Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Home Education

Nita, our Nubian-Saanen, had a buckling on Monday. Thankfully he is healthy and strong. Looks like Willy, his Alpine daddy. The same afternoon I sent Maggie out to the barn during a brief lunch break from home school just to check on things. Cornflower's baby had escaped from her stall and when Maggie rescued the little booger she noticed Freda, one of the Jacob ewes, delivering a baby out in the snow. We picked up the shivering little lamb and maneuvered Freda into a dry, hay-filled stall out of the elements. After a rub down the baby seemed to be fine and we left them to bond and returned to our schoolwork. Once the lessons were done Maggie went back out to the barn for another check up.

Tearfully she returned to the house and shared the news that Freda had delivered a stillborn little lamb. Her other baby seemed alright. Next morning we discovered that the little survivor had gotten chilled and appeared to be suffering from hypothermia or something. We brought her into the house, fed her warm milk and put her in front of the fireplace. She was stiff and unresponsive, but still breathing. We tried dosing her with a little coffee and molasses, and old farmer's trick to jump start the weak ones. I called and left a message with the vet, wondering if we had a selenium deficiency, wishing to get a prescription for a supplement. Shortly after lunch the little lamb died in a little girl's arms in front of the fireplace. Several hours later I heard from the receptionist from the vet's office. To give a prescription for the selenium/vitamin E injection, he would have to come to the farm, charge us for the visit, plus the $50 travel fee, plus the prescription. Nearly $150 for a prescription for a vitamin/mineral supplement that is standard procedure for many farmers during lambing season in a region that is selenium deficient.

I was so frustrated.

What a crazy world.

Well, I made a phone call to a farmer friend of mine who had some selenium supplement she would sell me. Too late for the little lambs that didn't make it so far, but at least we have something for the ones to come.

And I did some more research on lambing troubles and learned that when a lamb gets hypothermic, they have so little body fat that when you warm them up, you have to give them a dose of glucose, otherwise their body will burn up all the resources they do have, and essentially will starve to death. Milk and sugar or molasses aren't good enough.

Ironically, an old high school acquaintance emailed me the advice of giving the weak lambs a strong hit of karo syrup. Very cheap source of glucose.

So we have a very sad Freda who is still grieving her babies, but we have learned quite a bit more about flock management. I hate being vulnerable and weak and ignorant and am feeling that way quite a bit lately.

Something else that came to mind in regards to sheep, I recalled an article by Wendell Berry about sheep breeds. This article described a culture that developed over 60 different sheep breeds in England, such a small geographical location. Farmers selected and bred sheep that would thrive and survive in their unique geographical little spot on the GPS. A little valley on the south side of a rocky mountain would have different minerals, parasites, brix index of the grass and hay, etc, compared to a little hilltop on the north side of the same mountain.

As I dealt with my frustration about the financial restrictions that make it impossible for a very small family farmer to call out the vet for every little problem, I considered the ewes and their lambs that have had the very same diet, have lived for the last year on the very same farm, eating and drinking the same thing as their sister ewes who have lost their babies and are strong and resilient, needing absolutely no interference from me, other than some loving words, fresh water, hay and a warm dry spot. They didn't need to be told to go in the warm dry barn. As we observe the flock this year, we will be able to distinguish which ewes are more suitable for this teeny little pocket along Little Catawba Creek Valley. Big farmers with big sheep herds will continue to buy their medicines and special supplements and specialty feeds and their standardized sheep will produce volumes of meat. The same sheep that are being produced all over the country. Because of our limitations, we hope to be able to develop a little flock of sheep that is uniquely suited to living with us on this little farm. It might take many more mistakes on our part and a few years before we reach that goal, but at least I felt a bit encouraged thinking that this is a process and success cannot be measured in one brief season.

No lambs or kids born today. We studied direct objects, wrote stories and sentences, covered some biology, worked on adding mixed fractions, read about King Charles I, Cromwell and Charles II. Marveled that intolerance can come in many flavors. The girls painted artwork and the boys kept a little fire going. There were snow flurries, but we were thankful that we missed out on a deep snow this time.

The growing moon peeked through cloudy skies as I milked Coco this evening. Melting snow gurgled and splashed in the flooded stream. More earth and mud showing today. I am thankful.

1 comment:

Chris said...

I kept sheep and lambed out for 8 years. I had had some cattle and horse experience before but no sheep experience. Lucky for me, a neighbor and friend kept sheep. He taught me so much.

We gave all our lambs a selenium shot as soon as they were born. I once missed one and it soon died of white muscle disease. You can feel it after death; it feels like there's bubble wrap under the skin.

I remember there were a couple of yearly vaccinations we also did, can't remember what now. We also wormed regularly. I didn't like using the chemicals but I had few problems. They all got clean grass or hay and water, salt and sheep-specific minerals; and I fed some grain to the pregnant and nursing ewes. The grain sure helped to keep them friendly and easy to manage too.

I put some iodine on the lambs' umbilicus when I gave the selenium shot as soon as I could after birth. I seem to recall that we bought the selenium and and other vet supplies at the local feed and seed store. I kept on hand, and very occasionally had to use, frozen colostrum, that I had milked from healthy ewes. I also had a bottle of a glucose syrup from the vet that I could douse a weak ewe with; that once saved one of my favorite ewes.

Sending an animal off for autopsy I found expensive and not at all helpful; results were always inconclusive. I felt very fortunate to have had very few losses; they are sad to deal with. And especially to have an experienced farmer to call with my questions. I hope the same for you.

Best of luck with your animals. I so enjoy reading of your experiences; it brings back fond memories of my years on the farm. I really liked barn chores; it required that I be out in, and learn to appreciate, all weather. It was an outside imposed discipline that helped to teach me self discipline.

Now I only have five big standard poodles, real downsizing for me. They are lots of fun and responsibility too. I'm a faithful reader of yours, look forward to seeing each new post.