Friday, February 3, 2017

How to Tell When Your Ewe is Going to Lamb

Happy Friday, everyone! This week I am thirty weeks pregnant and simultaneously super excited and a little nervous. I know I've said it before, but this pregnancy is flying by. I can't believe I'm going to have another squish to snuggle in just two months! We should probably get our butt in gear and pick out some names, purchase another car-seat, and dig out the baby clothes. It's crazy how with the first kid you plan everything and by the third you're all, "eh, everything will work out just fine!"

But anyways.... we aren't here to talk about human babies today.

Let's talk about sheep and how to tell when your ewe will have her lambs.

Knowing when to be on the lookout for lambs can be very helpful so you can prepare your supplies ahead of time and make yourself available to assist in the delivery if needed.

There are many signs to look for but my husband and I have found that the best way is to look at your calendar, circle the day that would be the most inconvenient day for your ewe to go into labor, and that will be the day she will lamb.

Ok. Ok. Maybe that isn't entirely accurate :)

Here is a short video discussing some of the signs to watch for but read the post below for more information.

(Warning: Don't watch if sheep butts gross you out!)

The first thing to remember is that sheep, just like people, don't have a specific due date. It is more like a lambing window. So even if you know the exact date of breeding you won't have an exact due date.

With this in mind, it can be helpful to know either the date of breeding or at least know in what time period breeding occurred. Two falls ago we kept our ram separate from the flock until we wanted breeding season to begin. That way we knew not to expect lambs until at least Mid-March. This year we put the ram in with the flock in August which means we have a much longer lambing window. We have been on lamb-watch since the beginning of January.

The breed of sheep you have can also affect when lambing will occur. Some sheep, like our Icelandics, are very seasonal. This means that they won't even begin cycling until late October. It makes for a very predictable lambing season since I know to not expect those lambs until sometime in April. Some other sheep breeds have been known to cycle year-round. This is why many shepherds will keep the ram separate from the rest of the flock until they want breeding to occur.

Now, let's say you have your lambing window narrowed down. How do you know when she will actually give birth? While there is no tried and true method, there are some signs to look for.

  • The ewe may start acting "different." If you have a small flock you probably know each sheep's personality pretty well and will notice if she seems "off."
  • She may start acting extra lovey-dovey, stop eating, or separate herself from the rest of the flock.
  • The udder may become distended and start to feel full.
  • Her vulva will appear swollen, dilated, and will be darker in color.
  • She may begin leaking fluid from her vulva. From my experience, when this happens lambing will occur within 24 hours. 
We have found that most of our ewes exhibit these signs before birth but don't be surprised if one of yours doesn't. I hear not all sheep read my blog :) Farm-life can be unpredictable and sometimes the only signs we see are the lambs themselves.

Here is a post/video of one of our ewes giving birth last year.

Have a great weekend! Let me know how your lambing season goes in the comments below! 

P.S. This post may be linked up with some of my favorite blog hops.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Three Lessons in Keeping a Ram

It's that time of year.

Love is in the air.

Well, if you're a sheep that is.

And if you plan on having lambs this winter or spring you are going to need a ram.

This will be our third breeding season here at the homestead and while this makes us far from experts we have learned a thing or two about keeping a ram on the property. We have mostly learned through making mistakes and I would love to share them with you so you don't have to learn the hard way like we did.

Lesson One: Teach Respect and Manners

We bought our first ram three years ago. He was a 4-5 month old Icelandic ram. He was cute and still pretty small compared to our adult ewes. And while I had read up on how to handle a ram prior to purchasing him, his size and cuteness made it easy to forget that a ram should be treated differently than ewes.

Most people want friendly sheep. It is much easier to handle an animal that will readily come up to you. Since females are generally not very aggressive, especially with people, we train them to come right up to us for treats and scratches. From our experience, even if a ewe gets pushy waiting for her treat, she still never becomes aggressive. If she doesn't get what she wants, she will just walk away.

