Bringing Your New Sheep Home

lovelymomYou have just bought your first sheep…or, maybe you have a flock of sheep and now it’s time to add some new and different sheep. Here are a few tips to make the transition easier and safer.

Biosecurity is a word you will hear more and more often. It simply means keeping your farm and animals as safe as possible from disease. Be sure the seller has had the sheep you purchase checked by a veterinarian within 30 days of the sale and has the current health certificate for you. Ask about OPP testing. Was the flock tested? When and where was the test done? If the sheep are being purchased at a fair or festival, be sure the sheep have been secured in pens so that nose-to-nose contact with sheep from other flocks was not allowed. Ask about footrot…you don’t want to bring home any health problems.

It is always safest to separate or quarantine new sheep. All sheep have their own “germs” and they go along happy and healthy with these germs and are just fine. But when they mingle with new sheep they can share their germs and catch a cold, just like sending kids off to school and they “bring home everything”. You want to be able to watch the new arrivals and be sure they are healthy, that the stress of the trip from one farm to another didn’t cause them to get a cold or pneumonia, or upset their stomachs.

junebugFor these same reasons, you want to be sure that everyone who comes into your barn or pasture has thoroughly disinfected their boots or shoes at your farm, or wears disposable boots or your own farm boots. This means everyone, even the vet, even your best sheep friends. It only takes a few minutes and it keeps your animals healthy and they don’t take your farm germs away with them to other animals. Biosecurity just makes sense.

A small area that is easy to get to and close enough to keep an eye on the new arrivals is handy. Keep them away from your home sheep for at least 2 weeks, a month is even better. It is good practice to avoid walking from the new sheep to the old sheep with the same boots, or at least with dirty boots. Have a disinfectant wash and brush handy or a separate pair of boots. Don’t share buckets or feeders between the new arrivals and the home flock. It may sound fanatical , but it is easier to prevent than cure a problem.

Don’t make any drastic changes in the feeding of the sheep. If they were only on pasture and you feed mostly grain and a little hay, make the change slowly. Keep those rumens happy. Don’t forget that all sheep need salt and minerals that are specifically formulated for sheep. The salt and mineral mix needs to be available at all times to all the sheep. Do not give cattle mineral mix to sheep, it has too much copper and can be fatal.
Ask the seller when the sheep were lasted treated for worms. Worms, or internal parasites, are a fact of life for sheep. The sheep need to be dewormed with a sheep approved medication (antihelmintic) on a regular basis. To find out if your sheep have internal worms or parasites, you will need to bring a fecal sample…yes, some sheep poop, to your veterinarian. Just put some fresh “berries” from several sheep in a baggie and take them to the vet .There are several different dewormers; talk with your vet or the seller or another shepherd about what works for them.There are several good sheep health books, and it is a very good idea to have at least one or two. You want to try to keep any new parasites from being introduced into your flock or pasture.

Watch the new arrivals, sit near them and get to know them and let them get to know you…watch how the eat, are they eager to eat, are their eyes clear and bright, are their ears up and perky. A sheep that doesn’t feel well often will have droopy ears, be reluctant to get up, cough, have a runny or snotty nose. Be sure they have clean fresh water. Be sure they have shelter from the hot sun or freezing rain and wind.

When you have seen that they are just fine, and it has been at least 2 weeks, although 4 is better because some viruses have a 10-14 day incubation period, it is time to combine them with your other animals or give them a larger area to graze. They should be just fine. Spend some time every day just watching them, you will be amazed at how much they teach you.. And never hesitiate to call the seller to ask questions.

Maintaining your flock’s heath is a matter of proper management: The Healthy Flock: Keeping Your Sheep in Top Form

The Healthy Flock

snip_lambsHere at Frelsi Farm we innoculate our sheep against rabies, they get an annual CDT (Clostridial Disease and Tetanus), they are OPP (Ovine Progressive Pneumonia) tested each year. We deworm our sheep on a regular basis. Our lambs get an injection of Selenium when they’re born. We are enrolled in the VSFCP (Voluntary Scrapie Flock Certification Program). And our sheep are foot rot free.

Which, if you’re new to this, is absolute Greek.

Keeping your sheep healthy is multi-step approach which starts with the basics: don’t let them get sick in the first place. And the easiest method is Prevention.  Prevention means Bio-Security.

Bio-Security means we’re more than a little obsessed with cleanliness. We don’t allow visitors into the areas where the sheep are until they’ve disinfected their boots or shoes (so if you visit, please bring rubber boots!). When we bring a sheep to a show, we don’t bring it home, because we are what is called a “closed flock.” To achieve genetic diversity, we use AI (artificial insemination).

So, from where we’re sitting, step one to healthy sheep is to practice good sanitation.

Step two is to provide them with the feed and minerals they need to keep themselves healthy. Your local agricultural agency will be able to help you formulate a salt/mineral blend appropriate for your sheep. No matter what your feed store tells you… you do NOT want to get solid block salt for you Icelandic Sheep. Loose salt/minerals is much better, and doesn’t risk chipping a tooth!

We also free feed our sheep Kelp blended with Selenium because it doesn’t exist in our soil, and Vitamin E. We maintain a hopper for salt and a hopper for kelp. Other farms maintain one hopper, putting kelp on one side and salt on the other. Kelp isn’t strictly necessary, but we feel the sheep do better when they have access to it.

Icelandic Sheep eat hay, and grass. The hay should be leafy green… alfalfa hay is wonderful, but not necessary. You should never feed moldy hay to sheep. You can feed in round bales if you have the equipment to handle the bales.. but whatever you decide to do, you’ll need a reliable source of hay. Or two unreliable sources. You can have your hay tested for feed value if you like, 16% protein is pretty good grass hay. If your hay tests to around 8% you’ll want to supplement the hay with a little grain or alfalfa pellets, or even soy meal, which is a great source of protein.

lamb_colorsIcelandic sheep don’t require the high protein diets of other meat breeds… so you don’t have to feed the same volume of grains to a Icelandic as you would another breed, making the Icelandic a “thrifty” breed. They thrive on grass. But even if your sheep are positively thriving on grass, water, and their salt/mineral supplement, putting on weight and dancing with health, you might want to feed them a little handful of grain every few days anyway. Our sheep have been bred not only for their health and other physical characteristics, but for their temperaments as well. And a handful of grain will bring them flocking around you for skritches and general bonding. And they’ll start associating you and the bucket with All Things Good! Which, can be very helpful.

