hop on pop: a guest post from ron

There is a well-known children’s book featuring the Berenstain Bear family where the little bears run around the house hopping on things–most notably… Pop! That popped (pun intended) into my head when our little lamb Crescent decided it was fun to jump up on my shoulder when I was petting her head. Some version of Hop on Pop has been a regular game for her ever since then. While unquestionably cute, I have tried (a little) to discourage this as when she weighs 100 pounds it may be a bit less cute.

For now, however, it is our “reward” for what was a hard first couple of days of life for her and her brother Joseph (and us). Sara’s blog post from two times ago discussed the trial of the first day when their mother, June Bug, was terribly confused and butting them away.  However, after a week of supervised mother/lamb time and help with nursing, the little family of three was back out on pasture.  The twin lambs still see us as friendly helpers and frequently come running over for pets, head bonks, and yes… Hop on Pop!

So our wonderful and terrifying lambing season gave us a flock with five new lambs all healthy and happy, but only one girl (Crescent of the Hop on Pop game). In other lambing drama, in early May I went out in my pajamas near midnight to check on Brownie who went in to labor at dusk. I found her struggling to give birth to what we later realized is a HUGE lamb. His head, shoulders, and front legs were out, but I helped to pull the little guy out the rest of the way. Brownie and I cleaned him up and made sure all was okay.  All this happened while I was in my pajamas–hence we named him PJ. Chaco and Paco, Cinnamon’s little ones, you have already heard about. Let us hope all future births are more like theirs.

All the sheep are grazing and browsing, and the pasture and woods are every shade of green one can imagine. It has been a year of abundant and regular rain and most of the garden is thriving, though some things seem to be craving heat (tomatoes, peppers). We, however, have no complaints after last year’s record setting drought. Caroline the chicken hatched six new chicks for us again this spring, and Ella (also a chicken) is sitting on nine more eggs due in several weeks. This new chicken life will replenish our laying flock and our freezer as statistically speaking half are likely to be roosters.  We have a rooster, Major Tom, and one is all a flock needs.

The relative lack of sentimentality towards the chickens is noteworthy, and it has taken us a few years to get to that point. This is a farm after all, and chicken is good, healthy food. The time our chickens spend on our farm, whether old laying hen or young rooster, is as humane and sustainable as we can practically achieve. It is certainly far superior to the unspeakable cruelty inherent in the industrial production of (chicken) meat.

However, it is hard, maybe even impossible, to imagine a day when we view our sheep flock, and all the delightful individual members, in this unsentimental light (see above Hop on Pop). For now they are excellent controllers of rampant pasture growth and invasive brush species, and producers of wool and valuable fertilizer. We may well only enjoy meat from our own sheep when someone dies unexpectedly or of old age. Sweet Spot, as much as we (still) miss her, gave us many pounds of amazing lean and exceptionally tasty meat, and a lovely tanned sheep hide. She is now part of us in the most literal way.

Happy Summer!

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crescent’s new game

Hello diligent readers and followers.

Long time no post.

It was That kind of academic year, including That kind of spring, only to be followed by That kind of early summer.

Sigh.

There have been many new things, events, critters, and adventures on the farm–mostly of the good variety. I’ve been radio silent (blog silent???) due to a very busy spring and early summer. So many stories to share. And I’ve already forgotten 95% of them. Many of the most endearing parts of farm life are the mundane little things that happen spur of the moment.

Oh well.

I’m hoping to write more frequently for the rest of the summer, but I’ll start this afternoon with a story about Crescent Moon. Apparently I never posted photos of her and twin Joseph (!). And, for that matter, I never wrote about the birth of PJ, the last lamb born this spring (!!). Crescent and Joseph’s birth caused too much excitement and it took over everything for a week there. That explains the first week of May. I guess it does not explain anything since then (!).

So, back to Crescent’s new (or not-so-new now) game.

Crescent, now 2.5 months old, started doing this a few weeks ago. When we squat down to pet the sheep–usually her and Joseph–she comes over and proceeds to put her front hooves on our legs.

