When lambing in Montana in April, it’s pretty much a given that we’ll deal with at least one spring storm–and here’s the first one.
So, come with me on my barnyard rounds and see what’s going on and how our four-legged friends deal with it. With and/or without their humans’ help.
This particular weather event began as much-needed moisture in the form of rain. Now, we’re really dry and so we will not complain about rain, BUT we also know that cold, wet weather is lamb-killing stuff, so we’re not exactly ecstatic about the timing of the stuff! But, since we can’t control the weather, we’ll deal with whatever comes!
C’mon, now. Are you ready?
Near the house, the yard is very, very happy. As you can see in this shot, there’s some white stuff coming down already, and temps are dropping. This means more vigilance at the barns, and less time inside nursing that cup o’ hot chocolate like we’d really like to be doing!
First, we come upon a huddle of “the drop bunch”. This is the bunch of ewes that have not had their lambs yet and that’s what they’re called. Someone asked me why–I think it’s because they are the ones that are still to “drop” their lambs. I’m not sure where that terminology comes from, as sheep mothers can’t really drop their babies, since they never hold them anyway. How can you drop anything you don’t even have a hold of? They don’t even have hands! Hmmm….that would be more applicable to humans, methinks! Anyway, that’s what this bunch is called and they don’t really care what we humans call them—they just are looking kind of sorry for themselves, don’t you think? But, I guarantee, every lamb still inside these mamas is very, very happy, and he’s much better off in his little womb-home than outside today!
And, for those of you worrying about them being cold and miserable (which is what they want you do think), remember that they are packing around the finest wool coat in existence, wicking water right off their bodies. Their skins are quite dry. I assure you they are quite comfortable—you can’t see it on here, but just about every one is chewing her cud contentedly. And, if she’s not, it’s just because she’s swallowed it and is waiting for the next one to come burping up. You see, it really doesn’t do any good to apply human emotions to sheep—they’ll beat you every time, hands down. And, they are laughing in their heads while they’re doing it!
Shhhh….walk quietly! Do not disturb a sleeping baby, and maybe, just maybe, they’ll keep them inside until this weather passes and the sun is out again!
Next we come to what we call “the sheep barn”. Very original, wouldn’t you agree? Whatever! (Wait until you hear what our other building is called!) This is one of the coolest building I have seen on any of the places we’ve lived: it’s made of upright railroad ties so is basically indestructible and very snug and warm. Long ago, it was used to house those gentle giants: daft horse teams. This piece of information also explains the massive fences you may notice in many of my pictures.
In the barn, it smells like hay, alfalfa pellets, sheep and wood-chip bedding. It’s a wonderful mix of smells to us country-dwellers and I never tire of it. The sounds of ewes chuckling to their babies, of lambs with their new little bleats, greets me as I go in. Ahhhh!
Oh! Well, hello to you too! Nearly always, all heads come up like this when you open the door, and often a good chorus of blats follows. I just love it.
I love that expectant look from a ewe when you come in. If I were a softie, I’d say, “Oh, she loves me.” But, the bitter truth is that she cares nothing about me at all, and the only thing that pitiful and longing look means is that she’s very hopeful for a bunch of those really great pellets she is crazy about. She’ll disrespectfully and rudely run you right over for that stuff!
Looks like every jug is filled, and everyone is cozy. These teeny-tiny pens are called “jugs”. Don’t ask me why they call them that. I have no clue and I have been trying to make sense of it since we became sheep greenhorns not long ago. The only thing that makes sense to my head, is that they seem literally as small as a milk jug…. So, enlighten me, you multiple-generation sheep people out there!
No matter what they are called, they are really cool, because they fit sheep perfectly and you can get a lot of new sets indoors in bad weather, or for many other reasons, and each one has its own little pen to live in until they’re ready to go out into a bigger pen and mix with other ewes and lambs. Here’s one side of the barn and what the jugs kind of look like–there are jugs down the other side too, and we can always cobble together more in various places if they are needed.
And, just a piece of trivia: “jug” is also a verb in the world of sheep. When you put a ewe in a jug, you are jugging her. For example: “Let’s jug that ewe that just lambed.”
And, lookie over here! These cuteness-filled triplets just couldn’t wait to get out, bad weather or not!
And, in this corner of their own little jug, more lamb snugness— our bum lambs so far, all cuddled up in their pile of cozy warmness.