You’ll also need a supply of fresh clean water. Sheep need a regular source of clean water. Icelandic sheep want to drink a gallon of water a day when they’re pregnant, more when they’re nursing, and in the hot months of the summer, they’ll need to replace volumes of water. Please don’t underestimate the importance of having fresh water for your sheep… but you don’t want to rely on a farm pond unless you’re willing to watch the sides of the pond deteriorate. And the sheep will contaminate the pond. You’ll find a trough system, or even buckets filled regularly, preferable to the pond.

arch_shelterBefore your sheep arrive, you’ll want to have an area securely fenced for them. You can use either woven mesh, or electrified fencing, depending on your situation. You’ll also need to provide a shelter from the winter wind, and a shelter they can use in the summer to get out of the sun. We use very flexible hoop houses which are surprisingly inexpensive to build and maintain for our Icelandic sheep. Many people like to build a small barn, but the truth is that there are less expensive alternatives, and we suspect the barn is more for the comfort of the shepherd than the sheep!

Sheep pick up parasites, and all sheep need to be wormed. There are many schools of thought on wormers and how to use them and what works on our farm may not work on yours. You may be more comfortable talking with your local vet and taking fecal samples in for testing than simply trying the hit or miss approach. You want to worm as often as necessary… but not when unnecessary, because the worms will build up a tolerance for the wormers. However, every shepherd should check their sheep’s eyelids and gums to make sure they are a healthy pink. If they are not, treating the sheep promptly for worms is probably in order.

You’ll also need to check and trim you sheep’s feet regularly, lest the nail grow out and curl under, making walking difficult

and picking up foreign matter and packing it into the foot. Trimming hooves for the first time is probably easier with two people, one holding and the other trimming. Have your partner lift the sheep up, then sit down on a bucket with the sheep set down on its rump. Put one foot down on the floor between the sheep’s rear feet. Now you’ve got the sheep nice and securely. He may wiggle and struggle, but he’s not going anywhere, and you can concentrate on trimming the feet. Trim them so they’re nice and flat, taking off the excess nail on each side, off the tip if necessary, and off the heel if necessary. Praise the sheep and let it go!

A couple of years ago one of our new farms announced that all they really wanted was The List.  The List of Supplies to Have On Hand, or the First Aide Kit List, or the List of Lambing Supplies… oh and the list of Spinning Mills too!  We’re working on the list. The fact is, that while you’d think you’d be able to get your supplies all from one handy source, you’ll discover you can’t. And one of the extreme frustrations is trying to track down the things you need across multiple suppliers.  I won’t lie to you, getting into sheep can be dauntingly expensive if you’re buying all your supplies in one blow, especially since very few of these places package things for small farms.  And medications can add up, so you’ll want to buy prudently. We suggest you talk to your local large animal vet, even if you intend to do all your own work, to see if they’ll sell you what you need in smaller quantities. You’ll pay more per dose, but you won’t have to worry about expiration dates on a large bottle.

Your Icelandic Sheep: Budgeting and Building a Flock

beauty_girlFrelsi Farm sells sheep to first time flocks in pairs (or more) only. Sheep are flocking animals, and they must have a companion. So for the same reason we don’t sell single rams. There are times when you’ll need to remove your ram from the ewes, and he’ll decline, or become unpleasant, if he doesn’t have someone to buddy up with. If you’d like to invest in a fine ewe, or a proven yearling ram, we have wethers, neutered males, who are healthy, nice animals, with good fleeces… but just didn’t turn out to be the best of the best. They make wonderful companion animals, produce nice fleeces, and are quite affordable. Some of our customers who keep a small “spinning flock” for their own use have exclusively wethers. They’re only interested in the fleeces, don’t want the bother of lambing, aren’t interested in increasing the size of their flock, they like it as it is… and their wethers are friendly and perfect for them.

We sell our sheep from the following categories:

Proven Ewes: Adult ewes who have been in our breeding program and lambed more than once are called “proven ewes.” Their price is based on qualities such as their fleeces, and the merits of the lambs they’ve already produced, and their age. For a new shepherd, there is a lot to be said for buying a proven ewe… at least one of you will have experience with lambs! Proven ewes are sold during the summer and fall after their lambs are weaned, and run between $400 and $1000. We can also hold a proven ewe back and breed her. She is then delivered to your farm in February, and will lamb a couple of months later. You can choose the sire from the rams in our own flock, or a selection of AI studs (assuming you’re enrolled in the VSFCP (see article). Stud and boarding fees are about $250-300 depending on the sire you choose. Come April, you’ll have your proven ewe, and her lamb or lambs… which is a lovely way to begin your experience with Icelandic Sheep.

Yearling Ewes: These are ewes we’ve kept over from the previous year’s crop. A lamb fleece gives you an idea of the adult fleece, but not until the sheep matures will you have a real picture of what the fleece and conformation is proving out to be. Yearling Ewes are our Farm Choice lambs, the basis of our continued breeding program. But the fact is, we often keep more yearlings than we need, simply to see how they turn out so we can adjust our breeding program based on what we’ve learned. Yearling ewes are often very pricey. They’re ready to be bred the year they’re bought, and we kept them because we wanted a lamb from them, and may have bred the as a lamb. So you’ll see them listed with some hefty prices attached and labeled Breeder’s Choice Sheep. If you’re looking for an ewe to improve your flock, or build a great one, A Breeder’s Choice is the sheep to invest in. If you want us to keep her, and breed her to a stud of your choice, we’ll do the same stud and boarding fees of a proven ewe, and she’ll arrive on your farm in February. With Breeder’s Choice animals you know you’re buying the best of our farm for yours.

Ewe Lambs: Ewe lambs come from this year’s flock. In a good breeding program the lambs are always the best animals on the farm, because each generation gets a little bit better than the last. Our Prime AI Ewe Lambs are (by federal law) only available for farms enrolled in the VSFCP (it is free to enroll, and we’ll get you started), and we only sell them as Registered Icelandics. As with all very young stock, you’re buying potential. The Ewes will have known genetics, you’ll be able to determine conformation, but you won’t “know” what their adult fleece will look like, until they’re adults. Ewe lambs range from around $400 to $1000 for a Breeder’s Choice AI Ewe Lamb. You’ll get a lovely lamb fleece from them in the fall, and they can be bred their first year. It is common practice to breed lambs, but we recommend you wait until their second year when they are more mature unless you’re an experienced shepherd.

Yearling Rams: These are proven stud rams or rams we’ve kept back to observe their development. We may ask to keep the ram dodge_headuntil December so we can use him to breed some of our ewes before they are sent out to cover yours, and we will adjust the price accordingly. When you buy a yearling ram, just like a yearling or proven ewe, you’re buying a known quality. You’ll know what their personalities are, what the horns look like, and how the fleece has matured. Yearling Rams, like Yearling Ewes are Breeder’s Choice and an effective way to add outstanding qualities to your exsisting flock, or establish a new one. We guarantee our Yearling Ram’s fertility.

Ram Lambs: Like ewe lambs, with ram lambs you’re buying potential (and a beautiful lamb fleece!). Rams represent the foundation to your flock, and we only sell the best lambs as ram lambs, if a ram doesn’t meet our exacting standards he becomes a wether, a neutered/castrated ram, or companion sheep. A ram lamb will start around $400 and go to $1500 for a Breeder’s Choice Ram Lamb. If you’re interested in a Ram Lamb, you must contact us before October 15th.