So even though I knew I should not give treats from my hand to the ram and allow him to be so forward, I did. He was cute and friendly and I couldn't imagine him becoming aggressive. He got treats and scratches and I didn't correct him when he approached me in a forward manner.

This was all fine and dandy that first breeding season while he was still a lamb. However, by the next fall it started to cause some major problems. He became very forward and would approach us even when we didn't have the treat bucket. He would act normal and then all of a sudden ram into you. He even started to ram with a running head start. He became dangerous and a liability.  We kept him for a few months to make sure all of the ewes were bred and then we butchered him.

We are now using a different ram and this time around he gets treated very differently. For one thing, the ram may only approach me when I am carrying our yellow treat bucket or when invited, otherwise I chase him away. If I do allow him to approach me I make him turn to the side so he can get some scratches on his rump. He is not allowed to be pushy and face me directly. I want him to be friendly but respectful. I never want him to think of me as being on the same level as him.

Lesson Two: Halter Training and Handling

With our first ram we had gotten him to be friendly enough by giving him treats but we never taught him to be handled. He was forward enough to get close and ram you but he was impossible to catch. This made dealing with him a nightmare. He was hard to catch and put up quite the fight when we needed to handle him. This means it took two people to deal with him even just for basic routine care.

We have since decided to halter train all of our rams. With our current ram he knows that whenever I have my yellow treat bucket he may approach me and allow me to put a halter on him. Once the halter is on him I tie him to a stake I have in the ground. This way I can safely be in the pen with the other sheep without having to constantly keep my eye on the ram. When I am finished, I will take him for a little walk around the pen to keep his halter skills fresh and then he gets another treat for waiting patiently when I take the halter off. Halter training has made handling this ram so much easier and it has also made being in the sheep pen so much safer since I can tie him up when needed.

Our Current Ram

Lesson Three: Breeding Harnesses are Hit or Miss

For many shepherds, a breeding harness is a wonderful thing. When they work it can be a great way to know when to expect lambs. Unfortunately, they don't work well for everyone. We bought one and instead of helping to determine our lambing season it just made things more confusing. Ewes were being marked and then remarked. Wethers were being marked. Icelandic ewes that should not be in heat until at least October were being marked in August. It made for a rainbow of sheep but I still have no idea when to expect lambs next year.

I think the reason I am having so much trouble with the breeding harness is our set-up. We practice intensive rotational grazing. We use electronet fencing and move the sheep every day or two to new grass. For shade we have a mobile shelter that we move along with them. During the peak heat of the day almost all of the sheep are laying under the shelter. I found this is when our ram decided to play with the ladies. He tries to mount them and because of the small space and the fact that they have no intention of leaving the shade, he is able to at least partially mount them. Thus leaving a mark even though the ewe is not bred. I have heard of similar stories of rams mounting ewes while the ewe has her head in the hay feeder. Rams are sneaky and I wish I would have known that this was a possibility before dumping a bunch of money into a harness and crayons.

I hope others can learn from our mistakes. This post from Stonehaven Farm is a great resource for dealing with ram behavior. Keeping a ram doesn't have to be hard but you always need to be intentional and aware.

Happy Shepherding! 

P.S. This post may be linked up with some of my favorite blog hops.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

When You've Reached Your Limit & Her Name is Bonnie

Homesteaders want to do it all. However, we all have limits and I think we have found ours. Her name is Bonnie. The last few weeks have been overwhelming and I am happy to now see the light at the end of the tunnel.

You may remember this post where I mentioned that we would be getting a dairy cow and her calf in July. I have always wanted a dairy cow (what homesteader doesn't?) but hadn't planned on actually buying one for a couple of more years. Our plan was to keep our focus on the sheep and wait until the kids were older before adding on cattle. That all changed when a friend of mine offered me her cow in May. She is moving and won't be able to take the cow with her. The hubby and I jumped on board! When would a cow just fall into our laps again? We saw this as a great opportunity!

