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Little Gilcrease Grows Up

March 1, 2010

Wow, it has been quite a hectic week. Forty-six lambs in 15 days, with eight ewes yet to pop. So far, it’s been a great lambing year, and with the weather improving this week, I’m looking forward to finishing with those eight girls. I often tell folks that lambing is a lot like Christmas. You see all of these ewes showing more and more of their pregnancies, and then when the lambs arrive, it’s just like opening presents! One of the other surprises each year is seeing how the first-time lambers perform. This year, because we waited to breed last year’s ewe lambs, we only had a few rookies on which to keep a close eye. One of those was Gilcrease, daughter of Tulsa, granddaughter of Okie (you see the naming convention?).

She was born two years ago on a cold, cold February morning. Somehow, she got separated from her mom shortly after birth and was hypothermic when we found her. We brought her into the house, gave her IP dextrose and warm towels, and after a few hours, we tried to give her back to her mama; but, mama Tulsa, being a first-timer herself, was having none of that. She was content to raise her other daughter, Philbrook, and refused to take on Gilcrease, too. So Gilly (pronounced with a hard ‘G’) came back into the house for a few days to get adjusted to bottle feeding. Once a bottle baby can drink eight ounces of milk at a time, they go back out to the flock to be raised among the rest of the sheep. Otherwise, how would they learn to be a sheep? Trust me, they can be obnoxious enough as it is. After a few days of hanging out in diapers in the house, Gilly moved back outside to the pasture. She made friends with a couple of other bottle babies, and she learned the ways of the flock. But because she had been a bottle baby, she was always friendly, even after she was weaned.

Later that same year, in the summer, I had a ewe that was really sick and required treatment every 6 hours. Every morning about 2 am, I headed to the barn, bleary-eyed, to take care of Dallas. One night, walking back to the house, I heard a lamb cry out in distress. I stopped and listened carefully. I thought the sound had come from the northeast, but I knew all of the weaned lambs were pastured southeast of me. When I didn’t hear anything after a few seconds, I dismissed the worry and started trudging back towards the house and the bed and sleep. I had gone about 10 yards when I heard it again! This time, I didn’t wait to hear it a third time–I ran back to the house, grabbed my 1/2 mile spotlight, and hopped on the 4-wheeler to drive out to the northeast corner of the pasture. As I drove, I panned the spotlight across the pasture, looking for a lost lamb. A creek runs through our property from south to north, cutting off the easternmost nine acres. When I got to the creek, I cut the engine and listened again. After a few seconds, I heard the lamb cry out again, further to the north, so I wheeled around and drove almost all the way to the north property line. I hopped off the 4-wheeler and headed into the brush and brambles that lined the way to the creek, calling “Lambie, lambie” as I went. I could hear it crying, but when I reached the creek and shone the spotlight around, I still couldn’t see the lamb. Then, it hit me: the lamb was on the other side of the creek! Scrambling back through the underbrush, I got on the 4-wheeler, started it up, and drove like a bat out of hell towards the front gate. Swinging out onto the county road, I raced east to the next section line, then turned north towards our property line, parking the 4-wheeler in the bar ditch east of the creek.

Why was I so panicked? I knew there were plenty of coyotes around, and all of the Maremma big white dogs were penned with various groups of sheep. At that time, there were no livestock guardian dogs patrolling the entire property like we have them doing now. Thus, I knew that I was in a race to find this lamb before a coyote or bobcat encountered it. I mean, it was practically announcing its availability to the whole neighborhood of predators! So, I plunged into the brambles, scrambling over and through them, thinking, “you are hip-deep in poison oak right now,” until I emerged in the little clearing. I called the lamb and shined the light, and I could hear the lamb call back, coming closer and closer until it I could finally see it. It was Gilcrease! I was so happy to see her, and she was pretty happy to see me. She followed me back towards the road, and when we got to the thickest of the underbrush, I tucked her under my arm and we navigated it together. When we got to the 4-wheeler, she waited while I secured the spotlight, then I picked her up, laid her across the gas tank, and turned around to go home. She rode the 4-wheeler calmly with no struggle, trusting me to take care of her. Within a couple of minutes, we were back in the pasture at her paddock. I lifted her up and over the electronet, and she scampered off to hang with her lamb buddies. I, finally, went back to bed.

How in the world had that little shrimp of a lamb crossed a creek and hiked a quarter of a mile away from her flock? And why??? I will never know, but the whole incident has become part of the lore of the farm and the story of Gilly. Fast forward to a week ago, and a very pregnant Gilcrease, now 2 years old, gave birth for the first time… to TRIPLETS.

Mama G with her own personal GAP Band: Greenwood (under her chin), Archer, and Pine

I found them right after she had delivered Pine. Greenwood, the first one born, became chilled while she was delivering the other two, so I brought him to the house for some TLC. When I took him back three hours later, she immediately recognized him and welcomed him back with an available teat, LOL. I wondered if she remembered being rejected by her own mom? She is a very calm, very focused mother. To raise triplets successfully, a ewe has to be able to count. In other words, since she only has two faucets, she has to make sure that all three lambs are being fed. I’ve seen a good ewe let two of her three nurse, then walk away from them to find the third and feed it. In this regard, Gilcrease is a wonderful mama and seems to have plenty of milk to raise all three.

It’s a very satisfying feeling to see these lambs born, watch them grow up, pick which ones to keep and breed, and then see how they perform. Watching Gilly raise her three lambs helps make the late nights and lost sleep worth it.

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 2, 2010 8:31 pm

    I work at New England Cheesemaking Supply Co. in Ashfield, MA. We just started a blog and I am trying to put together an article about sheep’s milk cheese. I’m wondering if I can put a link in my article to this blog recommending it as a source for first hand info about raising sheep, and if I might use a few of your pictures of the “bagged up” sheep (only if it doesn’t invade their privacy too much).
    By the way, I love your blog and your pictures are great.

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