Saturday, May 26, 2018

Day 20: Difficult goodbyes

Today is the day I leave Hestur for the 2nd time and for the 2nd time I am crying in the Keflavik airport while writing a blog post (history repeats itself, right?).
My day started at 2:00am when I relieved Carly from her night shift. A lot had happened through the night in which she adopted out a handful of older lambs. We have a ewe with mastitis that has declined to the point where she is not producing any milk, even while being treated with antibiotics and was to be euthanized when her lamb was adopted out. We were able to adopt out her lamb to a nice mom with almost equal sized newborns. Loretta, the sweet ewe we have been diligently treating has also declined to where she is unable to ruminate and has lost a noticeable amount of weight in this short time. Our best guess in the swelling in her hind end extends internally to her digestive system, which is not functioning properly. I was also happy to see Lil' Bean aka Nanolamb has a new mother that loves her. She has become so taken with her new adopted mother she has claimed the lambing jug as her property. This is very difficult seeing as she needs to share it with three other, MUCH larger siblings.

Lil' Bean to the very left.
She was not happy being so far from the heat lamp and after this picture was taken, climbed on top of her new brother and sisters.

 Soon we will continue adopting lambs to different ewes until everyone has a reasonable number. These lambs needed to be adopted out ASAP given how gravely sick their mothers are. Lil' Bean is also sporting a flashy splint because after having a romp with us in the barn, we saw she has a bowing leg. Although she is not a fan of the splint, it has straightened her leg and she can use it to karate kick her siblings so she can hog the heat lamp. She is a spitfire and I love it.

Before Carly left she helped me check on the newly adopted lambs and make sure everyone was fed and happy because very few sheep can handle 4 lambs on their own. Once all full and happy, I got some extra time to snuggle with Krúna's two lambs and Carly got to go sleep. Krúna's lambs have grown to really enjoy the human attention and if you make your presence know, they skip over with their heads swinging with delight. Their love of our scratches has encouraged the other lambs to approach too (they are leaders already!!).
Snuggling with their adopted mom

 Soon enough, a polled ewe started to lamb out.

In labor and not happy about having her picture taken.

Loretta's lambs were swiftly adopted to her before her own lambs and she was stripped of her colostrum for those lambs that need it. The polled ewe was overjoyed, showing her love my licking all over my arms. Helgi assisted with her own two lambs and the polled ewe was in heaven. She did not know which lamb to lick and stood with her udder exposed to encourage all of her babies to nurse. Again, given that Loretta's lambs are older, they will stay with the polled ewe and we will adopt out her own lambs because they have a higher chance of being accepted by another mom.

Once all the action died down, I went back to the house to clean up and pack. The second my luggage was rolled out of the bedroom, the cat swiftly moved in and laid on the rug as if to say, "I can finally have my room back".
The same very cat caught sleeping on my bed
After my goodbyes to Snædís, Helgi, Yngvi, Myla, and of course the sheep. Again, I am so grateful for Snædís and Helgi for their hospitality and having this crazy sheep lady for another lambing season. The ups and downs of lambing is an extreme experience that really brings your true self to the surface. Lambing season soon becomes "sheep over sleep". You will get lots of bumps, cuts, and bruises along the way but when you help lambs into the world and you get to see them grown and prosper, it really makes it worth it. The Icelandic sheep are known for their strong personalities, their stubbornness, and their belief that they can take on anyone or anything regardless of their size. Readers are probably thinking, why would anyone want to deal with this? Especially over 800 of them? I have been thinking about these questions a lot but I guess the only real answer is a lot of them remind me of myself. My stubbornness has finally been matched and I always love a good challenge. The most rewarding part of this challenge is when the ewes decide that you are not such a bad human and you earn their trust. Sometimes that process is sped up with a little grain passed to them now and again. 😊 
Snædís and Helgi continue to be two people that I look up to and have so much respect for. When working with some many animals, they continue to deeply care about all of their sheep. They want what is best for each and every one of their animals. Their diligent care for the sheep and the attitude to give the proper care and time for a ewe, ram, or lamb that is sick is commendable. The number of sacrifices they have been through to get Hestur to the standard they want is amazing and something more people need to aspire to. The most amazing part about all of this is even with the work and sleep deprivation, they know how to keep it fun for us, smile, and have good humor. I am forever at their beck and call if they ever need help with their future endeavors. 
It could be their respect for sheep, that Icelandic charm, or those eyes 😉, I am in debt to them for giving me another experience of a lifetime. I will only say goodbye for now because I am sure we will see each other again. 💗

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Day 19 -Tölting the afternoon away

Today I headed down to the barn around 8 am. I did some odds and ends cleaning and sweeping as nobody was lambing. We have 3 mothers with mastitis that need assistance feeding their lambs so on the hour I bottle fed everyone. Two mothers had produced singles the night before so I milked each of them and gave the milk to our smallest lamb to keep boosting her and helping her grow. One of her legs has begun to bow so we will be splinting her in the next day or so to help it settle and straighten.