Wethers: Neutered (castrated) ram lambs. These are healthy rams with nice fleeces, no defects, but rams that didn’t meet our exacting standards for stud rams. Since shepherds need wethers as companion animals for their breeding rams, and since we do have requests for wethers from farms that are looking only for fleece sheep… or friends… we offer wethers. wethers start at $250.

All Frelsi Farm’s Icelandic Sheep are registered through the CLRC (Canadian Livestock Records Corporation), enrolled in VSFCP, certified OPP test negative in 2002, and foot rot free. With your sheep, you’ll also receive support services. If you have never kept livestock or sheep before, the Icelandic Sheep is a fantastic breed because it is so flexible and durable. But you will have questions. And even if you’ve bought a book, and read it, we know there is nothing like being able to call your breeder and say “what is going on here?”

In addition we provide you with a year’s Newsletter Membership to Icelandic Sheep Breeder’s of North America (ISBONA). You’ll also receive a sample of the kelp/mineral supplement we’ve been feeding, a complete record of the vaccinations, lambing records where applicable, ,a packet of useful information, and… our sheep’s milk fudge recipe! The Registration Certificate will arrive in the mail within a month or so from the CLRC. If you’ve decided you’d rather not have your sheep registered, we do a price adjustment for you.

Your Icelandic Sheep are an investment in your farm… and you. They’ll provide you with hours of enjoyment, they’ll clear your hillsides, grow beautiful fleeces, produce healthy bouncy lambs, give your family milk, meat, wool, even lusterous pelts. We’re here to provide you not only with the best Icelandic Sheep possible… but the support you need to turn your dream of having sheep into reality.

How do you build your flock if your farm budget is a little tight? Time, you’ll find, is the friend of a farm on a shoestring. You’d be amazed what a little time can buy you. Let’s take a look at a sample farm that wants Icelandic Sheep, but needs time so they can spread the investment out over a period of time. Building a Flock on a Shoestring

Your Icelandic Sheep: Flock on a Shoestring

How do you build your flock if your farm budget is a little tight? Time, you’ll find, is the friend of a farm on a shoestring. You’d be amazed what a little time can buy you.

salt_pepperIf you have an unlimited budget to spend on your sheep… you don’t need to read this article. But if you don’t, you may have looked at the price of Registered Icelandic Sheep and thought “Wow! Getting started in Icelandic Sheep would cost thousands!” Which, if you want to start with a couple of proven rams, a handful of proven ewes, and a half dozen ewe lambs to boot… certainly would. Fortunately, you don’t have to begin with quite such an investment to start enjoying the benefits of owning Icelandic Sheep.

Let’s put together a sample flock for a small farm. Our small farm wants a versatile sheep it can use to clear some woody areas, they want some nice fleeces to work with over the winter, and in the future they’d like to try their hand at milking their sheep. They know that they must have at least two sheep in the pen to keep each other company, so they decide they’d like to start with two ewe lambs: a white one and a black one. They contact us in January to reserve their ewe lambs so they won’t be disappointed in the spring, and at that time they also talk to us about getting a ram so they can have lambs of their own the following spring.

After some discussion, they decide that they don’t have the resources to invest in their own ram this year, nor are they quite ready to invest in a Breeder’s Choice ewe. So it is decided they’ll send a deposit and reserve one of our Proven Ewes to be delivered after the breeding season. They’ll have a lamb, quite possibly even lambs, born on their own farm the following spring, and this year’s lambs will have a year to mature before they’re bred… which is better for their health, and allows the couple to see how the ewes mature so they can make a better decision about their foundation ram. They take the time now to enroll in VSFCP, so they can have an AI impregnated ewe next winter, and get ready for their new lambs.

sugarThey name their new lambs Salt and Pepper have a wonderful times with their lambs during the summer, and in mid-winter their Proven Ewe is delivered. She’s a good solid Icelandic who has been through it before, so she pops out two wriggly lambs come spring and our small farm is thrilled. Five sheep! It’s a flock! They name their new ewe lamb Sugar and their new ram lamb Spice. They call us and ask if they can use their new little ram lamb as a stud.

Well, they can… but not on the mother of the ram lamb, nor his sister. Our little farm thinks about this and decides they’d like to use their own little ram lamb this year. His mother and sister will have to be penned separately during the breeding season… that’s not a problem, they can keep each other company. But our farm decides to get a wether just in case they need to pen their ram lamb separately from the girls, so he has company.

Come December, two years after our farm got their first two lambs, They have two yearling ewes pregnant by their own little ram lamb. They’ve an ewe lamb maturing for next year’s breeding cycle. They’ve a proven ewe who is taking a year off, they’ve a ram lamb who is pretty sure he’s hot stuff.. and a nice wether to keep him company (they named the wether “Why?” because he’s so sweet they don’t know why he’s a wether). Six sheep.

They can continue to breed the ram lamb Spice to Salt and Pepper… but they can’t breed him to his mother, and he can’t be bred to his sister Sugar. Now they decide to take the plunge and invest in a foundation ram. They know they enjoy keeping sheep, they’ve been through a couple of years and have a better idea of what they’re doing. So they contact us in the fall and we discuss a good choice in a ram for their flock.

hope_head2When their new ram arrives in the spring, Salt and Pepper are popping their first lambs, and our farm is ready to try their hand at milking. Sugar is coming on a yearling and showing a lovely fleece. Her brother Spice, standing in the field next to the new foundation ram looks pretty darn good, and they’ve decided to keep the boys, including the wether, together as a flock while the girls flock together. Their Proven Ewe has taught the youngsters how to “walk down a tree” to push the scrub down so they can browse it to death, and a nose count of our little flock comes up with three new lambs from Salt and Pepper… for a total of four ewes ready to breed this coming fall, two new ram lambs, a new ewe lamb, their own yearling ram, the stud ram they’ve purchased… and the friendly little wether.

They’re really starting to look like a farm! Let’s see what they invested in getting there:

They bought two ewe lambs: Salt and Pepper for a total of $900 the first spring.
The following February, they took delivery of the Proven Ewe with the breeding fee… $750
They used their own ram lamb that summer, but contracted for a stud ram in the fall… and bought a wether: $250
Taking delivery of the ram in the early winter… $1000

Our farm has purchased 5 sheep at a total investment of $2900, or $580/sheep spread out over almost 3 years. In the barn they have Salt and Spice their first ewe lambs, with their three lambs. Their Proven Ewe with her new twins, Sugar, with her first lamb, the wether, Spice the now yearling ram, and the new Stud Ram… 13 sheep, or an increase of 8 new sheep over their original investment, bringing the “cost per sheep” down to less than $225!

Our small farm built their flock slowly and patiently because they had more time (and patience) than cash resources. If you value speed over cash, you simply multiply the number of sheep, and add the foundation ram earlier, to build a much larger flock, much more quickly.

