With the longer days, it is easy to find more chores to do at La Plata Farms.
As spring continues to move forward, major activities are centered on getting ready for our lambs to be born. With the ewes heavy with their yet-to-be-born lambs, it is my job to get the barn prepared for the upcoming births. After a winter of use, the barn is in need of a lot of work. The stalls where the “jugs” (small pens where the newborn lambs and their mother stay for several days) will be set up need to be shoveled out, clearing away all the old straw and manure. Many wheelbarrow loads have been dumped where nature will convert it into future compost for my wife, Pam’s, garden. The jugs are about 4 feet by 4 feet and will be filled with clean straw and water buckets to await the new mothers. Before we get to the point when the lambs are born, my biggest task of the year is to get all of the ewes shorn of their wool.
While it may seem cruel to shear the ewes while it is still spitting snow and rain, it is really important to do before they give birth. With the wool removed, I can see when the ewe is close to lambing and take steps to make sure she is not having problems. It is also important for the newborn lamb to have easy access to the teats to get those critical first sucks of colostrum that will provide it with antibodies to help it get going. The last reason is because if the ewe were not shorn, she would be comfortable in her wool fleece in any weather and would happily lay out in a storm with her little lamb, risking the newborn’s life. A shorn ewe will seek shelter and take her lambs into the barn where they can be warm and dry away from the weather.After almost 30 years of shearing, it is no longer an easy task to get them all shorn in a timely fashion by myself.
I was lucky this year to find a young shepherd who wanted to learn how to shear; with her help, we dove into the flock and got them all done in a couple of days.
Although their fleeces are off, I have to admit that I did a better job shearing when I was younger. With the sheep shorn and the barn cleaned and prepped for the new lambs, I need to work on my sleep time. For the next few weeks, I will be doing barn checks several times a night to help any ewe with birthing problems or to put the new mother and lambs in their jugs where they can get to know each other without the chaos of all the other ewes and lambs in the barn.With the prep work done, the fun part for me is not that far away.
Soon, I will be greeted by the sounds of newborn lambs as I enter the barn at 2 a.m.
Doug Ramsey has farmed in La Plata County for more than 30 years. He can be reached at 385-4375.