Tuesday, April 26, 2011


There are no more white birds in my back yard (well, except for an Ameracauna and a silky). Andrew helped me slaughter and butcher the last 7 today. Wow. This has been intense! Wedding preparations. The chicken for the dinner is now ready. Not only did we slaughter them but we cut the chickens up and then de-boned and cubed the breast and packaged it all separately. I am so grateful to the help that I had. I would not have been able to do it without the kind help of friends.

I am riding a wave of exhaustion right about now. Last weekend we did 14. This Saturday Bozenka and I did 12 birds (with Dean's help for the killing). Monday I did 10 more with the very able help of Louise. And today with some assistance from Drew I finished off the last 7. It is an all day event whenever it happens. I am sitting here at the computer to tired to remove my blood spattered clothes and have a shower.

The end of the meat birds is always a bit like putting down a heavy piggy back. Tomorrow morning I do not have to get up and move the chicken tractor or fill up their 10 gallon waterer. I don't have to feed them 5 times a day.

And that's good because there are about a million other things I have to do to get ready for the wedding....

And the weird thing? All the meat chickens are dead except one. But he's not in the back yard. He's here, in the house. Yes, George the chicken (Chicken George?) lives. Weird, eh? He seems happy enough. His muscles are wasting away. About all he can move are his wings and his head and neck. We put him out on the lawn in the sunshine on the weekend but he only flapped his wings and looked happy. Dean was too afraid an eagle would swoop down and take him so he was closely watched. Every day Dean makes sure he has food and water and cleans up his poop.

Irrational, sure. But its one of the things I love about my husband. There seems to be a purpose to George's life. Not like his compatriots. He won't be feeding us or the dogs. But he brings something to us, nonetheless. Eryn insists we can't tell if he is happy but we think he is. He gets petted and talked to and looked after. He's still got the look in his eye that led me to call him 'my little friend' and prompted me to bring him in from being trampled to death in the mud by his faster growing friends. Who knows how long George will live. Not long, I'm sure. But as it is, the disabled chicken has survived all his able bodied brothers (who have taken up their new abode in my freezer).

Monday, April 18, 2011

Euclid gives more answers

This morning Eirina was pawing the ground and I knew that my third set of lambs was on its way.

Here are the two little hooves emerging. Do you know what my first thought was? Despite having 2 white parents, Eirina does not have 2 'white' genes. And one of her colour genes hiding under the white is black. Yes, its true. Those were my first thoughts. And those details are now carefully recorded in my sheep genetics book. I know, rather geeky... I have always found genetics fascinating! I think if I didn't get a degree in psychology, I would have got one in biology.

Here he is. Yes, our fifth boy. And he turned out to not be part of a set but a single. But he's enormous. Our lambing has followed a weird pattern so far. The lambs have gotten progressively bigger. Euclid, as he has been named, is bigger than Draga's two born on Saturday and they are bigger than Lifa's two born last week. And the weather has gotten progressively colder for each lambing. It was snowing this morning as Euclid entered the world.

As you can see, not only does Eirina have a black gene for colour but she also carries the recessive spotting gene. You can see here, that she is indeed related to Draga. (Draga is the daughter of Eirina's great-great-grandmother - they are both decended from the same black, polled ewe who is a great milker). In fact, when Draga saw him, she thought he was hers (he looks like Mila of last year) and started nickering for him to come to her.

Take a look at those horn buds, eh?! Eirina was a pro and pushed him out with almost no assistance. And he was lively and quick onto his feet. Already so big he has to kneel down to nurse.

Here he is against her so you get an idea of the scale of him.