You can afford the best, you can afford to enjoy the benefits of good solid Registered Icelandic stock in your flock and on your farm. The advantages of starting small are numerous. Two is not an overwhelming number of sheep. Twelve might be. By growing your own flock, you grow your skills with your farm and enjoy the animals you’re working with.

Talk to us. We love building small farm packages for new shepherds because we know how much fun having your own flock is, and remember how exciting it was when our first lambs were born on our farm.

Icelandic Sheep Patterns and Colors

lamb_colorsIcelandic Sheep: Colors, Patterns and Genetics.. an overview

After a couple of hours puzzling over the seemingly limitless choices in patterns and colors a new shepherd remarked in despair “Now I know why people buy those breeds that come in white, white, and only white!” I think she was only partly kidding. Picking the exterior of your sheep is actually fairly simple. There’s the sheep, that’s what it looks like. But when you start thinking about the underlying genetics, and considering what you’d like to produce on your farm… things get very complicated, very quickly!

The Icelandic Sheep gets its fleece color from three genes: the basic color gene, the pattern gene, and the spotting gene. Making a total of 6 genes, inheriting 1 set of three from each parent.

gene_blacklambgene_mooritColor refers to the color of the sheep, in Icelandic Sheep the color is always black or “moorit” (brown). White is technically not a color, but a pattern: the pattern gene for “no pattern” turns off the color gene of brown or black to create “no color” or… white. That said, the color black can range from a deep black to a “rusty” black, moorit (brown) can range from a light tan to a deep royal chocolate. The lambs at left carry the recessive gene for the pattern “solid.”

Next comes the pattern. In Icelandic sheep, the pattern is one of 6 possibilities, white, grey, solid, badgerface, mouflon, or grey-mouflon. Color “coding” an Icelandic Sheep makes for some very complicated reading.

gene_whitegene_greygene_badgerfacegene_mouflon

 

The pattern “grey” for example is actually a colored overcoat (black or brown) with a white undercoat, creating “grey” which can be a black grey or “moorit,” meaning brown, grey (which is actually a brown overcoat and a white undercoat). “Solid” is black on black or brown on brown, over and undercoat, creating a “solid” sheep. To achieve “solid” you need two copies of the “solid” pattern gene. The “Badgerface” pattern gene turns the back, sides, neck, face, and ears to a light tan or white… making the sheep’s face resemble a “badger.” The color of the sheep shows on the face and neck, the belly, and under the tail, creating either a “black” or “brown” badgerface. “Mouflon” is the opposite of badgerface.. so instead of the color being under the sheep, on the neck and belly, it is on the top of the sheep… creating a mirror image of the badgerface.

gene_grey_badgerfaceWe will also see a “Grey Badgerface” and a “Grey Mouflon” as well as Badgerface and Mouflon co-expressed. This means two pattern genes co-expressing in one sheep. There is a rare single gene, “Grey-mouflon” which is, as far as we know, not available in the United States. It is a unique gene which creates a sheep that looks like a combination of “grey” and “mouflon” having a more more pronounced marking pattern than either the grey or the mouflon, distinctly unique to itself.

The pattern “White” (absence of pattern) is dominant over “Grey,” “Badgerface” or “Mouflon”. The “Grey,” “Badgerface” and “Mouflon” have equal weight, and thus can co-express in a lamb.”Solid” is recessive… it takes two solid genes to produce a solid black or moorit lamb. Remember “absence of pattern” means the white sheep is still carrying two colored genes under the “wrapper” of the pattern “white.” So a white ewe bred to a solid moorit ram (who must carry the two recessive moorit color genes) who produces a black lamb, is carrying the color black. If she produces a moorit lamb, she carries moorit, if she produces a white lamb the best we can say is that her lamb carries moorit. We don’t know if the ewe is carrying two dominant white pattern genes (and therefore overriding the recessive gene for “solid”) or if the throw of the dice just popped up the pattern “white” again. Remember, you can never breed two sheep who are not white, and produces a white. Never, ever. If you want white sheep, you need to have a white sheep!

gene_spottingThe third gene to influence the appearance of the sheep is the spotting gene. All Icelandics carry either spotting, or no spotting. If a sheep inherits spotting genes from sire and dam it will have random white spots within its overall pattern, since not spotted is dominant over spotted. And as you can see… spotting can have a major impact on the look of a sheep.

Now, the truth of it is that while many folks arrive at our farm claiming they’re looking at the Icelandic sheep because it will produce a nice carcass by early winter on little more than pasture alone… at least one member of the household is secretly lusting after that those gorgeous lamb ringlets. Or they can’t wait to get their hands on a lush fall fleece. Any conversation on feed conversion and carcass weight is very short lived. But we can talk colors and patterns for hours, because most small farms are trying for a balance between the size of their flock, and the range of colors in their fleeces. They’re trying to pick their lambs based not only on exterior appearance, but on what they might be carrying in their genes.

So before you start trying to pick out you sheep (and its potential) you should start with an idea of what you want from a fleece.

If you want to dye your wool and have it true to color, you’ll want white wool to work with. Since you can never produce a white lamb unless you have a white ewe, this is something to consider when picking your sheep. And something to consider when choosing the sheep you’re going to keep year to year.

A solid black sheep will produce a black to charcoal wool, depending on the color of the sheep. Likewise, a moorit sheep will produce a chocolate brown to tan wool, depending on the depth of color in the sheep. Both of these wools will dye, but you are overdying over color. You’ll end up with a unique color with base tones of the original wool.

The patterned sheep will produce either a heathered, or a varigated, wool depending on how you process and spin it. A black (color) grey (pattern) sheep which has a black tog and a white thel (over and under coats) will produce a lovely sliver grey yarn if the fibers are spun together. A moorit badgerface will produce a nutty brown wool with white strikes in it if it is handled correctly.

And the Grey, Badgerface, and Mouflon also produce very striking pelts, which show off the long tog fibers and the dense thel (undercoat) fibers quite dramatically.

Icelandic Sheep.. An Old Breed for a New Century

Icelandic Sheep–A breed for the next millennium

One of the world’s oldest and purest breeds of sheep, the Icelandic sheep have been the only sheep raised in Iceland for over 1000 years. Now, they are rapidly gaining popularity in North America and are ready for another millennium.

A member of the group of sheep known as the Northern European Short Tail sheep, the Icelandic is a colorful, medium sized, hardy, dual-coated animal, that offers many qualities for the small family farm as well as commercial potential. These sheep are a fine source of meat, milk and fiber, offering an all around animal that is a pleasure to raise.

trimming_pastureThe Icelandic sheep is a medium sized sheep, ewes average 130-150 pounds and the rams 170-225 pounds. Both ewes and rams may be horned or polled, offering the shepherd a choice. The horned rams will grow a fine set of curled horns similar to the wild Mountain Sheep in the Rockies. The ewes’ horns are C-shaped. The faces are open and the legs are also free of wool. The sheep are strong and healthy and prolific. They are long lived, the ewes bearing lambs into their 10th year and older. Having been raised in a grass based farming system in Iceland for the past 1200 years, they do not require expensive grain feeding to reach a respectable market weight. Most rams are sent to market at 5-6 months of age.

