Libby Pratt

Life on a French Farm

samedi, février 10, 2007

My Learning Curve Flattens Out

I pulled a set of twins last night. Just plunged my hands into the gooey birth canal and pulled. The twins belong to the unnamed sheep who I thought was dying about a month ago. Beautiful, identical twin ewes. They look like they could be sheep super models . . . lithe bodies and incredibly long legs. Mother and lambs knew immediately what to do. Wow! Lambing's a rush when it goes well.

I've come a long way from the days when I had to call the vet to clip Blanche's hooves because I was too afraid to handle her.

So here's the lambing rundown. All the ewes except one were pregnant. One had her lamb at the end of November when we were in the States.

Around the 22nd of January Soixante-Douze had a beautiful, large lamb that lived five days. I think she froze to death in the barn or someone smothered her.

The day after Soixante-Douze gave birth, an unnamed ewe gave birth to a small, bag of bones that I was sure wouldn't make it. The mother didn't seem to be feeding it, so I bottle fed it but still kept it with the mother. I expected to walk in and find it dead during the cold spell, not Soixante-Douze's huge lamb. The bag of bones will be three weeks old tomorrow and he's a big, gorgeous guy. The Husband wants to keep him for breeding. (You'll notice a theme here as I go along.) The lamb eventually started nursing off of his mother, but continued to want a bottle, and I give it to him otherwise he makes it impossible for me to feed my orphan lamb because he paws the two of us unless he's fed his bottle. This double-dipping is probably the reason he's so huge. He's the lamb in the photo with the Husband that folllows this post.

I had an unnamed ewe give birth to two huge beautiful twins that were either stillborn or died shortly after birth.

Biberon had twins. She gave birth easily and all seemed well for two days, but then she rejected the smaller of the two, the male. So I have been bottle feeding him. Which means, every five hours I have to make him a bottle. I feel as if I have a permanent case of jet lag. He goes by many names: Spot, Buddha Belly, Shrimp, Napoleon, and one the Husband made up, Bieberbelle. He's very cute and dwarfish. Today the Husband told me that we should castrate him and keep him. He would be our bell whether.

Blanche had a difficult time giving birth to two GIGANTIC lambs. She was in labor for six hours which is a long time for a sheep. But it wasn't distressful so I left her alone until the final hour. Then she seemed to be pushing without results so I called the Dutch guy who used to work at a lab where they clone sheep. Luckily, being Dutch, he had already finished his meal at 7:30pm and said he'd be down in a half an hour. If I needed to call a Frenchman, I'd have had to wait three more hours.

After making the call, I returned to the barn, and there was a little head poking out of Blanche. I timidly felt around for the front legs, found them and pulled out the lamb.

Marleyna, is all white, with black eyeliner around both eyes. Probably the cutest little lamb I've ever seen. Blanche fell in love with her immediately.

After the successful birth, I went back into the house, and called the Dutch guy to tell him he didn't have to come over. He was happy. I stayed in the house for about an hour to eat. When I returned to the barn I found Blanch in the process of expelling a huge blob. The blob hit the ground. Blanche didn't turn around to look at it, so I rushed over, pulled all the crud from its face and out of its mouth, and then set it in front of Blanche. To her credit, Blanche did clean him off immediately and seemed very interested in her second lamb.

The male, Marley Deux, is a handsome guy that looks like his father with his black eyes and ears. But Blanche has sort of rejected Marley Deux. She butts him out of the way and definitely prefers Marleyna. However, I haven't had to bottle feed Marley Deux because he's very intrepid and figures out the optimal times he can sneak up and nurse -- when his mother is standing at the feed bin eating, or when his sister is nursing he latches on to the other spigot.

The Husband hasn't said anything about keeping Marley Deux, but I don't see how it's fair to send him to the butcher when it seems we're keeping every other lamb. And I really do admire his gusto and ingenuity.

vendredi, février 09, 2007


The Husband and his new friend.

jeudi, janvier 25, 2007


About 5:30 this evening I went out to feed the sheep. One of them had afterbirth stringing out behind her. Since she was with the flock, and not sequestered with her lambs, that wasn't a good omen.

I scanned the pasture and saw the white blob. With a bit of optimism, based on my happy experience with Monday's white blob, I hurried out to rescue it.

I arrived. And there were two perfect, but dead lambs . . . a male and a female. Absolutely beautiful . . .absolutely dead. I shook them. I swung them around as a sheep farmer told me to do. I felt them trying to find a heartbeat. They were very cold even though they couldn't have been more than 45 minutes old based on the progression of the afterbirth.