There you have it. 5 lambs in 7 days. My flock has gone from 6 to 11. I will sleep peacefully tonight. Only Brida left to go and she looks like she has a ways to go yet - her bag is just barely starting to develop.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

New Batch of Boys

I have a routine now for when I have new lambs. The first day they stay sequestered in their lambing pen. Then for day 2, I tie all the other sheep out and let the mom and babes out of the lambing pen to cavort unmolested around the sheep field. At the evening, before I let the rest of the sheep back in, I put mom and lambs back in their lambing pen for the night. I do this until they are a week old. By then the lambs can run fast enough to get away from any sheep and they respond to their moms well enough to come when she calls.

Draga had practically become spherical! This morning when I walked Draga out to her tether, her tail continued to stick straight out. Anytime I looked out at her, I could see that her tail was still sticking straight out. Mid morning, I went to take a closer look and found an amniotic sac hanging down. I took her off the tether and she practically ran back to the pen and over to the corner.

Rhiannon watched from a perch in the walnut tree.

It didn't take long for this guy to come out. I did help a little. He presented with one foot forward and one tucked back so I fished out his other front leg and helped push her vulva back over his big head. One little black boy. Well, hardly little. Actually he is bigger than Lifa's babies who are almost a week old!

She set to work licking him off. She birthed him on top of hay instead of the nice straw I had out in a couple of other spots so there was lots of green stuff stuck to his sticky wet wool. Within minutes he was on his feet and then his brother was on the way.

Here's Rhiannon with lamb #1, keeping him out of the way so Draga could focus on lamb #2. You can see how big he is, can't you?

Here he is, even bigger than the first. I put a towel down to try and help with all the hay debris.

Both looking for milk. It didn't take long for them to find it. And that was it - just two lambs but they are a nice big size! Look what long legs they have!

I settled them into a lambing pen. They are doing very well. The twin white lambs have been checking them out through the slats. Before long I know they will be a gang of ram lambs and I will be reminded about the origins of the word 'rambunctious'...

So, born on Amy and Bethany's birthday (and Owen and Christian's). Any name suggestions? (remember they are food...) We were thinking Beetroot and ?

I can sleep well for a few nights now.... Eirina's next!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Feasting from the Garden

Last night we had our first feast from the garden. I made spanakopita with nettles instead of spinach and potent garlic scapes and we had nachos with lots of green onions. Perhaps those don't sound like they go together but they were really good.

Here are my dependable nettles. That was the first time I had ever made spanakopita, first time I had ever used phyllo pastry, too. I must say I did a better job of the filling than handling the pastry. But it still tasted awesome!

Our first feast from the garden is one of family's seasonal rituals. In the past it has always been nachos with fresh green onions but while I was scoping out the green onions to see if they were ready yet, I noticed just how well the nettle was coming a long and I suddenly had the idea to make Spanakopita. Seemed only fitting on the day our first lambs arrived. Are you eating anything from your garden yet?

Monday, April 11, 2011

And A Little Lamb Shall Lead Them

I know it is supposed to be child. Humour me. Dean was in Banff this weekend being a Guitar God (his quote). They got stuck behind a terrible accident where two semi's took out a bridge. And the detour had a detour. He would have been home by 5pm but instead he was home by 3:30am. So when he woke me up, I decided to go and check on the sheep. There they all were, everything the same. Except, hang on! Where is Lifa? There she was in the far corner and I knew as soon as I shone my light over there and instead of one set of eyes reflecting light there were four.... or what? She had twins! Twin white ram lambs. Little Lifa who was born less than a year ago herself. Not only did the LAMB (she is considered a lamb until she is 18 months old - so that would be this November) give birth first but she gave birth to twins which is very rare for an Icelandic ewe to do on her first lambing. Last year I was so pleased with Eirina for giving birth like her mother did - easily with no help from me when I wasn't even looking! I am even more pleased with Lifa who did the same and with twins! And they are a nice size, too! Bigger than she was.

It was still dark (dawn is just barely lighting the sky as I write this) so I was having a hard time getting her into the lambing pen where she would be safe from the other sheep and have time to get well bonded. Eventually I used the leash and carried the lambs.

