Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Day 11...I think?

Hello Hello!!! Things here are absolutely CRAZY! The ewes have kept us on our toes lately as they change up the pace of lambing each day. Today was pretty calm, yesterday was busy, the day before was slow, and the two consecutive days before that were MAD! We only have about 290 ewes left to lamb! I say ONLY because we have already gone through so many! We are all very tired, sore and bruised. But, I will say, that this experience has shown me just how incredible farming can be.

One thing that sets Hestur apart from other farms here in Iceland is that this is a research based farm, just like Witter at UMaine. Right now there is a project taking place for a young ladies undergraduate thesis reflecting the impact on growth and development for motherless lambs. The project is up and running well now, and the lambs seem quite content. It clearly didn't take them long to develop a hierarchy! They are very animated when they play together. It's rather comical to watch them roll around and bounce off of each other. Here is the "leader" of this flock, and as you can see, she is quite proud of her ranking. 

I have spoken about the research a bit before, but I just wanted to touch on the details again, because I think it is absolutely fascinating! The worry is that motherless lambs won't grow and mature in the ways that normal lambs will, due to the quality of her milk, as well as guidance on "how to be a sheep". In the this picture is a representation of the mothers teat. Some lambs were very confused and didn't appreciate us giving the a fake teat to nurse. Other tried to nurse off of each other, only to hit a dead end there. Eventually they all learned that the red projection from the wood was their new mother. She may be cold and lifeless, but she provides, and that's all that matters. The lambs have constant access to milk replacer, which is heated using HeatWave, a device that heats the milk replacer as it is drawn through a tube when the red rubber teat is suckled. They seem pleased with it for the moment, as you can see their little tails wagging in delight as they eat.

We have also started putting the ewes and older lambs outside! They bounce and sprint and fall and leap and do all sorts of crazy lamb things. It's so incredible to see the lambs call to the mothers, and hear just the slightest noise from a distant ewe, and the lamb just tucks tail and runs to her. A small grunt or nicker, and the lamb knows it's mom calling! Pretty incredible since (to my human ears) all the ewes sound very similar, except for the one ewe that practically shrieks when calling for her lambs.

Today we had a very interesting case on our hands. Scott called me over to assist him with a difficult lamb that was having a hard time getting through the ewe's pelvis during birth. Seeing as my hands are smaller, I thought I might have a fighting chance of helping out. I was wrong. I had a very hard time getting the wire (which doesn't hurt the lamb, but helps us pop the head through the pelvis, especially if there are horns on the males) around the head and behind the ears of this lamb. Come to find out, this was no ordinary lamb. The moment she hit the ground, we knew something was very odd.

This little ewe's cranium was so heavy that she couldn't lift it at all, and she had multiple seizures within the first few minutes of her life. She also couldn't suckle, which was a very bad sign indeed. To prevent this little one from suffering, she was euthanized, and a very small lamb from a ewe with mastitis took her place. The foster baby and lamb-less ewe are very happy now, and the foster baby can drink all the milk it wants without having to compete!

To end this blog entry for the night, here is a lovely candid Snaedis took without me realizing she was there until it was too late! I was assisting a ewe with the birth of a very large ram lamb with very big horns!!!


  1. After this experience, you'll think that a lambing season with a couple of dozen or so is just not very exciting! Can't wait to hear more when you get back. Thanks for taking the time to educate us :-) Nonni

    1. We had 12 born the very first day we were here! Scott and I just looked at each other and agreed that Witter was definitely a good starting point to ease our way into the big leagues!

  2. Do the motherless lambs have a call for each other???

    1. Perhaps! I think eventually they recognize each others voices and will stay close together.