These sheep sexually mature early and the ewe lambs are bred at 7-9 months of age. The ram lambs are capable of breeding at about 6 months of age, though some may be ready earlier. These ewes are very seasonal breeders, coming into estrous as the daylight shortens toward the end of October here in North America. They will continue to cycle into early spring. Most ewes here are bred in November and December.

The gestation period is typically 143-145 days, a little shorter than the average for sheep. The lambs are small at birth, generally 6-10 pounds, and their narrow heads and fine bone structure makes birthing easier. They are exceptionally vigorous at birth and are up and trying to nurse in minutes. The mothers are attentive and often have the first lamb licked off and nursing before the second is born. Twins are common in this breed and actually expected after the first lambing. Triplets are not uncommon and the ewes are, for the most part, capable of raising triplets without bottle supplementation. It is not unusual to find triplets warm and dry, with full bellies, sleeping next to mom with no intervention needed. The lambs are born with a good covering of very soft “poodle-like” curly fleece and tolerate the elements well. Being born in Spring also means less frigid nights for lambing. The lambs grow rapidly, gaining 1/2 to 1 pound a day.

lamb_lunchThese sheep are often managed in a pasture lambing situation since the lambs are born at the same time the early grass is available in many areas. Others are kept in a paddock/jug lambing situation. They all seem to thrive with little intervention either way. The sheep are naturally short-tailed so no docking is needed. The short tail is perfect for protecting the ewe from flies and sunburned vulvas and prolapse is extremely rare. The vigor of the lambs and the rapid growth rate is noted in the crossbred lambs as well. The hybrid vigor is exceptional and the potential for the crossbred meat market is high.

Being a primitive breed, the Icelandic sheep has a natural wool break in the spring and literally sheds it’s wool. The wool break occurs in the late winter in the rams and later in the spring in the ewes. The ewes are putting energy into their pregnancies and not into wool growth at that time. The ewes will shed the belly and udder wool and the wool around the crotch first so that shearing is not necessary prior to lambing. The wool can be plucked or “rooed” during the spring wool break but it is not a very efficient way to harvest the spring wool. Often the sheep sheds in patches and the fleece may be felted underneath as it loosens. Most Icelandic sheep here are sheared twice each year, once in the late winter or spring and again in the mid to late fall. The sheep grow wool amazingly fast. The shorter spring fleece is fine for felting and the longer clean fall fleeces are highly valued by handspinners.

mom_and_tripletsThe colors of the Icelandic sheep are incredibly varied and beautiful. Six patterns are possible in this breed and an infinite range of whites, blacks, browns(moorit), and greys are seen. The sheep may also be spotted in addition to showing a pattern. These pattern genetics are well understood adding to the interest in breeding for specific colors and patterns.
The Icelandic sheep is dual-coated. The fleece is open and airy with little lanolin. A fine downy undercoat called “thel” is typically 2-3 inches long and the coarser outer coat is called “tog”. The outer coat is a wool fiber, not hair or kemp. It is 4-10 inches long in most fall fleeces and is lustrous, softly waved or in corkscrew curls. Tog is water and wind resistant, strong and hardwearing. The thel is lofty and warm and very fine with an uneven crimp. This durable dual coat allows the animals to be comfortable outside in the winter with just a three-sided shelter or tunnel hut for shelter from the icy wind and snow. The bulky “Lopi” yarns, that are one of the most popular yarns worldwide, are spun from the two coats of Icelandic wool, and yet a prized fine lace weight yarn is also made from the fleece. The two coats can easily be separated for even more versatility. The wool from Icelandic sheep is also in demand by felters worldwide, as it is an easy and fast fiber to felt, and the natural colors are exceptionally lovely and diverse.

The pelts from these sheep are soft and luxurious. The pelts feel more like fur than wool, and again the colors are outstanding. Because the number of hair follicles per inch is low, the pelts are soft and flexible. These pelts are prized for clothing and are beautiful on floors and furniture.

The primary use for these sheep in Iceland has been for meat. The meat is award- winning in the European market where a lean gourmet style carcass of fine textured, light colored and mild flavored meat is preferred. It is an exceptional product. Being a grass fed sheep, it offers a clear advantage to the organic and natural meat producer, as well as the small farm. A ram lamb can be raised to market weight of 70-100 pounds on mothers milk and grass/hay in 5-6 months. The carcass will dress out at 30-45 pounds, a size highly desired by the restaurant trade and gourmet markets.

udderA third aspect of these fine meat and wool animals is their milking ability. It was common practice in Iceland in earlier times to use the sheep as a source of milk. They have a perfect ratio of protein to fat in their milk to produce excellent cheese and cultured milk products. The milk is very rich and creamy. An Icelandic sheep dairy is underway in New York State at True North Farm and others are also pursuing this aspect of the breed. The hardiness and good mothering traits are an asset in the dairy world, as is the ability to market the ram lambs off pasture as meat.

Icelandic sheep are efficient grazers, spreading out over an entire pasture. They are alert and attentive and will flock together if they are alarmed or threatened. They are excellent foragers and often seem to prefer browse over grass if given a choice. Their ability to clear and reclaim new and old pastures is a plus. The old overgrown fields of former farms can be revitalized with these animals.

The Icelandic sheep were first brought to Canada in 1985 by Stefania Sveinbjarnardottir-Dignum , an Icelandic woman living in Ontario. Canada, on Yeoman Farm. She first imported 12 animals and then, in 1990 , another larger group. In both these groups, she carefully sought out the most diversity she could in colors and patterns. from the animals in the Scrapie free area in Iceland. In 1992, after a five year quarantine period, the sheep were first imported into the USA, by Barbara Webb of Jager Farm in Massachusetts. There are now over 2500 registered Icelandic sheep in North America. The registration of the animals is maintained through the Canadian Livestock Registry Corporation (CLRC), an excellent well organized registry.

To maintain genetic diversity and insure the continued excellent quality of the animals, importation of semen from tested disease free Icelandic rams and artificial insemination has been another exciting area being explored with this breed. The first AI Icelandic lambs in North America were born in the spring of 1999. This is now a successful way to further the solid foothold the breed has in North America. The AI breeders are all members of the Voluntary Scrapie Flock Certification Program (VSFCP). The rams used in the AI breeding are progeny tested and scored for their meat carcass and milk and wool producing qualities in Iceland.

