Sunday, April 30, 2017

Meet Sofie

While McComb, the dog, can never be "replaced." He was too special. McComb, the livestock guardian dog, has a replacement. Her name is Sofie, so named for the capitol of Bulgaria. Sofia is a Karakachan, a mountain breed that originated in Bulgaria. Karakachans used to be border army watchdogs. Now, they are mostly livestock guardians. Sofie is about 12 weeks old.

Sofie:  first day

Frustration

It is frustrating when a sheep dies, especially a mature one. It is frustrating when you don't know why it dies. It is frustrating when it dies quickly, but has symptoms long enough to give you hope, then make you second guess what you did.

I am frustrated that I lost a ewe today.  I do not know why she died. Two days ago, I noticed she was sitting with her lambs away from the rest of the flock. She looked a little off. She didn't eat that night, so I started treating her. Her only symptom was off-feed.

By the next morning, she still wasn't eating and was very lethargic, no longer nursing her lambs. I penned her with another ewe and continued treatment. She worsened overnight. She continued to decline throughout the day and was dead approximately 48 hours after I first noticed her.

48 hours before her death

I'm also sad. 480 was a good ewe. She was only 3 years old. I had nicknamed her "Aeroflot." She had big and level ears, like an airplane. Aeroflot (Аэрофлот) is the Russian national airlines. She was a crossbred ewe, out of one of my Katahdin Mules (337). She was 79% Katahdin x 12.5% Hampshire/Suffolk x 8.5% Dorper.

I really hated to lose this ewe. 480 raised a nice set of twin lambs as a yearling. She gave birth to triplets as a 2 year old, but one was born dead. This year, she was raising her third set of twins. They were sired by Eddie. Her lambs are ~40 days old and should be okay without their mom. 480 was a good mom. A good ewe with a great disposition. Never a problem.

With her lambs last year

It's often said, "Where there are livestock, there are deadstock."  Death is a part of raising animals. But it doesn't mean I have to like it. I didn't like it today, especially with this ewe. Sometimes, I wonder why I raise livestock. There is too much heartache (sometimes).

RIP 480 (Aeroflot).

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Spring has sprung

According to the calendars, it's been spring for almost a month. But, it only seems as if spring has been here for a week or so. Today is Easter. It is a beautiful day. All but two of the ewes have lambed. One should lamb within the next couple of days. The other is a wild card, obviously caught late.

The yearlings finished lambing. Seven ewes had fourteen lambs. All are doing well. I am supplementing one with a bottle. I call him "Sloppy Joe," because he is so sloppy about drinking milk. The milk dribbles out of his mouth. I've tried different nipples, but the result is the same. Yesterday, I set up a creep area for the yearlings' lambs. Don't think they've been in it yet.

Mostly blind ewe: 14 lambs in 5 years

The (mostly) blind ewe lambed about five days ago. She had triplet ewe lambs, two colored (I might have to keep them). I put her and her lambs in the garage with the two-year-old ewes and their triplets. All the garage ewes and babies seem to be doing fine. Another late lamber, Ms. Piggy's two-year-old daughter, had a nice single ram lamb a few days ago. He's a strong lamb, so I was able to merge him with the main group after a few days. I didn't mind the single, as the lambing percentage is above 200.

A rare single: she raised twins as a yearling.

I merged the twin and triplet groups a couple of weeks ago. I wanted to give all the ewes access to pasture. The last load of hay was poor and they weren't eating much of it. So, I went to the hay auction to get some "decent" hay, mostly for the yearlings. I failed. I bought a pick-up load of alfalfa (paid too much for it), but it is very coarse and at times musty. It's variable and they eat it so-so. Grow grass grow! Thank God for grain; it can always make up for poor quality forage.

A favorite place for the lambs to play.

The lambs seem to be doing fine. One lamb (Ivanka) is still drinking milk from a bottle full-time, though I never separated her from her dam. Her dam is a 2-year-old with triplets. A few other lambs will occasionally take a sip from a bottle. The ewe with mastitis is raising both of her lambs, from one side. The ewe that got sick earlier recovered fully (never knew what was wrong; she seemed to have some sort of obstruction) and is raising her three lambs. Yesterday, I enlarged the creep area. The lambs are starting to eat more. The creep feed is 60% cracked corn + 40% soybean meal, with some minerals mixed in. I'm going to start mixing whole barley and (protein) pellets in.

Threesome enjoying spring.

I'm having trouble with my electric fence. I can only get the voltmeter to read about 2000 volts, not enough to deter the lambs. I can't figure out the problem. Once I get the problem solved, I can start letting the sheep stay out all night.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

First yearling

The first yearling lambed today. She had twins, ram and ewe. The ewe is 16% Lacaune, so the lambs are 8% Lacaune x 92%  Katahdin. They can be recorded as 75% Katahdin, which means their offspring can be registered, if they are bred to a registered Katahdin ram. All of the yearlings are bred to Hawkeye, the new ram from Iowa (CMG Katahdins). They all appear to be pregnant.