The first time she did this, she actually knocked Ron over on his behind because he wasn’t expecting a lamb to crawl on him. And when you are crouched and squatted down, you aren’t exactly well balanced either.

After standing on us with her front legs, Crescent hurls her head and neck over our nearest shoulder in a lamb-y hug. At that point, it’s pretty easy to put your arms around her and give her a hug or offer a full-body scritch.

And she loooooooves pets and scritches.

Obviously it’s a game–and a fun one at that, one that pleases her to no end because she keeps doing it. I have no idea where she came up with this idea. It doesn’t seem to have a close relationship with something that she does with her mom or brother or one of the other sheep. But Crescent made up the game and loves it.

I didn’t ever think we would be giving a lamb a hug on a regular basis, but apparently so.

 

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again, but

I wrote umpteen posts in my head yesterday, what was a Very, Very Long Day.

In short, June Bug, a first-time sheep mom, had twins (!) in the early hours of Sunday morning.

But, after cleaning them up, she rejected them (!!!!!!!).

I don’t have time to write everything that happened yesterday (more exclamation points go here…), but the situation seems stable and much better now, about 27 hours after getting up around 5 am yesterday morning to a ewe who was head-butting her newborns, twin lambs (a girl and a boy), and trying to figure out how to keep these gorgeous little critters alive.

We spent all day taking small steps, trying to keep them going, getting them cleaned up, dry, and fed, trying to get them to nurse from Junie despite her initial response, and hoping that she would/will eventually accept them.

For the time being, we have June Bug in a halter in the sheep shack. We’re bringing in the twins every 2-4 hours to nurse from her. She’s mostly calmed down from her head butting. She seems quite conflicted and was all day yesterday. She seems to have raging new mom hormones (where are my babies? where are my babies?), but then is freaking out about them (who are you? what are you doing? [head butt]). She’s much better with them–and us–so we are hoping that we can keep the twins nursing, she will warm up to them (and us), and we’ll be able to let all of them rejoin the entire flock shortly. Meanwhile, the flock is very much confused about everything between Cinnamon, her twins, and now Junie and her twins.

On a happier note, June Bug’s twins are absolutely beautiful. No time to download some photos I took yesterday, but they are handsome, beautiful, and getting stronger (and bouncier) by the hour. We are so relieved.

And they seem to think they have three parents–one sheep and two humans.

Photos to come.

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introducing…

… Chaco and Francisco (Paco), Cinnamon’s twin boys.

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Here they are at just over three hours old.

Chaco is closer to the camera with more brown. He looks more like his father, Shemp. Paco is closer to Cinnamon. He’s almost all white except for a patch of taupe on the back of his neck.

We went back and forth on names for almost 24 hours. Half Moon’s name seemed more self-evident (not to mention New Age-y). I liked the idea of two boys’ names that were somehow connected–in history, fiction, film, or folklore.

Romulus and Remus? Tweedledee and Tweedledum? Tom and Ray?

Nope, nope, nope.

Ron suggested some kind of names that evoked their breed heritage–Navajo Churro. I liked that idea, but we couldn’t come up with many options at first. Ron thought of Chaco. I thought of Taos. Ron thought of Cedar and Mesa. Or Mesa and Verde. Then he thought of Koko and Pelli to evoke one of the gods.

I also liked the New Age-y option of evoking what was happening on the farm and the season when they were born. The fruit trees are in full bloom, but Blossom is a girl’s name. Rhubarb and Asparagus? Not so much.

My undergraduate RA and I worked together Friday afternoon. She suggested two tree names. I was thinking about Aspen (Southwest) and Maple (Northeast) for a while, given their colors.

But the Navajo and Southwest theme stuck with me the most. We both liked Chaco for the boy with more brown on him. For about 30 minutes, the other one was simply named Canyon (to fill out the Chaco Canyon reference). But that didn’t roll off the tongue.
Ron thought of Paco as a Spanish boy’s name. I wasn’t totally thrilled, but the rhyming is pretty cute (if not potentially challenging).

This morning I decided to look up Paco on that Great Fount of Wisdom–Wikipedia.