I hadn't seen them eat yet and so far she didn't seem keen on the idea. They were getting cold - their mouths were only lukewarm. So I got in the pen an sat down in the straw and worked out the waxy plug from each teat. I attached the smaller lamb first (currently being called 'little brother'). First I squirted milk into his mouth and he caught on. While he slurped, I held 'big brother' inside my coat. After he had slurped himself into tiredness, I did the same for 'big brother'.

This one is little brother. You can see that he doesn't seem to have the phaeomelanin factor. And on the geeky side, they are both white so I still have no clue about the colours lurking underneath Lifa's white.

As for the hot udder theory.... well, yesterday morning I checked them all. Draga's udder is still hot but Lifa's was hot yesterday, too. So the theory worked for her. However Draga's onto 72 hours here...

Right now I smell like lamb birth. Its a great smell! I'm on my way back out to check on them again!

PS. I've done that and they are both nice and warm and resting together while mama eats hay.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Sheep Geekiness

Still waiting for lambs. It appears that my observations were not correct. Sometimes ewes have what is called a 'false heat' and then have a proper heat about 10 days later. If that is correct, then Eirina will be the 15th and Lifa the 18th. In the meantime, Draga seems to be in labour. Isn't she huge? Last night it was below freezing so I set my alarm for every two hours to get up and check on her. She isolated herself from the rest of the flock and her bulk seems to have shifted back. She is even more enormous now, if that is possible.

For bedtime reading I have been reading the lambing sections in all my sheep books. Last night I was reading Ron Parker's "The Sheep Book". I learned that last night when the milk bag is hot to the touch, lambing is less than 36 hours away. So this morning I went out and touched Draga, Eirina and Lifa's udders. Only Draga's is hot to the touch. So there, is your first bit of sheep birthing trivia.

Here's your next bit. The size of the milk bag is in part due to the ram because the hormones for bag development comes from hormones from the lamb inside. Interesting because I made sure that Renauld came from a good milky mother with a large milk bag. I thought it would mean that he would throw good milky daughters. Maybe it will have some effect but all my ewes make large bags and are very good milky mothers. So the size of lambs a ram throws is not only determined by the genetics of structure but also by the effect the lamb's hormones have on milk production. Fascinating, eh?

But here is the real geekiness. Awhile ago when apparently I had nothing better to do... I decided to try to decode my flock's colour genetics. I found this great article and this one, too. Together I was able to make sense of this somewhat complicated thing. So here's what I learned. There are basically 3 sets of genes that control the colour and patterns of a sheep. The first (factor B) is the base colour. All sheep come in one of two colours - black or brown. Brown is recessive. And white is not a colour, it is a pattern that is dominant over all other genes. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The next is factor A which is the gene for patterning. There are 6 different pattern possibilities. Solid pattern is the most recessive and white pattern is the most dominant. I learned studying this that Draga does not have the badger face gene. She has the spotting gene and I think she also has the mouflon gene. Mouflon is the opposite of badger face. Mouflon is a dark sheep with a white belly and stripe going up to the bottom of the jaw. It is hard to tell exactly because of her spots. But I am pretty sure she is both spotted and mouflon. But spots are not a pattern gene.

Spotting or not spotting is the third gene called factor S. Spotting is recessive to no spotting.

There are also some other minor genes that affect colour. One is the Phaeomelanin Factor. This is a gene that "allows the wool follicle to produce a pigment called phaeomelanin which has been described as tan, yellow or sometimes red. It has been seen most frequently on the head, legs and tail of white sheep."

So then I set about decoding my sheep's genes. ( I told you this was a really geeky post... still reading?)

Renauld was the easiest. For one thing, I get to see several examples of his genetics every year. Also he has several recessive traits which eliminates a lot. This is what I know about him:
Factor B black brown
Factor A solid solid
Factor S no spotting spotting

Because Renauld is a registered ram, I could even go onto the Canadian registry and get really geeky. I knew he must have a gene for brown because he has had brown lambs. If he was black/black, he would only have black lambs. And sure enough, on the registry, I discovered his mother was brown. I knew he must have the spotting gene because he had two spotted lambs last year with Draga. And obviously he has two genes for solid because that is recessive and he is solid.