First yearling to lamb (1678)

It is a beautiful spring day. I let some of the twin moms out for a few hours.  The lambs are enjoying the freedom to run and play. Inside the barn, the lambs are resting with their moms.

Enjoying a beautiful spring day.

I set a creep pen up in the garage for the triplet lambs of the three 2-year-old ewes. They are still a bit young, but hopefully, they will start exploring the pen and getting their first taste of grain. Creep feeding is especially advantageous for triplet lambs, as they may not be getting as much milk as they need for maximum growth. Contrary to popular belief, grain develops the rumen quicker than a forage diet.

This triplet (quad born) lamb is just a few days old.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Two thirds of the Way Done

There are four mature ewes left to lamb. Two were bred 21 days later than the main group. The other two, especially one, are iffy as to whether they are pregnant. One has some udder development, but not enough to make me think she's going to lamb soon. She looks pregnant, but she's also a small ewe who could just be very fat. The other may have a little udder development, if I use my imagination. Maybe, they're carrying late lambs.

Nothing worse than open ewes. Of last year's eight yearlings, five have lambed. One had twins. Three have had triplets. The fifth had quads. The 4th lamb was born later, dead. The other two haven't lambed. All managed the same. Go figure.

One of the 2 year olds with triplet lambs.

So far, there are 55 lambs:  35 ewe lambs and 20 ram lambs.  The yearlings are due any day now.  There are seven. There is an eighth ewe with them. I put her in the group so they'd have a "house mother." It's hard to move ewe lambs/yearlings. They are so "dumb!" Having a 2 year old with them makes them easier to move.

First taste of creep feed.

Today, I set up the creep area.  There are three pens of ewes:  older twins, younger twins, and triplets. Each pen has access to the creep area via a 4-foot creep gate. The creep feed is 60 percent cracked corn and 40 percent soybean meal. In the back bay of the garage, I have three of the 2 year old ewes. Each is raising three lambs. I will set up a creep pen for them in another day or so.

Today was their first day outside.

Today was the first day any of the lambs were outside.  I have it set up so the twins and triplets can take turns going outside.  There are no full-time bottle babies, but I am supplementing a few lambs. Only one drinks a significant amount. It would be great to get through the lambing season without any orphans.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

So far

Lambing is past the halfway point. There are 41 lambs. It's been the usual ups and downs and emotional roller coaster. Close to two thirds of the lambs are female. There's only two with color. Miss Piggy had triplets: one white ram lamb, one red ram lamb, and a brown ewe lamb. The two black ewes had three white (ewe) lambs among them. I guess I won't get to add another black ewe to the flock this year. There are still three red ewes to lamb, so perhaps there will be some more colored lambs.

Only two with color

Today was a warm day, close to 70. The lambs were sleeping lazily.  Little "Ivanka" has emerged as the favorite. She's a triplet out of a 2 year old ewe. I didn't think she was getting enough milk at the beginning, so I offered her a bottle. She's been taking one ever since, drinking 3-4 ounces most of the time.  She insists on jumping up onto the bale of hay I sit on to get her bottle . . .  and attention.

I also offer a bottle to two ewe lambs whose mother has mastitis. I aggressively treated the ewe with drugs. She must be producing milk because the twins don't generally drink that much. It might change as they get older. They are very nice lambs, 8 percent Lacaune. I suspect the cause of the ewe's mastitis is the fact that she only had one lamb last year and produced too much milk for him.

Ivanka

One of the triplet moms (153) was sick for a few days. She acted like she had some sort of obstruction. Her udder didn't look very full. Her lambs seemed hungry so I offered them a bottle. The ram lamb, who I named "Molasses" because I splattered homemade nutri-drench all over his head, takes some milk. I couldn't get his siblings to take any milk. The ewe seems better now, has a voracious appetite, and her bag appears fuller. I'm hoping she'll go back to producing enough milk for her three lambs and that whatever was wrong with her doesn't come back.

A lazy spring day

Boone is the sole protector now. I appreciate him more since McComb's passing. I miss McComb. He was euthanized four days ago. It seems so odd without him. I remember his first lambing season. I remember so much about him. RIP McComb. The sheep miss you. Boone misses you.