ISBONA, the Icelandic Sheep Breeders of North America, is the organization that has evolved over the past five years from the people involved with this wonderful breed. The group provides information about the breed, has an e-mail chat line, a small lending library of books and videos and publishes a quarterly newsletter. The members are a diverse group that have a common love of these sheep. Membership and information are available to anyone interested.

junebugAs one of the oldest established breeds of sheep in the world today, the Icelandic sheep are over and over again proving their worth. They are not only a breed for the small farm that can produce meat, milk and fiber for the family, they are a beautiful, hardy, healthy animal that has commercial potential as a grass based meat, wool and dairy breed, ready for another millenium. And, as you can see… they’ll clear a nice pasture for you too!

Article originally published in Small Farm Today , March /April 2001, by Elaine E. Clark, who lives on Frelsi Farm in Limerick, Maine with her husband David Patterson, a flock of over 100 Icelandic sheep and 6 Icelandic sheepdogs.

Spinning the Icelandic Fleece

single_colored_eweIcelandic sheep produce a beautiful dual-coated fleece from which the famous LOPI yarn is made. The fleece consists of two coats, in natural shades of brown, black, grey and white. The long, lustrous outer coat is called Tog and the fine downy-soft inner coat, not unlike mohair, is called Thel. This two-layered coat is a key factor in the hardiness of these sheep in the harsh wet, cold, and wind of Iceland. These same characteristics are what make the yarn spun from these two coats so wonderfully warm and resistant to wind and rain. The TOG measures 50s-60s 31-28 microns, approximately 4-10 inches in length. The THEL measures 64s-70s 22-19 microns and is 2-3 inches long.

The coats can be carded and softly spun together to make the familiar and popular Lopi-type yarn, or finer two-ply yarns of various weights. The two coats can separated with a hackle or Viking combs for use alone, or to blend with other fibers.

The Tog can be spun into warp or rug yarn, or used for embroidery. The soft Thel can be spun into a baby-soft yarn or combined with other fibers. The fleece is famous for it’s ease of felting. Boots, mittens and garments are often felted in Iceland to produce beautiful as well as durable products. Felters are delighted with the results of felting projects using Icelandic fleece. It felts easily and quickly and adds strength and firmness to other wools.

Care should be taken whenever Icelandic fleece is washed to handle it very gently, never agitate or wring, because of it’s ease of felting. There is little grease in the Icelandic fleece, less than 20% weight loss with washing, so unless the fleece is very dirty, a gentle wash/rinse/rinse is adequate.

Icelandic sheep are a pure, unique breed, protected by isolation for centuries. The fleece, likewise, is unlike any other, anywhere…. Wool as nature intended it to be!

Washing the Icelandic Sheep Fleece

Washing Instructions for Icelandic Fleece and Yarn

fleece To wash the fleece you will need a container large enough to put the fleece in without too much crowding, and for the sake of clarity, the basin you see here is not big enough for this fleece!

Fill your container with very hot water, about 110° -120° So hot you should not be able to put your hands in it comfortably without gloves before you add the fleece. The grease/lanolin in wool melts at about 107°.

Never run water directly on the fleece ( For a whole fleece some folks like to use the washer tub. This can be used, but DO NOT let the washer agitate or you will have a felt doughnut.) I often fill two containers at the same time,( I like to use 5 gallon buckets)so that the rinse water is the same temperature as the wash water. To this water add your detergent. If you use laundry detergent be sure it does not have a bleaching/brightening agent in it. I like Dawn or Joy dishwashing liquid, or Orvus Paste for washing sheep (from the feed store). Gently place the fleece in the water, DO NOT AGITATE OR WRING IT. Simply push it once gently under the water then don’t touch it. Some people place the fleece in net bags for ease of handling .

Let the fleece soak about 1/2 hour or so. Cover the container to keep the water from cooling off too fast. Lift the fleece out very gently after the soaking to let the water drain…do not wring or spin. One very light squeeze will get most of the water out. You can do it by the large handful. I do not recommend the spin-cycle on your washer as it can partially felt the fine undercoat., but for a small amount of fleece I found that a salad spinner works well. Be careful handling the wet fleece, it felts easily. I no longer use the washer to spin the fleece, even that seem to cause some felting, so I simply squeeze once and drain in a colander, on a rack or screen.

Return the warm, drained fleece to a container filled with rinse water the same temperature as the fleece, it should still be quite warm if you work quickly. The trick is to not change the temperature of the fleece drastically at any time. Never pour water directly on the fleece. Never put warm fleece in water cooler than the wool. Water a bit warmer will be fine. Remove the fleece gently and give a squeeze to remove water. Then roll in towel to remove the bulk of the water. Place the fleece on a rack or screen or net to dry. Nice warm breezy weather is great, or woodstove heated rooms, but any place will do. You don’t want the wet fleece to be blown directly by fan or wind or it felt slightly. Tease the fleece apart gently to facilitate drying and help any vegetable matter fall out.

It is usually sufficient to wash once and rinse once or twice. If the fleece is exceptionally dirty you can repeat the wash before you rinse. The main concern with Icelandic fleece is it’s ease of felting, which can be a plus if you are making mittens or boots but will make a fleece uncardable if care is not taken.. I have had no trouble as long as I followed this method.

I wash yarn in the sink or plastic tub. I make very hot sudsy water, usually dish detergent then just gently drop the skeins in the water. Don’t touch them. After 15 minutes, gently lift each one out, give it a gentle squeeze and place in rinse water the same temperature. After 10 minutes, lift each out, gently squeeze and roll in a towel to remove most of the water. Hang the skeins on a rack to dry with a little weight if needed to adjust twist. Do not blow air on them or put in a breezy place, the movement will cause felting of the strands. This method works well for me. I was shown this method after finding that the machine spinning had indeed caused some felting compared to the fleece or yarn handled very gently.

Icelandic fleece felts quickly and beautifully, a great trait, but not in the washing process.

Grafting or Fostering a Lamb

lamb_lunchThere have been a few occasions on which I have had to try to convince a ewe to accept a lamb that is not her own. Hopefully, my experience can help you if the need arises. I have successfully grafted lambs at least 4 times that I can easily remember. The circumstances varied…a ewe has a still born lamb, a lamb dies after within a day after birth, mom has twins and only half an udder, a ewe dies or is euthanized after delivery, are some of the reasons. Another could be giving a triplet to a mature mom who has had a single…thereby raising 2 sets of twins, or giving a twin from a ewe lamb to a mature mom with a single.
I have grafted lambs using hints from Stef and Jimmie, and information garnered from various lambing texts. I do this in a lambing jug set-up so that the situation is controlled. It could be difficult in an open pasture. You will need a basin, a couple buckets of warm water, soft twine (kitchen twine), Oxytocin ( from your vet) which can be handy to have on hand anyway, OB lubricant, a syringe and needle, surgical gloves if you use them, soap to wash your hands, a couple good size plastic bags, and a towel or two.

If you know that you may have a problem situation and may need to graft a lamb, try to save the placenta or birth fluids from the ewe that is to receive the new lamb. If her lamb is still born, save the dead lamb and placenta in a bucket. If you are going to give a ewe an extra lamb, try to save her placenta and any birth fluid or tissues from her own live lamb.

