Hawk ears

It happens every year, we have our first bummer. The weird part is it’s almost always caused by humans. When we first started having sheep they would go down near the front spring and have babies and the babies would get wet and cold or drown. Annmarie convinced me to start locking them up at night in the barn by making me get up at 0300 many times in the dead of winter to search for a mewling baby lamb. This is not fun and became good incentive to get the barn redone. Every year the sheep find a way to become bummers that we had not anticipated. Today is a prime example. We had two more sets of twins born in the barn last night. I was sent out to the barn early as Mrs Hawk Ears (aka Annmarie) could hear a new baby that was in distress. Now she heard this through a barely opened bedroom window on the second story of our house through the great big tree and through the walls of the barn which is 60 yards away. Her students wonder how she can hear them whispering in the back of the classroom, the woman has better hearing than anyone I have ever encountered!

When I got to the barn I could hear the baby also and it was in distress, so I did not feed the meowing kitten or the whining horses and instead opted to go right into the barn. Going into the barn is still a risky business as I am not using the dogs. The ram and I have come to a mutual hate agreement. I carry a big stick and he stays away from me. Neither one of us trusts the other to keep his word. So I was searching for the baby and trying to keep the ram in sight. I spotted one momma and one baby but could not see the complainer. I could hear it loud and clear. I moved the sheep away from the newly installed wall feeders and saw four little feet under the feeder. The little bugger must have laid down close to the feeder and rolled under then stood up. Once upright she could not figure out how to get out. The real problem is this normally happens during the birth process so the mother doesn’t bond with the newborn lamb. There was no sorting off the momma and baby with everyone in the barn so I went and opened the outer door to let them out of the barn.

The ram followed me to the door and got within four feet of me but never tried to ram me. I had the pitchfork handle in my hand the whole time. I keep trying to use the old pitchfork heads I find laying around and they fall out of the new handles all the time so now I have a $15 club. I got about 2/3 of the herd out when I decided I had better shut the outer momma pasture gate until I had checked in the barn. I didn’t want the new momma getting out because then I have to go get the dogs and run everyone in again and sort them all over, a process that would add an hour to my outside chores. This endeavor would not disappoint either border collie as they would get to move the sheep.

I headed back into the barn and lo and behold there were two mommas and four babies! The little buggers can really hide amongst the sheep. Normally, we would just keep walking through the herd until we spotted them all but the ram is preventing us from our usual routine. Luckily with no pressure most of the mommas will hang back with their babies. So I shut up the barn and watched them, the little complainer got pushed away by both ewes. This is not a good sign but I figured if I could stick all four babies and both mommas into the smaller momma area maybe the one would change her mind. I went down to the spring and got a large bucket of water as I was going to trap them in the barn instead of allowing them free access to the spring. I had the baby area all ready and had to lure the mommas in by catching the babies and holding them out and walking to the baby area. It works even better when the lambs cry out loud for mom. I even rubbed the twin to the complainer all over the complainer hoping the scent would rub off. No go, Annmarie came out to check on me while I was watching the complainer and we just opted to call it a bummer. So she carried it to the house in her church clothes holding it out away from her body to keep her clean. I finished the morning chores and came inside. Annmarie feeds the babies way better than I do, so she offered to stay home. I sent her on her way and mixed up a bottle. We keep formula mix in the freezer for just this occasion. The lamb hollered loudly and continuously until I fed it. I then went upstairs and got our small dog kennel and turned on the gas stove so the baby could get warm. She fell asleep after the first feeding. One more time she woke up hollering and slurped down another few ounces of formula. She is a good eater, actually head butted my shoulder until she got more milk and had her fill. We have a wonderful lady who comes and takes all of our bummer lambs. We give them to her free of charge so that they can have a good chance. She has about a 50% survival rate over the years. Sometimes they are just too small. Although with this new ram that has not been a problem. His babies are gorgeous and healthy which is only reason we are putting up with him for another 3 months. I want him to impregnate all the ewes so we can have another set of his offspring. Once that is done he will be sausage. It’s just not safe to go out into the barn with him. We also don’t believe in selling our problems to other people. It’s not fair to them and most people won’t believe you when you say he is mean. Because he was tame first he has no fear of humans which makes him even more dangerous than normal as he is not skittish or unpredictable, just mean.

Here is a prime example of his behavior. Today, once I shut the gate and trapped in the last 1/3 of the ewes to check on the baby he hung around the gate waiting for them to come out. I leaned my pole up against the fence right next to the gate. I opened the gate to let the last of the ewes out and our super friendly brown ewe slipped back inside and the ram followed her. I switched sides of the gate I was standing on so I had the gate between us. All the ewes ran out and he saunters over to the gate and spots my handle leaning up against the fence. He stopped and head butted the handle multiple times until he had knocked it down on the ground and then tried to prance through the gate opening. I smacked him a good one with the gate! He is not afraid of me only of the stick. He did run off after getting blindsided by the gate.

He is not safe to be around and we have people who would like to come out and see the babies. So we will have to let them into the baby area from the outside so they can avoid him. Ideally, they would be able to just wander through the herd in the barn as everyone mills around but that won’t happen this winter.

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