Next up: Brida, my brown ewe.
Factor B brown brown
Factor A solid solid
Factor S no spotting ?

If she ever has a spotted lamb, then I will know she has the spotting gene. If she does carry the spotting gene, there is only a 1 in 4 chance she will have a spotted lamb.

Next up: Draga, my spotted ewe
Factor B black ?
Factor A mouflon? solid
Factor S spotting spotting

So far Draga has had 3 lambs (stillborn the first year) and they have all had the base colour of black. I know Draga's mom was solid black. But she could possibly carry a brown gene, too. I will know if she ever has a brown lamb.

Next up: Eirina, my white ewe
Factor B ? ?
Factor A white ?
Factor S ? ?

I know both her mother and father were white. So there is a real possibility that her two pattern genes are both white which means I will never find out what is underneath that because those are dominant over everything else. So far she has had one white lamb. I will find out more sometime soon...

And last: Lifa, Eirina's daughter
Factor B ? ?
Factor A white solid
Factor S ? ?

Because her father is Renauld, I know that she has only one gene for the white pattern and must have one for solid. There is a 50/50 chance for her to have a coloured lamb and that will tell me what colour(s) she has hiding under the white. And that will also give me a clue to what is under Eirina's white, too.

Both Eirina and Lifa have the phaeomelanin factor. The both have a rust coloured band across the back of their necks, rust legs and a little rust coloured tail.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Day of the Tomato

No lambs yet. And I am getting more and more tired. When it finally happens, I'll be so tired, I'll sleep right through it. Right now my concern and anticipation wakes me up early every morning. Monday it was 3:20. Tuesday it was 4am. This morning it was 5am. I stumble out of bed in the dark and down the stairs. Throw on my coat and the headlamp and some clogs and go across the driveway to the sheep pen. Nothing. Yet. It is, of course, inevitable. And although I am on high alert, I am not as anxious as in previous years and I do have a certain amount of confidence in their ability to give do it on their own.

In the meantime I have been busy with tomatoes. My friend and I ended up with 215 seedlings.... yah.... So the last couple of days we have been busy transplanting. We each took 60 for ourselves and some for friends and there are still a lot left over! She took some and I took some of the leftovers. Here are the ones I have.

I am feeling very organized this year. Before we started transplanting, we inventoried them and then planned which ones we wanted to have and added them up. Otherwise we get carried away. 215 seedlings is the evidence of just how carried away we get. And 60 tomatoes is already a lot! So now I know exactly how many of each kind of tomato I have.

All available appropriate space is covered in pots and yoghurt containers of tomatoes. What kinds did I go with, you ask? (c'mon, you could ask!)

Here's my exhaustive list:
1 Mortgage Lifter
2 Orange Cherry
10 Large Italian
6 Oxheart
4 Long Pointy Tomatoes (LPT)
1 German Gold
5 Dr. Wyches Yellow Tomato
5 Red with Orange Stripes
3 Old German
1 Money Maker (you must hear James Brown singing when you read that one...'shake your money maker')
2 Yellow Globe
2 German Pink
1 Orange with Green Stripes
5 Cherokee Purple (from Amy)
2 Black Krim
2 Moskovitch
2 Green Zebra
2 Silvery Fir Tree
3 Purple Pear
1 Early Latah
2 Pink Striped

There did you get that far? 60 (or so... might be 61...) tomatoes. Summer dreaming.... Did I tell you it was sleeting here today? Mixed snow and rain? Yup it was.... In that way, I'm glad there aren't lambs yet. Please warm up!