A dairy cow is a great opportunity, but I probably should have reread this post first. Once we brought the cow home I felt nothing but anxiety. She is a wonderfully gentle cow but we just didn't click. That sounds weird for me to say, but I just never felt as ease around her and I didn't feel comfortable with her around the kids. A lot of the daily animal care falls on me and I didn't like dealing with an animal I couldn't physically move or restrain by myself if necessary. She is a very large animal and I am just not ready to handle that yet, especially with two little kiddos in tow. Having another species on the homestead also required more work and planning. Once I realized I had made a mistake I talked to my friend, the previous owner, about it and we worked on finding Bonnie and her calf a better home. A home with someone who loves and most importantly has experience with cows. This weekend Bonnie and her calf will leave for their new forever home.

I am sad that this opportunity didn't work out but I'm glad it  has taught us some lessons. The biggest one being that decisions shouldn't be made in haste. I still love cows and I am sure that one day we will own one. But for this season in our lives we will stick with sheep as our dairy animal of choice.

Sheep have my heart and the Woolly Homestead will stay woolly for now.

Sally and Doughnut greeting me at the front door. "Hey, did you forget about us out here?"

Sally can be a pain in the butt sometimes but she loves her cuddles.

P.S. This post may be linked up with the following blog hops: Monday- The Art of Homemaking MondaysMostly Homemade Mondays, Tuesday- The Homestead Blog Hop, Wednesday- The Homemaking PartyHomestead Blog HopCoffee and Conversation, Thursday- Our Simple Homestead Blog Hop, Friday- From the Farm HopAwesome Life Friday, Saturday- Simply Natural SaturdaysSimple Saturdays.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Farm Scenes Friday 5/20/16

A day late. Oh well, that's how it goes sometimes. 

This week was all about hay. Unfortunately, the weather has not been cooperating the last few weeks. The field was not going to wait though and desperately needed to be hayed. The grass was starting to go to seed. So we went ahead and cut the field Wednesday morning and then baled it Friday evening since Saturday called for rain. Of course things didn't go smoothly but in the end things all worked out. Many of the bales are a little too wet but many bales turned out fine. Hopefully, the weather cooperates better for the second cutting later this season.

Luckily, the garden is cooperating! The garden is finally taking shape and seedlings are starting to pop up. We still need to get more seeds in the ground but at least things are started.

This weekend will be spent trying to get things ready for the cow we will be bringing home next month.

How was your week?

P.S. This post may be linked up with the following blog hops: Monday- The Art of Homemaking MondaysMostly Homemade Mondays, Tuesday- The Homestead Blog Hop, Wednesday- The Homemaking PartyHomestead Blog Hop, Thursday- Our Simple Homestead Blog Hop, Friday- From the Farm HopAwesome Life Friday, Saturday- Simply Natural SaturdaysSimple Saturdays.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Livestock Loss

Update: After meeting with a vet we are 99% sure this was tetanus. Sprinkles arrived to our farm after we normally vaccinate our sheep for it and she didn't receive her CDT shot. We try to keep records for all of our sheep and keep everyone up to date but she fell through the cracks. I feel awful knowing we probably could have prevented this but mistakes will always happen. All we can do is learn from them.

I love the path we have chosen. I love our animals, garden, and even the chores. And while everything is great most of the time there are some moments where I really question what we are doing here.

Last week was one of those moments.

It started out on Monday with us losing, Sprinkles, one of our dairy ewes.

That was really hard. We realized on Saturday that she wasn't acting herself. From her symptoms it looked like she had bloat. We treated her for that but it didn't work. We tried other treatments on Sunday and by Monday we were treating her for every illness she could possible have. But she just kept fading. Then on Monday evening she passed away.