Then I surprised myself and picked them up, held them to my chest and carried them into the house. With the previous dead lambs I made the Husband come out and get them so I wouldn't have to look at them; but I guess I'm getting hard-hearted.

The husband heeded my call, tore himself away from his work, and was a bit taken aback to see me standing in the foyer clutching the two dead lambs. He retreived a garbage bag. I put them in. The Husband said, "did that one just move?'" My hopes revived. The Husband manipulated the lambs. Tried to feel for a heartbeat. "No, they're dead," he confirmed.

"Maybe I should soak them in hot water. I read somewhere that that can sometimes revive them," I said.

"Not unless you want soup," the Husband replied as he tied up the garbage bag.

As the sun went down, the bereaved mother wandered away from the flock to the birth site and stood there yelling.

I feel sick.

lundi, janvier 22, 2007

Another lamb

Went out for the morning feeding. Did the head count and came up short a sheep. She wasn't very far away. She was standing in the pasture hovering over a large, still, white blob.

I winced and felt sick to my stomach. Really, I told myself, you need to get out of this shepherding business, too much death, you can't take it. I moved closer to remove the dead lamb from the pasture, chastising myself for staying in bed fifteen minutes too long and not being there to help in the birthing. If the Husband hadn't have been up late watching Brokeback Mountain, I would have been up earlier. I had already seen the movie, and only stayed awake to watch the sheep herding scenes at the beginning of the movie --- but I didn't really get to sleep until the Husband finished watching the movie.

As I approached the sheep, to my great surprise and relief, I saw that the lamb's rib cage was moving up and down. I stood over the lamb. The mother had cleaned it off. It was a male. Drat! I have to try and save him, invest myself emotionally in him, only to send him to the butcher. His legs appeared all twisted. One even looked as if it was broken. What a mess. I picked him up. He had life in him but he was not as vigorous as yesterday's lamb.

I put him down on the ground and he struggled to his feet and stood there wobbling, straining forward to get his mother's attention. I guess his legs were working properly. They were just extremely pliable since he was only a few minutes out of the womb.

His mother approached and licked him some more then butted him, albiet gently, back to the wet ground. This wasn't good. He wasn't being encouraged to stand up.

By this time the flock had gathered round, and everyone wanted to check out the new lamb. The new mother didn't like this so I left mother and lamb behind so I could lead everyone back to a small pasture where I closed the gate on them and gave them some grain to shut them up.

I took the dogs back to the house to lock in the kitchen. I needed to put the new mother and the lamb in the big barn and there's no way the mother would go if the dogs were around. Told the Husband we had a new addition. He came outside to see the lamb.

"He's got better markings than Lambchop," the Husband correctly observed. "Maybe we could keep this one, and get rid of Lambchop."

I nodded. Feeling sad that I had to make these Sophie's Choices. I don't like deciding who lives and who dies. That's why no one has been sent to the butcher. I can't make such a decision. The butcher just needs to come in the middle of the night, take who he wants when I'm asleep and mail me a check.

I'm sure that's what God does. He doesn't decide who lives or dies. He lets the Grim Reaper do the picking.

Furthermore, I had just resigned myself to the fact that this one was going to the butcher -- no matter how damn cute he is -- and then the Husband destroys my resolve by saying we could keep this one. I guess he said "maybe" but a "maybe" from the Husband is as good as an "it's for certain" in my book.

The Husband and I took the mother and the lamb into the barn, or the maternite as neighbor Therese called it when she came over to see the lambs. Soixante-Douze was not happy to have another sheep and lamb show up. She herded her lamb into the opposite corner and scowled. (Later, when the new one's mother went to eat some hay, she scurried over to the lamb and butted him over onto his side.)

Soixante-Douze's lamb is doing great today. She's very lively and loud. Can't tell if she's nursing. She appears to know where the teat is, bangs the bag, but never seems to get her mouth on the teat. So I supplement her with lamb formula. I'm doing the same thing with the new lamb. His mother's still butting him away.

The Husband held both mothers against the wall while I held their respective lambs up to feed. Stresses out the mother, but I have to make sure the lambs are nursing. In the case of Soixante-Douze, I think we finally have things working right.

With today's lamb, I last saw him walking back under his mother, positioning himself under her bag, putting his little mouth on her teat, and then she pushed him down to the floor. The Husband will be called to sheep holding duty soon to make sure the lamb gets an evening feeding.

dimanche, janvier 21, 2007

Baby Photo

Soixante-Douze and her first lamb.