Turns out Paco is a nickname for Francisco, and Francisco is probably derived from St. Francis of Assisi. I’ve always liked St. Francis (and I like Francis even more given Pope Francis). Then Ron found this wonderful piece of art from Taos that shows (a very brown, Native American-looking) St. Francis with three (white) sheep. They are probably Navajo Churro sheep. We have it hanging in our kitchen. St. Francis is definitely the patron saint of the farm.

And so it was settled–Chaco and Paco. Here they are. Get your cute on.

Here’s Chaco (top), just a minute or two after being born with Cinnamon cleaning him up. Three cute close-ups. As you can see, he has a brown nose, some brown/taupe patches on his back, and brown on his feet (little booties). He’s really cute. He was born first, but he’s smaller, thinner, and not quite as strong as Paco. He’s less of an obsessive nurser and likes to lay down. He also likes pets.

And here’s Paco. Top photo shows him seconds after being born. We saw him being born close-up (and, no, Cheri, we didn’t know Cinnamon was carrying twins!). You can see Chaco standing up rather unsteadily on the right. Below are all photos of Paco. He’s more classically handsome–all white with the taupe patch on the back of his neck. He also likes pets and he seems to be a bit bolder and more adventurous. He started walking up to me within 12 hours (!?!?!?!).

Not surprisingly, the twins are buddies, hanging out together most of the time.

Like I said, get your cute on.

And (KNOCK ON WOOD), there should be (at least) two more lambs coming!

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twins!!

The first lamb(s) are here!

Cinnamon had twins at 8:00 and 8:10 this morning in the spring sunshine after going into labor around 7 o’clock. She gave birth under the tarp by the sheep shack. It was easy to watch her go through the whole process from the west deck (so we did). She kept looking at us, but we didn’t intervene. I (Sara) saw the second one come out through the binoculars in close detail!

Here’s one photo. More soon! And June Bug is due tomorrow and Brownie in another 10 days.

Yes lambs

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sheep trauma

We are still very sad and somewhat traumatized by the sudden loss of Spot yesterday morning.

And so are the sheep.They are still not normal. But why would they be???

It is easy to anthropomorphize animals, including sheep, but it’s hard not to interpret their facial expressions, body language, behavior, and lack of normal behavior as an understandable response to the confusion and concern about Spot.

Ron said they were clearly distressed when Spot was hacking and coughing. Then he carried her into the garage, hoping that he could do something for her or the vets could if they got there in time. They did not. The sheep therefore saw her in distress, Ron carry her away, and then she has not returned.

Yesterday afternoon they were acting odd. They still are this morning.

Believe me, sheep, we wish we could bring her back.

In the past few weeks, particularly once we started giving them daily winter treats, the sheep had gotten really assertive and become big beggers. They would baa whenever we came out of the house and especially if we were carrying anything–anything!!–in our hands. Cinnamon was the worst culprit, but they all did it at least some of the time.

Yesterday afternoon they were near silent.

It’s hard not to read this as a negative association with snack time.

Related to the begging behavior, they tended to come over to the fence nearest where we were, looking, watching, and ready to baa at us.

They did some of that, but somehow they seemed confused.

They also did their usual eat hay, stand and/or lie around digesting routine. But they seemed to take turns standing a bit away from the group looking, surveying the terrain.

It’s hard not to read this as looking and waiting for Spot.

At one point yesterday afternoon Cinnamon had her head in the hay pile (all of them do this to a certain extent). All the sheep went down into the woods, leaving Cinnamon buried in the hay. When she looked up and realized they were gone, she baaed for them. The “oh, sheep” moment happens to all of them from time to time, but the rest of the sheep in the woods seemed to baa more–more of them and more baaing–letting her know where they were. She dashed down to the forest, baaing back at them.

Maybe I’m making it up, but it all seemed more intense than the usual, “hey loner sheep, we are over here…” I swear they were really rallying the sheep troops after Spot was already missing.