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Dean's Pet

(Just in case you're wondering... still waiting... read previous post for explanation if that makes no sense to you)

Here are the meat 'chicks' or 'the wedding dinner' as they are also referred to. Getting close to the end of their lives. In the meantime there has been one chick who hasn't thrived. His (its become apparent he's a he) legs were not able to properly support him after about a month. This sometimes happens with the fast and heavy growth of meat chicks. (its never happened to chicks I've had before, though). He made do using his wings to get him around on his less than adequate legs. But as his compatriots grew and grew, he had a harder and harder time getting his share of the food and water. I started to call him my 'little friend' and would try to angle the food trough towards him when I fed them. But alas he continued to weaken. I usually let nature take its course with meat chicks and it seemed that his death was immanent. But every time I went out there expecting to see him dead, he would pop his head up and look at me. As this went on for a couple of days, I decided to bring him inside and at least let him live in some kind of comfort for however long he has.

After the first day with his own food and water, he quickly perked up. On the second day, I cleaned out his cage (pet carrier) and washed all the mud and poop he was encrusted with from outside. Here Dean is holding him after his bath. Dean took an instant liking to him and has declared him his pet chicken. Within a few minutes he and Rhiannon had named him George

George's 'drumsticks' are small and undeveloped and he sits there most of the time with his legs splayed out at awkward angles that chickens don't normally do. He turns himself around using his wings. But I notice that even his feathers are not well developed.

I suspect that despite our efforts he is not long for this world. But for now, he is our pet chicken. George.

Monday, April 04, 2011

The Waiting Game

Its almost 8pm. Night is falling and so is the temperature and a light rain. Its cold and wet. In fact, that pretty much describes the weather so far in April. Rain forecasted for almost everyday and alot of it has happened. Not ideal lambing weather for sheep without a barn. Last year our first lamb came on April 1 and the next on April 23 and the last on May 7. So far no lambs. I made notes during breeding season and if my observations and calculations are correct, then Eirina (my white ewe who gave birth on May 7 to a white ewe lamb) is due tomorrow and that white lamb of hers (Lifa) is due on Friday. They both show signs of immanent birth. Their udders are huge and very firm. I had calculated Draga to be due April 25 yet she is enormous and looks ready to give birth at any moment. Luckily I had my dad build me 3 lambing pens...

So now is the waiting time. I check on them several times a day. I check on them last thing before I go to bed and Andrew or Dean (whoever is last up) checks on them when they go to bed. Last night the sound of a cat mewing woke me from my sleep at 3:20am. Only there was no cat. It was my dream waking me up. I stumbled down the stairs and outside in my pyjamas wearing my headlamp to check. No lambs yet.

Here is Eirina in the sheep shed full of straw ready for delivery if one of them should chose to labour there. See her side bulging out?

Here is my sweet Draga. You can see how huge she is. Triplets? One of her sisters had triplets...

And here is Lifa. I can hardly tell her apart from her mother. Now their horns are almost the same length. But Lifa's are pink at the base where she has had her new growth. Other than that.... I was joking with Rhiannon today that I am going to have to die one of their ears green or something.

Here is what I spend my time staring at - what is under the tail. Draga's us swollen and stretched down. It looks totally ready for birth.

Because I have only a small flock and one pasture, Renauld is tied up where he cannot harass the ewes or lambs should they come when I am not looking. You can see he is quite interested.

No pictures of Brida. She has been the first to lamb the last two years and is my senior ewe. But this year she has decided to go last. She is definitely pregnant but it looks like she has at least a month to go.

So tonight I have covered up the prepared lambing jugs with a tarp to keep the straw already waiting inside as dry as possible. I am tired. I will go to bed shortly with instructions to the night crew and wake up early. Will Eirina surprise me again? Will I awake to find she has done it all without me?

Like all mammals, my ewes will pass through death to bring their lambs into the world. Every birth comes close to death. Most pass through that moment just fine. But these are more than just livestock. I know my sheep and their personalities. So light a candle for my labouring sheep and say a prayer for them. My wooly friends