Right around 11 a huge swarm of Icelandic school children filed into the barn and then dispersed into every corner. I was so impressed by their english and great questions about the umbilical chord and its importance. I did sneak away for a moment as the barn got quite loud. I was able to spend some time with my favorite ram lamb- the brother of the passed lamb who I worked on PT with. After spending so much time with his sister he got very used to me and was always excited to play with my fingers and get some scratches.  




Here is a picture of the old barn with some ewes and lambs who are headed out to pasture this afternoon. I absolutely love this barn it has so much character.










Shortly after the children headed home Snaedis informed me we were going riding and I should go to the house and get some food and head out. I was SO EXCITED! The three of us headed down the road( there really is only one road) and off to the right was a beautiful farm owned and operated by Snaedis friend Höski . Here he is on the left.    






We fitted our helmets and then they asked us who had the most riding experience, which was myself. I was given a feisty chestnut mare who I was told was a bit sassy.









Melissa and Grace were both given dark bay geldings. All were equally beautiful. After warming up in a small ring off we went. I used the camera in the ring to get my mare used to the sound of the click, she was wonderful about the whole thing and I was able to click away as we rode.





In America us horse people say " Hell hath no fury like a chestnut mare". This mare was no different. She chugged right along and was strong but sturdy. Right after this picture was taken we moved into our first controlled and evenly paced Tölt and it was amazing. A four beat gate, as fast as a canter, where the back does not move. It was truly amazing and my smile did not leave my face! Our horses were amazing and crossed deep( almost up to the chest on them) rivers, moved around rocks and were all around completely wonderful. My mare was sassy to say the least but once we figured each other out she snorted long and low and was happy to have a rider who new what they were doing. Below are some of the younger horses yet to be trained for riding.










The picture of the black and white pup  is a border collie. The tan pup is an Icelandic sheep dog. Nothing like looking into the eyes of a soulful pup and we gave out many pats and love to them.




After our ride we were lucky enough to hit the hot springs for the afternoon! We all fell asleep in the lay down hot tub and it was a much needed soak. Snaedis treated us to an amazing dinner and we drove home relaxed and deliciously full.




Below are some pictures I took on our ride home. 

A one lane bridge that scared me... 



A beautiful cairn on the top of a ridge



When we arrived home the fields were filled with the 150 ewes and their lambs who had been released into the fields that day as the weather was great! 

It was an amazing day. I am so grateful for the opportunities I have been given while I have been here.

I had night shift this evening, uneventful with lambing but still plenty of hungry babies to bottle feed around the clock and barn cleaning to be done.


Day 18: The Viking Horde

Seems suspicious.
Waiting for the feed bunks to open in the morning.

I had an eventful shift this morning. I have helped deliver many lambs here at Hestur, but somehow I had not dealt with a backwards one until now! Lambs can fit through the birth canal just fine coming hind legs first instead of front legs first, but the problem is this position can cut off circulation to the lamb's umbilical cord before its head is out, which can lead to lambs with oxygen deprivation and/or lungs full of fluid because they tried to take their first breath inside mom. Luckily, this lamb needed minimal repositioning and was the ewe's second so she was nice and dilated. I got her out in time and did not need to resuscitate her.
It was exceptionally windy today and the house proved to be a good windbreak.

A very good windbreak, in fact.

I'm sad that I missed watching a sheep climb stairs.
A rainbow faintly visible through sheep and rain.

After making certain the lamb was okay, I was cleaning up when I became faintly aware of a din growing rapidly closer. While my mind was still registering this, multiple doors burst open at once and in poured a horde of Icelandic schoolchildren! Okay, it probably wasn't more than 50 or 60 of them, but it seemed like more because they went everywhere, even into lambing jugs if not stopped. The language barrier turned out to be of minimal issue as most of the older children knew English well and were eager to test out their skills on a native English speaker. The tiny lamb born a few days ago, which I've taken to calling 'Nanolamb' for lack of a better name was a big hit among the children, most of whom wanted to know why she was so small (sorry, world, we have no answers).

Nanolamb getting some exercise with Carly.
Speaking of tiny lambs, here's Pip!

Pip looking more like a marshmallow Peep.

I had a moment of confusion during my night shift, as I moved a ewe to a jug because her hind end looked suspiciously like she was prolapsing and I wanted to monitor her more closely. When Grace arrived, she told me that she'd noticed the ewe and the most likely explanation following an exam earlier was that the ewe had been stepped on by another ewe... down there. Ow. We applied some cream to reduce swelling and pain, and left her in the jug to recuperate in some peace and quiet.