Soixante-Douze Deux

When I woke up this morning it was raining heavily; but by the time I went out to feed the sheep, it had stopped.

The sheep were rather subdued this morning. They didn't yell at me when I opened the door and walked out of the house -- although they were all gathered together and staring at me.

When I counted the sheep --I do this every morning and evening in the manner of a prison head-count to see if anyone has escaped or been eaten -- I only counted ten sheep, not eleven. I counted again. Soixante-Douze was missing. Since she's always the first one in the chow line, and she was nowhere to be seen I figured she must have had her lamb, or was in the process of birthing. Her udder had reached enormous proportions in recent days.

Since my track record for live lamb births is not a stellar one, I was worried that I would find a drowned lamb that Soixante-Douze had just plopped out into a puddle during the rainstorm. I searched the pasture and couldn't find her. This was a concern because every other sheep had given birth out in the pasture. They didn't go into the sheds. The sheep only use the sheds in the summer to escape the flies . . . they don't go there to lamb or to get out of the rain, and they aren't interested in the sheds in the winter. So not seeing Soixante-Douze in the pasture, I hesitantly checked the sheds.

Soixante-Douze was in one of the sheds with a little lamb that was probably not more than half-an-hour old. Sheep want to give birth away from the flock, so I guess Soixante-Douze's only choice if she wanted to be alone and out of the rain was to go away from the large fir trees that the sheep shelter under during rainstorms and have her lamb in a shed.

It's a girl so it doesn't have to go to the butcher. She's nursing well. She's all white -- taking after her mother and not her black-eyed and earred father. And she's very cute. So I had a very happy morning. Nothing like a perfect baby lamb to make you happy.

I had the Husband hold her while I cut her umbilical cord and put iodine on it.

Mother and daughter are now bonding in the big barn.

lundi, janvier 08, 2007

Unnamed Sheep Doing Better

Each morning I expect to go out and find the ailing sheep dead. But this morning, she had a lot more energy so I'm hopeful she'll pull through and recover from this malady.

Previous mornings she stood apart from the flock and I had to take her a bucket of grain, put it under her nose, and watch her eat one tiny mouthful.

Today, she was in the thick of the flock during the feeding. I offered her the bucket to give her an advantage over the others who were eating their grain off the ground. She ate heartily. And what's more encouraging, when Blanche horned her head into the bucket this other sheep had the energy to fight Blanche for the bucket.

samedi, janvier 06, 2007

Abducted Sheep

Big Horn Sheep in Colorado are being abducted!

I hope these vets aren't giving the sheep anti-biotics -- that will kill em for sure.

Flu Season

I have a sheep who's been sick for about six days. She doesn't have a name. Unfortunately, she's one of my pure-bred ewes. She does seem to be getting slightly better; but the improvement is so slight that it could just be my wishful projection. Because she's a sheep and she's sick, she'll probably croak soon and I'll have to deal with the Dead Animal Man again.

As you know, when my first young buck died last summer, the entire flock was forcibly converted to follow the precepts of the Christian Scientists. I decided that no pharmaceutical company has developed any medicine that can cure a sick sheep; and so the sheep must trust in the words of the Twenty-Third Psalm (I think that's the right number) and hope that their REAL SHEPHERD hears their prayers because I'm at a loss as to how I can heal them. As a neighbor told me, "just segregate the sick one and keep her quiet." That was the only advice he had on treating ill ovines after he had raised them for over twenty-years.

This morning, the Husband took Antoinette in for a booster shot of some sort. We received the notice from the Vet and dutifully followed instructions to bring her in and write him another check. However, as soon as the Husband put Antoinette in the car for the ride to the village, she projectile vomited.

She often pukes in the car, but usually waits for it to start rolling down the road.

At the Vet's, Antoinette was diagnosed with the "flu." And so she couldn't get her booster shot. She has to come back in a week for that. However they did give her three other shots and loaded the Husband up with packets of medicine.

Oh, the doctor also told the Husband that Antoinette has to lose three kilos! He said if she's this fat at a year and a half, she'll be a real tub when she's older.

When the Husband pulled in the yard and got out of the car, Antoinette followed behind him but somehow got her leg stuck between the car seat and had twisted her body around. She was screaming. Believe me, you don't want to hear a dog screaming. The Husband went to help her, and she bit him rather badly.

We're having a bad animal day.