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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… 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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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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an “oh, sheep” moment

It’s now well past the New Year. As always, various stories, incidents, and humorous events on the farm have taken place over the past two weeks. Here is one from early this morning.

Before dawn, it was pretty clear the sheep were hanging out under Most Favored Pine Tree. They were seven brown lumps–amid the much smaller lumps also under the pine tree (see: sheep poop…). We couldn’t identify who was who, but we could tell they were lying on the ground, resting under the tree.

Fast forward a bit later once the sun was up enough to really see. All of the sheep had left except for one who was still lying down, chewing its cud, and spacing out, looking away from the pine tree and towards the house, seemingly oblivious to the fact that all of the other sheep had left.

Sheep hate being by themselves. After all, they are a flock species.

As Ron put it, the lone sheep was going to have an “oh, sheep” [note: “sheep” is generally replaced by another word] moment any second.

We’ve seen this time and again. One of them is off doing his or her own thing–grazing, resting, browsing, whatever. The rest of the flock wanders off. The lone sheep doesn’t realize it, looks up, sees no one or the sheep far away, and generally looks around, baas, and frantically runs back to the flock.

From the size of the lump under Most Beloved Pine Tree, Ron was pretty sure the lone sheep was one of the wethers, Tagine or Tatanka (Half Moon is still smaller and lighter in color so he’s always distinguishable). I decided to go out and try to prevent the wether from having an “oh, sheep” moment.

I went outside (in my pjs, supplemented by down parka, polar hat, and wellies) and saw right away it was Tagine. I hopped over the fence, went up to him, and petted him. He acted completely normal. Then he started looking around a bit and seemed to realize there were no other sheep in his field of vision. He started to get a little panicky and that meant I startled him more easily. I took a step one way and he got up in panicked sheep mode. But by that point he had definitely figured out he was the only one–other than me–under the Most Beloved Pine Tree.

From the house, I had already seen that the rest of the sheep were up by the sheep shack so I started walking from Most Beloved Pine Tree in the direction we needed to go to get Tagine back to the rest of his flock. Tagine likes to follow us and he particularly likes following us when we jog somewhere, although his running always puts ours to shame. I started jogging, looked back, he had started following me, but he also called out to the sheep: where are you???

Someone up by the sheep shack baaed back.

“We’re over here, Tagine!”

At that point, Tagine had figured out they were up by the sheep shack so he ran by me, slowed to turn the corner by the gate where there is a lot of ice (it’s slippery, even for sheep), and then accelerated up the hill by the corn patch and orchard fence.

In sheepy cuteness, Spot and Tatanka had wandered over to that corner, meeting Tagine as he dashed up the hill. Tagine and Tatanka bunked noses (cute!!!) and Tagine walked over to the sheep shack. Meanwhile, Spot and Tatanka greeted me–and wanted pets, of course.

Thus, all was well again in sheep-land. Tagine was reunited with his little flock. Spot, Cinnamon, Tatanka, and Half Moon requested–and got–early morning pets in the sunrise.And I got nose bunks, too.

And Tagine had only a mild, “oh, sheep” moment.

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boys, V

It’s the last day of December (!)–and of 2016 (! to the nth). I suppose I should write up some sort of synthesis on the farm year.

I’m too tired to do so.

Instead, I’ll wrap up the series on the farm boys with the fifth entry on (Maj.) Tom, our lone, remaining, very nice rooster.

We weren’t sure if nice roosters exist. Apparently they do.

We wonder if Tom is nice because he’s a little slow and stupid. He got caught in the garden several times and couldn’t figure out how to get around the fence into the orchard to then get into the chicken coop. Maybe he’s tall, dark, and handsome–and a little slow.

We named him Tom for Tom Selleck because we were watching a series on Netflix with Tom Selleck in it. (A bit like how Hawkeye (RIP) ended up being named Hawkeye because we were watching reruns of *M*A*S*H*, although I also named her Hawkeye because she looked like a raptor–an especially ironic name given that she was killed by some sort of hawk.)