Let’s stick our head out the south door of the barn and see what’s going on out here. You see, lambs don’t need much space to stay dry and they are very smart about skillfully finding it. These lambs are older than the ones in the barn jugs–by about 24-48 hours (that little bit makes a huge difference) and so they can do just fine outside if they can find some shelter, and if they have a good mama and keep warm milk in their bellies. So these little buggers are quite happy and dry under their little roof. (No, all of those lambs do not belong to that one ewe!)
And, now you can really see that while we’ve been gawking around in the barn, things have turned from rain to that fluffy stuff and things appear woebegone. But, they’re really not, trust me.
In another pen outside of the barn, lambs love to crawl in under this feed bunk. In there, they are as snug as bugs in a rug and very happy. You would be surprised how many lambs will come crawling out of a small, insignificant place on a cold snowy morning, all dry and happy as clams. Often, their mothers aren’t much impressed, as they’ve been hollering and worrying all night, wondering where on Earth their poor babies have disappeared to! It’s quite funny, actually!
Now let’s follow Middle Son over to the other building. Are you ready for this? It’s called “the sheep shed”…as opposed to “the sheep barn”. We’re not confused about it, so it’s good enough for us! There are several jugs full of sets over at the sheep shed too because of this storm, and the easiest way to get them their pellets is via wheelbarrow….pushed by someone other than me, of course.
Don’t you just love that yummy mud? Me too. (We will NOT complain about anything having to do with this moisture we are getting, remember?)
Boy, it just hit me—- that stuff really looks a lot like a really good-quality, dark chocolate, doesn’t it?! Wow! Wouldn’t that be just amazing? Wading through chocolate……oh, dear….I am getting off-track again!
Where were we….oh, yes! We’re going to the sheep shed.
Outside the sheep shed, more of the drop bunch is hanging out, eating hay and licking their lick barrels and whatever sheep do on days like this to pass the time. They don’t seem much interested in jigsaw puzzles, it seems. Tess would really like to make them move, but, alas, she cannot. So, she has to settle for just staring….and wishing.
Inside the sheep shed, jugs are set up for this occasion. Here are some–there are more behind me and also on the other side of that wall you see at the back of the photo. That is not an exterior wall–there’s more shed over on the other side of it. Normally we don’t have many jugs set up in here–only if needed. But, since we can’t turn out new sets in this weather, they’ll have to live in jugs until it passes.
Everything in these jugs needs pellets, water and hay, so we hop to it and soon everyone is happy once again, for now.
Let’s take a look out further, where the older lambs are already turned out. Lambs do not have to be very old before they really aren’t very fragile anymore. Provided the weather system won’t be too extended, or too bitterly cold with wet (they can stand dry cold very well), they can do just fine. You can see, this set isn’t bothered at all—they’ve a good mama and milk in their bellies and fallen trees and things for shelter. Mostly they are curious about this new white stuff in their big, new world!
Farther out, the even older ones are already out in the river woods and are not even in our thoughts. Lots of shelter out there, where they can spread out and find it, tucking themselves under fallen trees, branches, brushy stuff and tall grass.
But, what do farm cats do when the weather is rotten and their barns are taken over by the woolies? Well they survive–that’s their job here, folks, and here’s one way they do it. I thought this was pretty funny!
And, we can’t leave the corrals without a robin reminding us that while this might be cold, wet and sloppy, this IS April and so it can’t last too long!
This makes me think of that old song:
“Robin sing a song of spring to me, sing a song of April showers…”
Here’s the cool part– the next morning, I look out my window to this. Whoa! Not exactly lamb-friendly.
I look out another window towards the corral and the drop bunch…oh-ho! What do I see? Can you see it? Left of center a bit…..
We’ll look closer— A picture-perfect example of good mothering. A new set of twins! They were born right there in the snow, but they’re already up and getting their bellies full of that life-giving milk. And, she’s a first-time mama with no What to Expect books to pore over. It’s just so incredible.
Oh. And for those of you possibly fretting over the wee ones, within minutes we jugged the new family in the sheep barn. (If you understand that now and you didn’t at the beginning, well, you learned something new!) Happy and snug and doing well, and by now, they’re probably out zipping through the woods with all the other sheep.
So, that was storm number one folks…..we had a couple days of bluebird weather, then lots of rain for several days, repeating this scenario, pretty much….
So much rain that the bus didn’t even run out here and Youngest Son get two days off from school! Imagine that!
But, we’ll talk about that later……
Right now, I’m sure enjoying the sunshine! And, so are the woolies.