS, but here we are. This year's lambing season seemed to drag out longer than usual (starting January 9th and ending yesterday, April 9th), even though it started a few days late and I was gone for several weeks in the middle of it. It's amazing how much the weather in July and August seem to dictate how the lambing season goes.
Here are a few stats of this year's lambs:
24 Ewe lambs
16 Ram lambs
31 Natural colored Lincolns
5 White Lincolns
For once, it seems like the ewe:ram ration is in my favor! We had the least number of singles in a few years, which is fantastic, and even had two sets of triplets. And only one bottle lamb, which makes me quite happy.
No lambing season ends without problems, and this year we did lose a couple lambs and one ewe, all to issues that likely couldn't have been prevented. We did have a miracle lamb this year that got polio and was touch-and-go for about 48 hours and after aggressive Vitamin B supplements, has recovered fully. After 15 years of lambing, I had no idea until this year that polio caused by vitamin B deficiency is even something that can happen to lambs!
We ultrasounded our ewes for the first time in late November and only had one come up open. But, come mid-February, it became very clear that was indeed NOT open. She rounded out our lambing season with a vaginal prolapse and lambing several days after her last possible due date (the rams came out on shearing day, 11/5).
I'm always amazed at how I continue to learn annually and encounter new problems. You'd think that after 15 years and nearly 300 lambs, we would've seen it all, but that never seems to be the case! So far, the lambs are growing well and I look forward to many going to their new homes over the next month. We still have lambs for sale if you are interested! :D
Emmaline Long, main owner of Orchard View Farm, has a passion for Lincoln sheep and loves educating others about her breed and farm, She currently serves as the Vice President of the National Lincoln Breeders Association.
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