While I have often shared my love for lambing season and the joy it brings me, I have also experienced some tragic events on the farm that I rarely talk about. My sister once advised me to share some of the real stuff that happens on a farm to help people realize that this lifestyle isn’t for everyone. Though I have briefly touched on some stories in our weekly EweTube, I think it’s time to get real and share more.
One story that is weighing heavily on my mind right now is what’s happening in my barn. One of our ewes recently had a beautiful ram lamb. Last year, she struggled with natural mothering abilities, so we kept her in the lambing jug a little longer this year. During her confinement, she became the best mother and formed a bond with me. She allowed me to pet her and was very gentle when I arrived with her alfalfa. Her lamb was growing well, and we finally decided it was time to let her out in the big pen with the other new mommies. She called to her baby like a pro, and they headed out together. Even out in the bigger pen, she allowed me to pet her, which was a huge change from last year. Her baby ram lamb was the biggest lamb out there, and she was quite proud. They were always together, and it was such a delight to see. A few days ago, we noticed the lamb’s breathing becoming raspy and treated him for pneumonia. Unfortunately, there was no improvement, and he began coughing. We called the vet, and we made some changes to the dose and type of medication, but yesterday, his breathing became worse, and he passed away last evening. This morning, as I checked the sheep and let them out of the barn, it was heartbreaking to watch this poor mother cry for her baby and continue her search to find him. It’s always hard when you can’t save them all!
I’m sharing this story to remind everyone that, despite the rewarding moments, farming can also be tough and heart-wrenching. However, we must continue to do what we love and care for our animals, even when it’s difficult.
Now, let’s change the topic a bit and talk about the weather here in North Dakota. I should first mention that the cold, freezing weather is useful in keeping parasites and pesky flies that bring maggots away. However, this past winter in North Dakota (2022/2023) was brutal. We had blizzard after blizzard and more snow than I can ever remember. Even now, on the 5th of May, we still have snowdrifts slowly melting. Jeff dealt with this way more than I spending many lates night removing snow after work, just to be able to open the gates and bring bales into the pens. Let’s talk about the barn doors. We have a new big barn that I love and was grateful to have this year, but the barn doors were an issue this spring. When we get close to lambing, we put the ewes in the barn and shut the doors so that in case they lamb, they will be warm and protected from the weather. However, we had to pick ax the snow and ice, a couple of feet of it, before we could get the doors shut. Throughout the day, the snow would melt and form ice once again, and we (mostly Jeff) would have to chisel the ice out to shut the doors. If it didn’t melt and form ice, it would snow and blow in. It was a constant headache that added a not-so-fun aspect to the daily chores.
On Easter we had a ewe that looked like she was ready to lamb. She lay in the barn and look uncomfortable but not actually ever start pushing or progress at all. When checking later in the day we noticed she wasn’t dilated at all but still acting like she was lambing. That evening after our Easter guests left, we decided it was time to take her to the vet. She wasn’t dilated, so the vet set out to get her to dilate. This was unsuccessful and in the end they did a C-section. The lamb was dead and the mother died during surgery. The baby was large and backwards and apparently this can cause them not to dilate at all. We had never experienced this before but one week later we had the exact same thing happen to another ewe, we were able to save the baby on this one. Keep in mind having a vet bill of $500 and 2 dead sheep is hard to take as a business.
We had several situations this year and every year where the lambs legs are back. Baby lambs are born with their two front feet and nose presenting first. If the feet are not present you must find them. This year we had 3 that were very large lambs and while I was able to get one foot it was very difficult to get the other. While gently trying to maneuver the other foot the ewe pushes and my hand gets squeezed very tightly against her pelvic bone. My baby fetching hand has been bruised and swollen for most of this lambing season, and I had never experienced this before. All of these situations ended well, with a live baby and healthy mom except for two that I couldn’t get to breath once they were out. This brought me to purchase a lamb resuscitator which has sat on a fence post in the barn ready to grab if needed, thankfully just having it there and ready has helped, so that I haven’t had to use it.
I grew up on a farm where we raised cattle and sheep. My husband and I purchased sheep in 2006 and have been raising and growing our flock ever since. Our sheep are raised for their wool that is used in needle felting kits that I designed and sell as owner of Bear Creek Felting and Co-owner of Shepherd Industries. Our wool is processed in our mill located at the Nome Schoolhouse in Nome, ND and then packaged into kits and mailed all over the world. Our flock continues to grow to provide us with enough wool to meet the demand and fill orders. We also create other products at our mill such as yarn, felt products and everything that you could possibly need for needle felting. Our Eweniversity non profit aims to provide education on fiber arts, everything from farm to needle!
Farming is not for the faint of heart. It can be both incredibly rewarding and heart-wrenching. The loss we experience on our farm reminds us of the realities of this lifestyle. However, we continue to care for our animals and do what we love, even when it’s difficult. As for the weather here in North Dakota, the cold and snowdrifts have posed some challenges, but we are grateful for the barn that keeps our ewes warm and protected during the harsh winter months. Despite the challenges, we remain committed to our work and are grateful for the joys and lessons it brings us.
To hear more stories about raising sheep subscribe to our EweTube Channel. I talk about challenges as well as regular flock maintenance. We also talk about what’s happening at our Fiber Arts Retreat center and in our Fiber Mill. We share new products we are working on and the daily challenges of running several different entities at the same time.