This has been one historical winter here in Western NY! Over 110 inches of snow, too many (>15) days below 0, and storms galore. While most people would probably agree that spring is coming in like a lion, on our farm, spring always comes in like lambs... Literally!
We finished lambing in early February (I know, I'm slow on the updates!) and ended with 12 purebred Lincoln lambs: 6 ewes and 6 rams. We also had 3 Lincoln/Hampshire crosses that still descendants from my very first sheep, Juliet. We have already sold many if the lambs, and a few cull ewes and are working in adding some more ewes to our flock this summer. Dad is determined to breed 15 Lincolns next year, so it looks like we will be expanding a bit. Those of you who have been following us for a while know that last year was a terrible year with regards to lambing, and thankfully this year was much more successful. I think we aired out all our bad luck (hopefully for a while!).
March ended with a storm dropping almost a foot of new snow (see photos below), but now that April is here, we are hoping spring is here for good. Dad and I trimmed some hooves last week, sheared a ewe that got missed in December, and started to clean up the barn. Spring is never a fun time on a farm with the amount of mud everywhere. I really cannot wait for it to dry out!
The Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival is right around the corner and in a couple weeks it will be time to start washing the lambs and ewes who are going this year. It's hard to believe it's almost that time of year.
We have also been very busy continuing to wash our winter fleeces for more blankets and yarn. We got a beautiful shipment of blankets and yarn in a couple weeks ago and I'm hoping to send more soon to keep up with the demand.
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Surprises happen all the time on the farm. Those of you involved in agriculture are well aware...
We start breeding our ewes right after the county fair in July, hoping that all lambs will be born before the middle of February. A sheep's gestation period is approximately 148 days, which is why were very surprised to find these two cute lambs in the barn Saturday morning! Counting backwards, this ewe must have been bred the first day they were in with the ram, and run a few days short on her gestation period. This is one of our Hampshire-Lincoln crosses, so its always a surprise to see what colors the lambs end up being. The black one is a ewe lamb and the white one is a ram lamb. They are 7/8ths Lincoln. We had to bring the ewe lamb inside for a few hours due to the temperatures being in the teen's and her brother being a more aggressive nurser. But after sitting by the fire in our living room for a few hours, she's been much more active. Because we are a small hobby farm with only a few lambs at a time, often end up with a few in the house during the winter "just in case". Hopefully this means more lambs will be coming very soon!
So after a surprise on Saturday morning, we got to surprise the sheep by shearing. People often ask why we decide to shear at the beginning of winter. It is a bit odd, but we do it for several reasons:
1. We shear in May for the summer and for our shows in the fall, and by the time winter comes around, they have a very long fleece on them. They stay in the barn for most of the winter, so we want to make sure we shear them for a high quality fleece before it gets matted and dirty during the winter in the barn.
2. Our first sheep show is always the first weekend in May, and we like to have a minimum of 12 weeks of wool on the sheep, which means we have to shear in December.
3. Because our sheep have so much wool, lambs sometimes have a hard time finding the udder underneath the mother when they are born. Additionally, we keep a close eye on our ewes when we are expecting lambs, and you can often tell when a ewe is going into labor by a swollen vulva and mucus. These signs are difficult to see with so much wool. On ewes with full fleece, people often "crotch" the ewes, which is shearing just their rump and under the belly, to assist the lamb. We just prefer to shear them.
While each sheep is being shorn, someone is nearby skirting the previous sheep's fleece. Skirting is the process of picking through the wool to get out any organic matter, straw, matted clumps, and short or low quality pieces (like stomach or leg wool). We now have about 30 fleeces to do something with! In the coming weeks, we will be packaging all the newly shorn wool to be sent to MacAusland's Woolen Mill and the Finger Lakes Woolen Mill to be made into blankets, yarn and roving. We also will be saving some of the nicer fleeces to be sold as raw fleeces to handspinners. Send us an email if you are interested!
This past week, we had two surprise ewe lambs born at the Genesee Country Village and Museum. We keep a few (this year 5) of our sheep at this local living history museum to represent heritage breeds. They have been a hit with museum visitors and there's even a naming contest going on at the museum to name the two lambs. When visitors arrive, they are encouraged to go visit the farm and enter the contest. The contest will be running through the month of June. No word yet from the museum whether there will be a prize for the winner, but I'll let you know if I find anything out!
It's fitting that we bring our sheep to the museum every summer because this museum is where we first learned about Lincoln sheep!
Photos courtesy of Ruby Foote, Genesee Country Village and Museum photographer.
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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