I cried, my husband cried. We had tried so hard to save her and nothing worked. This was the first time we lost a sheep that was supposed to be a keeper.

Looking back we are now seeing things that should have tipped us off sooner. We think that she may have had mastitis for awhile and then having bloat tipped her over the edge. We learned a lot of lessons through this experience, I just wish it wasn't at the expense of an animals life.

Unfortunately, with livestock in particular, that is the way a lot of lessons are learned. Most of us homesteaders didn't grow up with this lifestyle. We are learning as we go.

Sometimes the lessons are hard, but it means we can do better next time.

It stinks that we lose animals sometimes. But I feel a little bit better knowing that I did my best and these animals were raised with love and compassion.

P.S. This post may be linked up with the following blog hops: Monday- The Art of Homemaking Mondays, Tuesday- The Homestead Blog HopTuesdays with a Twist, Wednesday- The Homemaking PartyHomestead Blog Hop, Thursday- Our Simple Homestead Blog Hop, Friday- From the Farm HopAwesome Life Friday, Saturday- Simply Natural Saturdays.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Sprinkles' Lambing (Video)

Watching an animal (or human for that matter) be born is always a marvelous sight. It doesn't matter how many times you witness it, it is amazing every time. This is one of the reasons why spring is such an exciting time on the homestead.

Birth, babies, and fresh starts..... It just doesn't get any better!

** Birth talk and a lambing video follow. Quit now if you are squeamish.**

This year we had two dairy ewes (mix of mainly East Friesian and Lacaune) pregnant in addition to our Icelandic ewes. The Icelandic ewes we have lamb easily and are great mothers. The Icelandic breed is known for these qualities and that is part of the reason we started with them. I have heard different things in regards to the mothering ability of dairy sheep. In my very limited experience it seems they don't excel at lambing and mothering quite like our Icelandic girls do.

(Read more about predicting when your ewe is going to lamb here.) 

I found Sprinkles in labor on the morning of March 12th. The amniotic sac had already broken and I could see two little hooves beginning to make an appearance. We put the other sheep into the run area so she could have a little privacy. We let her labor like this for well over an hour. She was making progress but very minimally. Finally, we made the decision to assist.

Assisting in labor is always a hard decision to make. I believe that most of the time birth happens just the way it is supposed to, but sometimes it doesn't. My priority is for both ewe and lamb to remain healthy.

I checked her to make sure there was nothing preventing the lamb from coming out. Sometimes if there are two lambs they can become entangled. Once I found nothing obstructing the lamb I helped to ease the lamb out. Sprinkles seemed exhausted by this time and while she was pushing, her pushes weren't being very effective. This part is not in the video since my husband had to put the camera down in order to help keep Sprinkles calm and prevent her from walking away while I tried to check her.

Once the lamb was out it took her awhile to begin  'mothering' the lamb. This surprised me since our Icelandic ewes (unassisted birth or not) always begin cleaning the lamb immediately and become very protective. This is where I'm not sure if it is a breed difference, an individual difference, or just because she is a first time mom. We had a similar experience with our other dairy ewe, Doughnut, which makes me think it could be a difference in breeds.

But who knows? We are still relatively new to sheep and learning as we go.

Here is the video of Sprinkles lambing. It is very shortened since from the time I found her to lamb on the ground took almost two hours.

Check out this post for more lambing info and a lambing kit supply list.

P.S. This post may be linked up with the following blog hops: Monday- The Art of Homemaking Mondays, Tuesday- The Homestead Blog HopTuesdays with a Twist, Wednesday- The Homemaking PartyHomestead Blog Hop, Thursday- Our Simple Homestead Blog Hop, Friday- From the Farm HopAwesome Life Friday, Saturday- Simply Natural Saturdays.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Basic Lambing Supplies

It is officially spring! 

And right on cue our ewes decided it was time to share their cute lambs! On Friday, March 11th, our Finn/Icelandic ewe, Sally, surprised us with twin ram lambs.