Boone, the sole protector



Thursday, March 23, 2017

Best Dog Ever

MCCOMB  2004-2017

On March 21, 2017, I had McComb euthanized. He would have been 13 years old this summer.  That's pretty old for a Great Pyrenees. McComb had lived a long, happy life, but time had caught up with him. His health had deteriorated rapidly in the last 4-5 days of his life. There was no quality of life left in him. He could hardly get up. Sometimes, his breathing was labored. His thick coat of hair had become a huge liability. He had some sort of a seizure a few days ago. He wasn't eating. He was an old dog. It was time. It was a hard thing to do, but I believe I made the right decision. I petted him as the lethal drug was injected his vein. He went very peacefully. I could not stop my tears.

Six days before his death

McComb was my first livestock guardian dog. He was a gift from the Katahdin Hair Sheep International (KHSI). He was the only puppy left in a litter of puppies that someone had brought to the Expo to sell. I had eyed the puppies, but I was reluctant to buy one because I wasn't certain I wanted the responsibility of another dog, even a farm dog. I was looking for some sort of  "sign" that it was the right thing to do. The owner ended up donating the puppy to the association.  They planned to auction him off.  When the auction began, everyone looked at me, expecting me to bid on the puppy. I was reluctant; then, several members started bidding on him. Several members chipped in, and they bought him for me. I am forever grateful.

I named him McComb after the location of the Expo:  McComb, Mississippi. I bought a dog crate so that we could take the puppy back to Maryland. My parents had accompanied me on the trip, and my mom wasn't too happy about driving back to Maryland with an 8-week-old puppy. Her mind changed fast. She fell in love with the angelic ball of white fur. Everybody who met him did. He was a wonderful dog from the very beginning.

The angelic puppy

Since McComb was so little, I put him with a few lambs to start with. Later, he "battled" the ewes for dominance. They were a lot bigger than he was, and he wasn't sure what his place was. The first lambing season, he would often hide under the hay feeders. But, eventually, the little ball of fluff grew into a magnificent dog, and the sheep accepted him as their protector, one of their own. Occasionally, a lamb would take a special liking to him. I remember a lamb I named Kelso. He would follow McComb everywhere and sit with him in the pasture. The interaction between livestock guardian dogs and a flock of sheep is a wonderful thing.

At his prime, 3 years old

McComb was never any trouble. He was my gentle giant. I never had to train him to walk on a leash. It came natural to him. He loved going places. Trips to the vet were fun for him. After a few years, I found it necessary to get him clipped at the start of every summer. He definitely did not have good fur. It was long and thick. It did not shed or comb out well. He loved trips to Petsmart. They seemed to like him there. After his "grooming" I would walk him around the store. He would "strut" and people would awe at his beauty. The clipping always seemed to rejuvenate him, especially as he got older.

His only mischievousness was his desire to run around the neighborhood on occasion. If a gate was open, he'd go for it. You could seem the gleam in his eyes. He just wanted to go exploring. I'd go chasing after him, but he wouldn't come to me because I'd end his fun. One time, he got out unbeknownst to me. I found him sitting outside the gate. Apparently, he'd gone for a run and come back. Like most dogs, McComb loved the snow. He preferred cold weather. 

He required surgery in 2014 when his was 10 years old. He had a growth on his anus removed. He got a two week break from the sheep. They sent him home with an elizabethan collar. It was not necessary. While he didn't like me putting antibiotic on his surgery area, he never bothered the stitches. Unfortunately, he kept licking his leg where they had put in the IV.  He seemed to be having a little trouble pooping after the surgery, so the vet told me to give him some pumpkin. He loved it! In his later years, I would often dip his dog treats in pumpkin. He also enjoyed hot dogs and slices of cheese.

McComb and Kelso

I hosted the KHSI Expo in 2008 in Maryland. Ron Young (from Ohio) had a litter of Great Pyrenees puppies that he was selling. I bought one, I thought for my dad (but he didn't want a dog). Like McComb, Boone takes his name from Boonsboro, Maryland, the location of the 2008 meeting.

Boone and McComb became instantaneously pals, though McComb wasn't so certain about the inquisitive pup at first. Over the years, the two dogs formed a close bond. They were always together. They played and romped together. I had no doubt they appreciated each others company. Boone seems a bit lost without McComb, but he is adjusting.

With Boone, 5 years old

I can't express how much I miss McComb. He was quite possibly the most perfect dog, at least he was to me.  I always slept better knowing that he was watching over the farm. I suppose the sheep in heaven are safer now with McComb watching over them. I'm not sure if I will spread his ashes over his domain or keep them close to me, so I can "talk" to him when I'm feeling down.


Monday, March 13, 2017

First Born

The first born lamb of 2017 is a single ram lamb. 84% Katahdin x 16% Lacaune. The dam is 424. She had triplets her first two years. She is 3. This year only one. I guess she deserves an easy year. I shouldn't complain. But I am always disappointed with singles. The second to lamb had twin ewe lambs. The second lamb was coming backwards, so I guided it out.