Here’s the situation, a ewe lamb has a stillborn full term lamb…she has a nice little udder. Put this ewe in a lambing jug and leave her lamb with her but take the placenta and put it in a plastic bag. Another ewe is lambing at the same time, or with in 24 hours…you are going to snatch her second lamb..so keep an eye on her! This is the easiest way to get a lamb for the mom that lost her lamb. Take the newborn before the mom has had a chance to really see it and get her interested in her first lamb. Take the new lamb to the jug where the recipient ewe is. Take the dead lamb from the jug and put it in a basin with warm water. Take the live lamb and wash it in a clean bucket of warm water to wash off the original birth fluids and the smell from it’s mom, dry it a little and put it in the basin with the dead lamb. Take the placenta from the recipient mom and rub it over the live lamb and place the lamb on a towel. Give the recipient ewe an IM injection of 1.5ml of Oxytocin, wash your hand, lubricate your hand (or gloved hand)) and insert your hand into the vagina of the ewe. With your index finger gently massage the cervix, then with your hand in a fist, gently massage the cervix and vagina, with a motion causing pressure on then off the cervix. The ewe will have contractions because of the Oxytocin and the stimulation. Do this for a full minute or two, then, present her with the live lamb. Wipe any fluid on your hand onto the lamb. The lamb will be trying to stand…encourage her to lick the lamb. If she is skitterish, move away and leave the two alone..watch from a distance. Once she is licking the lamb, get the lamb nursing as soon as possible. The sooner that udder stimulation is happening the better the bonding.

Be patient and gentle. You may have to stimulate contractions manually again to get the ewe interested. Stay calm and move slowly, you don’t want to add to the distraction or stress. The worst that will happen is you have a bottle baby ( and that isn’t so bad!) If you took a lamb from a set of twins or triplets, you can’t give that lamb back to the birth mom, unless you follow this same procedure , so be careful in your choice.

If the lamb to be grafted is from a dead mother, the situation is a little different. If there isn’t a ewe lambing, you will have to give that newborn a bottle of colostrum milked from another ewe ( or from your frozen stash) until there is an appropriate recipient mom. I find it helpful to wash the lamb in clean warm water too. If you had a ewe that had a single and could easily handle twins and your were fortunate to have saved her placenta, the procedure is nearly the same. You will wash the lamb, and then put it in a basin of a little warm water and stick the ewe’s own lamb in there too. Give the Oxytocin and do the internal stimulation if the ewe is within 24 hours or less from having given birth. You will use the soft twine to tie the legs of the lamb to be grafted. Tie the front legs together, and the back legs together. The ewe is less suspicious if the “graftee“ isn’t running around. It will struggle to get up , much like a newborn. Put it in with the ewe and her other lamb in a jug, so the original lamb can’t be running off, taking mom with it. If mom is ignoring the new lamb , tie the legs of the other lamb and put the two together in front of the ewe. Get the new lamb to nurse as soon as you can. You may have to take the original lamb away to let mom bond with the new one. You can put more of the “placenta water” on the two lambs if needed., especially on the butt end of the lambs, and the top of the head.
The procedure may seem a bit complicated but really it is not difficult. Having a mom for the lamb is good for both of them…or having a mature ewe that can more easily raise two, will let the ewe lamb first time mother raise a big fat single instead of two smaller twins. Remember, if it doesn’t work, you will have a bottle baby ,or you can move on to try the head gate method of grafting a lamb. I haven’t had to use a head gate, this has worked quite well for me. .

I always encourage shepherds to have a copy of Laura Lawson’s “Managing Your Ewe” , it has helped me many times. My copy is dog-eared and stained with “stuff” but is there in the lambing barn to offer support and a refresher course year to year. Never be afraid to try to help a lamb…you may save it’s life, but even if you can’t, you will have learned valuable skills to save another one day. If I can be of help, email or call me. If it’s an emergency, call any time. If it’s not emergent, kindly call between 8am and 8pm Have a joyful Spring and best of luck with your lambing.

Need to know how to build jugs?: Making Lambing Jugs

Maintaining your flock’s heath is a matter of proper management: The Healthy Flock: Keeping Your Sheep in Top Form

Tube Feeding a Lamb

Tube feeding is not hard…really. Sometimes it is necessary. It is not a bad idea to try it once or twice in a non emergency situation…

You will need a feeding tube and a catheter tip syringe (available from livestock supply catalogues, your feed store or online. A turkey baster will work in tplace of the syringe in a pinch. You will also want a bowl of warm water and a container of the milk or colostrum you will be feeding.

Measure the tube along the outside of the lamb with the tip located behind the front leg,this is where the stomach would be, and along the neck to the tip of the nose. Note about how long this is, that is how far you will insert the tube. Wet the tube with warm water to lubricate it.

Hold the lamb in your lap with it’s head facing your dominant hand and cupping it’s lower jaw in your other hand; pointing the nose comfortably upwards, that closes the windpipe and makes is easier to slide the tube into the esophagus. Gently inset the tube into the lamb’s mouth, letting the lamb swallow the tube if it is strong enough, if not gently and slowly keep inserting the tube into the lamb’s throat…if you are in the “wrong pipe”, the lamb may cough and struggle if it is not too weak. If you are not sure where you have placed the tube, place the end near your cheek, if air is coming out as the lamb breathes try again, or hold the end under water to see if it bubbles with breathing. If the tube is in the windpipe (trachea) you need to take the tube out and insert it again, into the esophagus.

When you are sure the feeding tube is in the right place, attach the catheter tip syringe or turkey baster tube (with the bulb removed)into the end of the tube. You do not need to hurry. If the tube is in the right place it should not be uncomfortable for the lamb. Fill the syringe or baster with an ounce or two of the milk. Let the milk flow into the lamb via the syringe or baster by gravity, do not force it with a plunger or bulb in place. To remove the syringe or baster, put your thumb or finger over the end of the tube as you remove it in one smooth motion, this helps to keep milk from dribbling in to the windpipe. Try it with just a little warm water on a healthy lamb…you will be more comfortable if you have to do it in an emergency in the middle of the night if you have tried it once.

Lambs often get really warm after you feed them, a flush…like a hot flash ( some of us may be able to relate to that too)…it is normal. If a lamb is too weak to suck and swallow , don’t force any milk in without a tube, milk in lungs will make a pneumonia situation that is hard to treat.

Using a Lambing Jug

Using the barn/jug system of lambing
…and why it works for us

snip_lambsThis April of 2007 will be our 11th lambing here at Frelsi Farm. Our first lambing produced 13 lambs and our largest lamb crop was 86 lambs in 2001. We have used the barn and jug system of lambing each year. Our ewes have 24 hour a day access to the barn from breeding season through lambing. They can be outside when ever they want, in fenced paddocks each about a 1⁄4- 1⁄2 acre in area. The paddocks are protected by electro-net and plastic deer mesh fence inside the high tensile perimeter fencing. Inside the barn is a heated water tank and the hay feeders, outside are the mineral salt/kelp meal feeders.