This yearling always has the same exact expression and I always laugh.

I call her 'RBF' but she's much nicer than her facial expression implies.

The ewes may act as beds sometimes, but the lambs also serve as pillows, so it evens out.

Badgerface mouflon spotted ram lamb, out of one of Snaedis's favorite ewes.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Day 17: Bónus, Waterfalls, and Urine

I started my day at 330am to switch shifts with Melissa at the barn. I opened the door to see a dusting of snow on the fields. This unusually cold spring has been tough on the sheep and us. The cold, rain, hail, and snow has put a halt on us being able to let groups of moms and lambs out to the fields which means we need to continue making room for the new moms and lambs we have already lambed out in the three barns. The moms and lambs that are currently out in the fields, with the help from their leadersheep, Becca Jr., have found different spots to protect themselves and their babies from the wind and wet. 
There is a bit of an overhang on the house and I saw the lamb (in the picture below) napping by the door. He and his mom have been sleeping against the house regularly now, and Carly and I have run into him before. I tried not to disturb his nap, or run him off from the nice shelter, so I took another exit from the house. 


It has been a very uneventful doing the early morning shift. All the sheep are still sleeping, or just waking up and hoping for some food. In the past few days, it seems to only be Melissa being graced as the chosen sheep midwife. The pregnant girls have had their feeders shut at night for a few days now and they have come to accept it. There are still the odd ewes that stand on the feeder and give me a staredown, but most are very close to (or past) their due date, making them very uncomfortable and without the energy to continually stare me down without a payoff. 

Staredown for food

 Without anyone lambing, I check on the lambs that need a little help nursing, or supplemental bottle feeding and the ewes with health problems. I am happy to say our two ewes with milk fever are recovering nicely. Both have nice warm ears, are up and moving, and are happily eating their extra portion of grain and hay, to their neighbors' displeasure.
Helgi came to switch shifts with me so I could get a quick nap in before heading out to do some sightseeing. Our first stop was at Hespuhúsið, a wool dyeing studio run by a woman named Guðrún. 

Although it is usually by appointment only, Snædís was able to get us in last minute because some of the yarn at the studio has been made from wool from Hestur farm. What makes Guðrún's studio so interesting is that she uses traditional techniques and plants to dye her wools. In fact, she did a Master's thesis on the traditional uses of native plants in Iceland, Sweden, and Denmark, and has written a book on just the Iceland botanical traditions with the attached folklore (I have already pre-ordered my copy). One of the very old techniques for wool dyeing was using urine to set the dye. We were all a little bit put-off by the idea, but she went on to explain some of the mysteries behind why urine works well and one big chemical component is ammonia. She has only tried to use urine once to set a dye and it was with cow urine. She put an ad in the newspaper asking for help and a local dairy farmer provided her with what she needed (after a few questions). It took close to 200L of cow urine and over a week of heating it, letting it cool and oxygenating the mixture. (I could not imagine the smell.) She said urine from different species (including human) and ages creates different color changes and no one is really sure why (if anyone in the chemistry field is looking for a Master's thesis). And if you are wondering (because that was my first question), the wool, once rinsed, does not smell like urine after the process. We segued from urine into the native plants used and what color they turned the dye. Plants including lupine, different types of lichen, spruce cones, onion peel, etc. 




She had plenty of dye pots going in the studio and we got to see the rainbow of colors she was able to produce by all parts of the plants. 



Some colors cannot be made from native plants in Iceland like blue, purple, and pink, and the plants required are imported or have become an invasive species on the island. Hot pink, on the other hand, can only be made from a South American beetle that lives on cacti. This beetle is also used for hot pink food dye as well (something to think about when you are biting into a pink colored baked good). 
We spent about equal amount of time picking out yarn to purchase. 
Melissa pondering if she should get a skein of every color

All of the colors she had available were mesmerizing. It really got all of us motivated to knit our own Icelandic sweaters. Before we left Guðrún suggested we go see her very beautiful and a bit spoiled Icelandic chickens. 
Chicken Whisperer Melissa

While we were on our way to our next stop we saw a local stable moving some of their young horses to another field by running them along the road with a dog in the front and a dog in the back. It was an amazing experience, making Carly very happy.




Our next stop was to get a quick meal from a bakery in Borgarnes and stop at Bónus to pick up some licorice candy for home (I got all of your favorites, mom!). Bónus is a grocery store with a disturbing pig icon that both terrifies and mystifies. I also picked up a reusable bag so that I can mystify those at my local Hannaford the next time I get groceries. 



Once we fueled up, we headed out to Húsafell to go see Hraunfoss, a very beautiful waterfall. It had been raining most of the day and the sky opened up for just the right amount of time for us to check out the waterfall and get back into the car. 



After a great day of sightseeing, we returned back to Hestur for a nap and prepare for our night shifts.