I had just checked her that morning and didn't see anything that looked like labor but by that afternoon there were lambs on the ground. She lambed without assistance and is being a great mother. We made a small jug with some fencing and kept her and her babies together for a few days to help ensure they would bond. It also helps keep the other ewes from headbutting the lambs until they are a bit more sure on their feet.

The next morning (Saturday) during chores I realized Sprinkles, one of our dairy ewes, was in labor. She is a first-timer and we watched her closely. She was pushing with hooves and nose sticking out for over an hour. At that point I helped a little and helped ease the lamb out. She may have been able to do it herself but it seemed like she was getting exhausted and I didn't want to risk the lamb. She had one large ram lamb. Sprinkles was a little more aloof about having a baby and it wasn't until I wiped some birthing fluids on her nose and pointed her in the direction of her lamb that she started to clean him off. She has been a great mother since then.

Stay tuned! On Wednesday, I'll post a video of Sprinkles giving birth!

On Tuesday we had almost the exact same scenario with our other dairy ewe, Doughnut. I gave minor assistance and she birthed a single ewe lamb. Doughnut needed a little push to get into the swing of mothering but is now doing a great job. 

It has been interesting to see the differences of our dairy ewes vs our Icelandics. I love that our dairy ewes are super docile and will produce greater quantities of milk but in every other way I prefer our Icelandics. Our Icelandic ewes are great mothers, birth easily, very protective of their lambs, they have beautiful wool, and are super efficient on feed. We will have to see how things go this year and we might try to keep the half dairy half Icelandic ewe lamb around and see how she preforms. 

Here are some basic supplies I like to have on hand during lambing.


The average length is around 147 days although Icelandics tend to be closer to 143. Just like with people though, it isn't exact and I like to think of it as a due week instead of a due date. I start checking for signs of impending labor a couple of weeks in advance. If you are trying to feel lamb movement in the belly try on the ewe's right side. Generally, the rumen is on the left and the lambs are on the right. 

This year I only had the date that I introduced the ram to go on. I didn't actually see any breeding taking place. Next year I plan on using a marking crayon or raddle powder do I have a more exact breeding date. We are still waiting on our two purebred Icelandic ewes to lamb and I suspect they won't lamb until closer to April. Most sheep are seasonal breeders but Icelandics tend to be even more so.

Basic Lambing Supplies

These are items that are nice to have on hand. This isn't everything you could possibly need but it is a good start. 
  • Selenium/Vitamin E paste. We have found making sure the ewe gets plenty of selenium in the weeks leading up to lambing makes for an easier delivery.
  • Nutri-Drench for Sheep and Lambs. We give this to the ewe after birthing to give her a boost.
  • Paper towels and clean towels
  • Bulb syringe
  • Rectal thermometer
  • Clean scissors in case you need to cut the cord.
  • Iodine to dip the cord in.
  • Heat lamp if you are lambing in cold weather
  • Bottle in case you need to feed lamb
  • Colostrum or colostrum replacer. I have some frozen from the year before and I replace every year.
  • Head lamp or flashlight
  • O.B. Gloves
  • Lubricant in case you have to go in vaginally to check or pull lambs. I use coconut oil since I already have that on hand.
  • Rope to assist in pulling difficult lambs

Tune in on Wednesday for a video of Sprinkles giving birth!

For more information check out these sites:

P.S. This post may be linked up with the following blog hops: Monday- The Art of Homemaking Mondays, Tuesday- The Homestead Blog HopTuesdays with a Twist, Wednesday- The Homemaking PartyHomestead Blog Hop, Thursday- Our Simple Homestead Blog Hop, Friday- From the Farm HopAwesome Life Friday, Saturday- Simply Natural Saturdays.

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  *** I am not a doctor or a veterinarian and the statements on this blog have not been evaluated by the FDA. Any products mentioned are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please do not ask me for medical advice.***