Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Hard Lessons

Shepherding is a never ending process of learning.  Some lessons come easy some simply take time, and some are very hard on the emotions.

After six years of pasture kidding and lambing with the usual crises of assisted births or poor mothering we thought we were ready for anything.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  This past weekend I learned a very hard lesson --- never be complacent about anything involving living creatures.

I arrived home from work on Thursday to find Giselle, a 2008 BFL ewe, had given birth to what we thought were twins.  One was alive, one not.  Our young female LGD was in the process of consuming the dead lamb.   I’d heard varying opinions on this, some believe the LGD try to eliminate anything that will draw predators.  

Since this particular female had gone through a previous lambing season with flying colors, my assumption was the lamb had some type of defect or been stillborn.   Shepherds with several lambing seasons under their belts know this is part of nature's plan...such things happen.

Because I had to pick up my human kid from an after school activity, I placed Giselle and baby in a stall and removed the dead lamb from the pasture.  The other LGD, our senior male, went off to pace the fence line, not an unusual activity for him.  As I drove down the drive, all seemed calm.

An hour later I returned to a nightmare.  

The young female was chasing one of the Coopworth ewes.   It was dark now, but I could clearly see which dog it was.  I called her off and she came over wagging her tail.  Annoyed at the chase behavior I thought she had long outgrown, I grabbed her collar and walked her back to put her in “time-out” – a kennel near the shed.  When I took my hand off to close the gate, I found the blood.    Still not suspecting a problem (maybe it was just the blood from the dead lamb) I set about getting feed and hay.

As anyone who has been to a petting zoo or around any goats or sheep know, these animals are food fiends.   The hair on the back of my neck began to rise when no one was waiting at the gate.   

When I finally accounted for all the sheep, three had varying degrees of cuts and gashes on their ears and heads.  The Coopworth who was being chased when I arrived was fine, the other was missing her left ear and her fleece from neck to shoulder was soaked in blood.  The male LGD was still at the fence line, now racing up and down, barking in frenzy.  If I hadn’t caught the female in the act, I would have assumed a predator had struck.    As it was, I considered his activity something I could deal with later, the wounded Coopworth ewe was a priority – I didn’t think she would survive the night.   I rushed inside to call the vet.

It was another two hours before I could deal with the still distraught male LGD.  And that’s when I found the third lamb, a lovely female, frozen, just on the other side of the fence.  I don't think I've cried so much since my mother passed on many years ago.

We are very fortunate to have a practice group of wonderful sheep vets.   The Coopworth ewe, Symphony, is doing remarkably well and should make a full recovery.   We will likely lose her lamb as well, but still having her at all is a miracle.

The second miracle arrived the next evening.  Triska, our first homebred sheep, gave birth to a beautiful blue ram lamb.   He was between one and two weeks premature and his momma didn’t have any milk for him.   So far our little bummer is doing okay.   

Here are our two beautiful 2010 babies – Inish (blue) and Rocky (white)

While I still believe there are many benefits to pasture lambing, all future Laingcroft lambs will be born in secure pens.  And I will always make the time to investigate anything our male LGD is trying to point out to us.


  1. I'm so sorry for the chaos and heart break. I hope the sheep heal well and quickly and the lambs you saved are strong and vigorous. Farm life can be cruel and it's hard to take when it is at it's worst.

  2. Tru - I am SO sorry. Between you, Clair, Carol and myself we have not had the best of luck with BFL lambing this year :(

    Hope it looks up for us the rest of the lambing season!

  3. My condolences on your lost lambs and wounded ewes. I'm glad the ewes are on the mend. You're so right, you just never know what might happen when it comes to animal behavior - especially young guard dogs. This is my first year with a a guard dog and I am learning all the time. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Oh Tru, I am SO sorry. It seems like I'm hearing from a lot of folks having various lambing problems this year - sort of out of the ordinary types of things. Thinking of you - and those are some CUTE lamb pics!

  5. So sorry to hear this. Heartbreaking. This has been a very hard lambing year for every shepherd we know. We start in two weeks and I am already nervous. I have my fingers crossed that the rest of your lambing (and ours) goes a little more smoothly.