They often hang out under the pine trees, especially the one where their hay feeder is located, even in snowy or difficult weather conditions. Yesterday, though, they were less mobile than usual, no doubt due in part to the foot of snow on the ground. However, they often put themselves in the sheep shack to protect themselves from the snow and particularly the wind. Yesterday they kept hanging out under the pine tree, despite getting covered by snow and the blowing wind.

Again, maybe I’m making it up, but it seemed like they had a general malaise and had forgotten about the sheep shack. Late afternoon I told Ron that I wanted to try to walk them up to the shack for the night so that they could be protected from the snow and wind.

I bundled up (wellies, nylon pants, down parka, etc.) and went out to greet them. Again, not a lot of verbal response, which is unusual. I gave them a few pats and tried to get them to follow me. However, it was going to be a bit of a trek because we had to go around the orchard and garden.

But, true to form, Tagine, who tends to like chasing games, did start to follow me. He looked a bit perplexed: “Why are we going out in all this snow???” Tatanka who has been my Best Buddy lately also looked curious and started watching me and following. They don’t know their names, of course, but I tried to verbally encourage them to keep coming my way. In addition, walking away from them can trigger their flock instinct. I walked, looked back, walked, looked back, and Tagine and Tatanka started coming.

If two sheep go in one direction, usually the rest of them follow. And they did.

Tagine took the lead, walking in the path made by my footsteps in the foot-plus snow, Tatanka following, Cinnamon behind him, and the three smaller sheep (Brownie, June Bug, and Half Moon) then taking up the rear in single file. Tagine is the biggest of the sheep–barely. He’s barely bigger than Cinnamon (!), but he was the pathbreaker, slowly walking through the snow in my path. I stopped about every 50 feet, talking to them, encouraging them to keep coming. They baaed a few times (so did I!), but they did keep coming.

After a few minutes of tromping through deep snow (Tagine was up to his chest in it and really working to follow me), I got them up to the sheep shack and they all dashed in. Tagine, Tatanka, and Half Moon wanted a few pets. Most of them wanted some hay.

Yes, it was snowy and windy, they love their sheep shack, and they have a strong flock instinct. At times that means following the Blonde Sheep (namely, me) or That Guy (Ron). But I also believe that they trust us. And somehow I’d like to believe that Tagine knew that I was trying to take care of them, making sure that they were more protected from a cold, blowing, blizzard-like night.

I just wish we could have protected and saved Spot.

 

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sweet spot, RIP

I haven’t written on the blog in a while. This first entry back is a sad and difficult one.

We lost one of our most beloved members of the farm family this morning–sweet Spot the ewe.

We had been giving all of the sheep a mixture of alfalfa pellets and dried corn once a day in winter (twice a day if it was really cold and windy). As usual, the sheep got their treat this morning. Spot had a tendency to hack and cough more than the rest of the sheep, possibly combined. For whatever reason or unfortunate conjuncture of factors, she seems to have choked on the alfalfa pellets and she died in Ron’s arms.

The horrible, painful irony is that we got the alfalfa pellets mostly for Spot’s benefit because we hoped she was pregnant, but she was small and skinny. We had read that skinny ewes can have more problems with pregnancy, labor, and delivery so we were trying to get her to gain some weight.

Instead, this. A truly awful morning on the farm.

The rest of the sheep are not acting normal and they seem lost.

So are we.

Brownie may have been the matriarch of the flock, but Spot was its heart. And she had made her way into ours.

Spot was an unusual sheep. She didn’t have all the characteristics of most sheep. She wasn’t flighty and easy to startle. Most of the time the rest of the sheep would startle or spook, she’d slowly look up and around. The cartoon bubble over her head indicated something along the lines of–“What are you doing? Why are you running away? It’s just that guy.” She was gentle, friendly, affectionate, and sweet. Apparently she came out of the womb like this. The woman who owns the farm where we bought her said that Spot was like that ever since she was “itty bitty.” Spot liked both of us, but she particularly liked Ron.

The farm feels like a extended family that crosses species lines. We lost a family member and friend today. We’ve lost farm animals before, but this one is an especially difficult loss.

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