Monday, April 19, 2010

Off with a Whimper

Ordinarily, we at Maggie's Farm meet lambing season with a sense of anticipation. We look forward to new lambs romping about, new colors, personalities and waggy-tailed nursing and charminng high-pitched bleats.

A pasture full of pregnant ewes can feel like a stack of unopened Christmas presents.

This year, however, we wavered. More sheep = more hay = more money down the farm drain. More sheep means more questions come mid-season when we may (likely will) "disperse" the flock. Our hesitation is evident in the not-yet-sheared state of our ewes, the projects not-yet-completed, the focus on other things.

Well, dulled enthusiasm or not, lambing season doesn't wait.

Henny Penny, our big polled ewe started with hers a little earlier than expected-- those unmistakeable contractions rippling across her broad flanks. Now, Penny's a pro, having produced two sets of twins already, so I didn't worry much. I hustled her into the barn, watched and waited, watched, waited, and when it was bedtime for the kids, I left her a while. Dan came home and we did a barn check at 9 at 9:30, at 10:30, at 11. (Penny was in the early stages of labor. Nothing was amiss).

At 11:30, Dan went down again and found a dead lamb in the stall with Penny. She had licked it clean, but its nose and throat were full of amniotic fluid, a sign that it had been breach (came out back legs first) and had taken its first fateful gulp while still inside. We rubbed the lamb dry anyway, and forced the fluids from her mouth. But of course it was too late.

You'd think shepherds get used to such things, death being so close a companion on a farm, but one never quite does. Each little life is encouraged, coaxed forward, agonized over. Also, we've been pretty lucky here on Maggie's Farm, and aside from one preemie (our first year) and one other breach (our second) we've had strong healthy, lucky lambs four years running. This year, our luck ran out.

I should have stayed up with Dan to watch for the lamb's twin or placenta and see the thing through. But I had to be up at 4 for work the next morning, and so I was sleeping when Dan pulled the second lamb-- also breach and much smaller than the first-- dead, from Penny's womb.

A horrible start to lambing season.

Penny called for her babes for a few days, but she has given up now. Lucky to live in her present of hay flakes, spring sunshine and sunflower seeds, she doesn't think that far back. Our three remaining pregnant ewes (Daisy, Copper and Leela) are taking their time this year, all with big bellies and pendulous udders. All due anytime after the 17th.

I am hoping the rest of the season will go smoothly, joyously, a lambing season as it should be.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Boys Being Boys?

Some of you might recall my "Poultry Politics" post of a few weeks ago. Well, the situation appears to have changed. Young Roos, Apollo and Dionysus, once best buds and partners in crime, seem to have decided sometime Saturday that as they couldn't beat up dominant rooster, Jaguar, they'd settle for each other.
What followed was an epic day and a half long battle. We separated them, they moseyed back to clash again, the control-freak dog (Luka) barked and hounded them, there was a freakin' BULLDOZER moving earth a few feet away, and it mattered not at all. These young roosters puffed themselves up, pecked each others heads, puffed themselves up, pecked each others' heads, etc. etc.
On and on and ON.

It appeared mid Sunday that Dionysus had won the battle. Guess what he wins? A trip to another farm. This place ain't big enough for the two of them.

Meanwhile, it appears that Jaguar, feeling the pressure, has accepted lowly Soccerball into his flock as insurance against the two ruffians down in the barn. Here they, a watchful eye on their hens:

Now, here's the thing: You might say, fine, well roosters, what did you expect? Why title this post BOYS being boys? This is not a fair characterization of the male gender. But wait--

Here you see Charlie, our dominant ram, watching the feathers fly

and fly

and fly

And fly.

He looks for all the world as if he can't be bothered with such testosterone-induced nonsense. Right?

Well, later that same day, we reintroduced Charlie's son, Dodge
back into the ram flock after his winter breeding sojourn, and guess what? The two began to pummel each other!
The scene was fairly similar to the poultry, only the mammals butted heads, chased each other about, butted heads, chased each other about, etc etc. On and on it went on all afternoon, until Dodge (50 pounds lighter but audacious as the day is long) decided to fold. (Unfortunately, I didn't get a picture of this as I was waving buckets of grain and hollering for them to quit before someone gets killed.)

What were the hens and ewes doing, while all this testosterone flew? Why, what they always do: Eating, resting, scratching about, caring for chicks, gestating lambs, the usual. Sure they have their squabbles but nothing (ever!) that approaches the heat and fire and raw mean of those goshdurn boys.

And so...

For WHATEVER reason, boys will be boys, at least here on Maggie's Farm.

I'm not willing to generalize, but-- in looking at the state of things in the world, the "civilized" and not so civilized battles in governments and corporations, villages and schools-- I think, perhaps, I could.....