We separate the ewe lambs from the adults and yearlings, to allow the ewe lambs to have all the hay they want and not be pushed aside by the big girls. They share a common cattle panel divider that splits the barn into 1/3 for the lambs and 2/3’s for the adults. The water tank is available to both groups of ewes. We have found that they drink far more water if it is warm and available 24 hours a day (and I hate dealing with frozen water buckets). Our barn has an open southern exposure with woven wire doors, and the northern side has woven wire doors, inside sliding wooden doors. The siding on the barn was going to be board and batten, but we did not get the battens on before winter our first year. We found that the air that moved through the barn through those 1⁄4- 1⁄2 inch spaces between the boards was actually good, keeping the air quality good and keeping the moisture down, so we have left it like that. There are large windows on the east and west sides so the barn is light and pleasant inside. The floor is packed dirt and reprocessed (ground up ) concrete. The waste hay is bedding with added straw as needed. Before lambing, the barn is completely cleaned out and the manure and hay is composted, so that the lambs are born in clean areas.

As lambing becomes imminent, we assemble “Jugs” in the barn. We built a warm room, a heated insulated space, in the southwest corner of the barn. Along that wall, inside the barn area, we build 3 jugs, each about 4×5-6 feet. We add more jugs as needed along the other walls. When we did LAI (laporoscopic artificial insemination) we needed more jugs because many adults would be lambing in a 2-3 day period. With the VAI (vaginal artificial insemination) the lambing is spread out more evenly over a few weeks. Each jug has a hay feeder, a water bucket, and clean deep bedding. The jugs are cleaned and limed and re-bedded between families.

Our ewes decide where to have their lambs. About 80-90 % choose to have their lambs in a protected area inside the barn. If it is nice weather, there seems to be more lambing out in the grassy areas of the paddocks, closer to the 20% figure. In a cold rainy spring it is closer to 1 in 10. Our pastures are so full of rocks and boulders, it would be impossible to find the ewes and newborns if they were to lamb out in the pastures. And, I like the hands-on lambing, watching the lambs being born and pampering mom for a little while. The ewes are moved from the birthing area to a clean jug. I just pick up the lambs and holding them in front of me, walk backwards to the jug and mom follows along. Most of the time, if I walk slowly and hold the lambs close to the ground, mom comes right along.

Once in the jug, mom gets a few flakes of our best hay and a bucket of warm water with Karo syrup added for quick energy. The lambs are weighed and the navels are clipped and dipped, and they get a few squirts of “Baby Lamb Strength”, we call it candy. It is a Pipestone nutritional supplement similar to “Nutri-Drench”. We make sure each lamb gets a good bellyful of colostrum, check mom’s udder, and, if all is well, leave the family to rest and bond.

An experienced ewe with twins may spend just a few hours in a jug if all is well and the space is needed, but usually has at least 24 hours to rest and eat and drink in peace. Triplets get a longer time, so that I can be sure all are getting enough milk, especially if one is smaller than the siblings. First time moms get at least a day and, preferably, two or three. I want to see that the lambs are nursing well, that mom is accepting all the lambs and that she has passed her placenta. Within the first 24 hours, the lambs get a BO-SE injection and an ear tag. Mom gets a dose of dewormer ( we use Valbazen in the jugs).. When that is done the family moves to a “Mothering –on pen” or nursery. She will stay in this larger area for a few days, get her hooves trimmed if needed, then out to the pasture behind the barn. This intermediate pen is good for the first-timers, they get to have the lambs running around and yet they are still contained. I check the udders daily and watch the lambs for any signs of being under-fed or out of sorts.

When the ewes are in labor, I will often watch from the loft stairs or from the hayloft. I like to be around for the births, not because I have to be, just because I really like to be there. It is thrilling to see the lambs being born. Our warm room is very cozy and I often stay there at night on the cot, with a few good books and a radio during the peak of lambing time. I found that putting a few red light bulbs in the barn lets me do a barn check at night without disturbing anyone. In the warm room I have my “lambing kit” and a few buckets of warm water. We have had a very low lamb mortality rate.

I like not being out in the elements, April can be very cold and rainy and even snowy here…no fun trying to find moms and lambs in between the incredible number of rocks and boulders. The ewes seem to like to lamb in the barn, they choose it most often. I like “hands-on” lambing, it suits my nature. Our flock is small enough to know each ewe well, and being there for the birth of her lambs feels right to me.

There is no right or wrong way to manage your lambing. It is important to be comfortable with what you choose and to make your decisions based on what works best for you and your flock. Best wishes for a great lambing season!

Need to know how to build jugs?: Making Lambing Jugs

The Lambing Jug

Quick, Easy, Inexpensive Lambing jugs

When we first needed to put together a few jugs, we started out using welded wire panels from Premier…they are very nice and have no sharp edges, are just the right size, but a little too pricey for us. So when we needed more we decided to use welded wire cattle/hog panels. These are 16 foot long panels that come in various heights and can be purchased at the feed store or animal supply dealer.

We chose the ones that are about 3 feet tall, and using a hack saw, cut each panel into 3 pieces. If you saw down through the edge of a row of the rectangular openings, you will have a straight piece of metal sticking out at each row. We put two pieces of the sawn panel together at right angles and bend the straight cut-off ends around ant through the end of the other piece of panel, thus making a hinge. The hinged pieces can be used in a corner, then another set of right angle hinged pieces can go against the wall and attach to the first with twine or wire. A simple tie or a carabineer will hold the “door” closed. If you were looking down at the set up it would look like this with the open side against the wall. | | | | | We nail two 3 foot 1×2’s along the wall with a gap in-between each pair that the panel edge slips into the gap and screw a 4 inch piece of 1×2 near the top and bottom of each pair to act as a toggle to hold the panels in place at the top and bottom. The 1×2’s just remain on the wall until needed.

The cattle/hog panels have sharp points at the cut ends of the welds, unlike the Premier panels. After snagging and tearing the inside leg of my jeans one too many times when climbing over the panel instead of opening the “door”, we took pieces of 1 inch diameter black poly pipe cut to the length of the panel and slit it on one side. It then slides over the top edge of the panel and makes it safer to climb over and safer for the sheep to look over.

I use hanging wooden hay feeders that straddle the panel between two jugs. I tie a water bucket in the corner where the opening for the door is, one that is tall enough to keep lambs from falling in. That makes it easy to remove the bucket without having to lift it over the panel. If a ewe is too interested in what is going on next door, you can tie a piece if cardboard or plywood to the panel to offer more privacy.

The right angle pairs of panels will fold flat for storage or can be use to make catch pens or chutes for handling. They fit in the back of trucks or vans to move sheep and last for years.