Tall, dark, handsome Selleck; tall, dark, handsome, Australorp rooster Tom. [LOL]

Ron suggested calling him “T.S.”–for Selleck and, I added, T.S. Eliot [moi–ever the nerd].

But Tom just seemed to fit. Plus it has a double meaning: “toms” are male turkeys so we liked the double entendre.

We started out thinking Tom wasn’t too sharp, but now we are starting to question our initial assessment. However, he’s almost five months old and therefore not yet full grown. Things could change.

Evidence #1: A week or so ago, Ron went out just before the auto-chicken door closed to make sure everyone ended up inside. (Yes, let’s note the irony that we spent too much money on an auto-chicken door so we wouldn’t have to manually shut the coop door every night, but we still check most nights and, on one freezing cold night, it actually got stuck half-way.) Ron saw Tom come out of the coop, call, one of the three littlest Australorp hens came running out from under the coop, ran up the ramp, and Tom followed her in. He then came back outside, called once more, waited, and then went into the coop. The auto-door shut shortly after.

Evidence #2: Tom has gotten stuck in the garden several times, once with a few hens, once with the majority of them (!?). But then we saw him problem solve another time. Some of the hens, foremost Ella (who should know better because she’s one of our first three chickens!), were stuck in the garden–a-gain. Tom called several times to them, but the girls stayed over there. Tom actually walked down the fence, went through the gate,  collected them, and took them back to the coop. He got them out of the garden on time before the chicken door closed.

Maybe he’s smarter than we thought.

In his various farm research searches on that great fount of wisdom–The Internet–Ron has read that some roosters keep the hens in line–not in a mean, aggressive way. Instead, they manage the flock, help keep track of them, protect them, and also keep the hens from picking on one another. And there can be a lot of hen picking on one another…

Since Tom hit chicken puberty (still funny, still! still!!!), and J.R. 1 and J.R. 2 got out of the picture, we’ve been watching the evolving chicken flock dynamics. It doesn’t seem radically different from before. But we have noticed that the entire flock tends to get along a bit better than sometimes.

When we’ve integrated new hens into the flock previously–first the three dominiques (Heidi, Nony, and Pippi with only Nony still with us), then the three Easter eggers (Hawkeye (RIP), beautiful Cleo, and funny Beaker), then the three Golden Comets (Annie, Emma, and White Tail), and then the Australorps (Mira and Lazi, then the ebb and flow of the roosters and three little hens)–the flock dynamics have waxed and waned. Sometimes the older hens picked on the younger ones. Sometimes the younger ones just got out of the way as a preventive measure. Because Caroline spent so much of the summer by herself, broody, raising chickies, she’s actually now low on the chicken totem because she’s more of a “stranger” to them, even though they looked at each other through chicken fences for most of the summer. We feel sorry for poor Caroline.

All this to say, integrating the Australorps has been easier and more seamless–other than J.R. 1 and J.R. 2!?–than the previous integrations. It could be because there are six Australorps (Mira, Lazi, Tom, Indy, and the two other little hens) to nine older birds; that’s a higher ratio of “newbies” than some of our earlier integrations.

Or it could be because Tom is part of the picture. In general, the flock hangs out, they munch, wander, scratch, eat, and/or rest without bothering one another too much.

We’ve had, then, four roosters on the farm to date: Scruffy, J.R. 1, J.R. 2, and Tom. We really liked Scruffy, but he was an idiot, going after the older hens, and keeping them from eating and laying. That caused his fate. Although they were pretty boys, we didn’t like either J.R. 1 or J.R. 2–way too mean to the hens.

Tom, however, seems to have all the positive qualities of a rooster than–handsome, keeps an eye out, protects the hens, gentle, not aggressive with the hens when he mates with them–and few of the negative qualities. For the time being, Tom has secured his place on the farm.

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