Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Day 24: Here comes the sun!

I woke up this morning feeling worlds better (after a lot of ginger tea and sleep) and there was sun! Well, it was making its way over to us. Without trees you can see for miles... even hundreds of miles. Snædis's father told me that in the winter if you are in the right spot in the north of Iceland you can see the other side of the country.

I see sunlight!


Finally here!!

Not only was I excited, the ewes and lambs were overjoyed by the change in weather and were no longer interested in trying to get in the barn but instead sun themselves and prance around. There is also great news, our orphan Stevonnie now has a sheep mom. Snædis went in for the late night check and had to deal with two difficult deliveries that went into the early morning. Stevonnie's new mom had a single lamb and absolutely adores both of her lambs. Stevonnie was not so taken and nursed until she looked like a beach ball and pouted in the corner. Snædis had to block her in so Stevonnie didn't try to ditch her new mom. When I arrived in the morning, the first thing I noticed was the barn was quiet, then I saw her, she glared back at me. Her charmed life of being held at all hours and bottle fed has been foiled and now she is expected to live like a normal lamb. The horror!

The stare

Maybe tomorrow she will be a bit happier about having a sheep mom that loves her and access to food 24/7. Our other three orphans are doing wonderful. Because the three of them are older, we will not be adopting them out, so they will be under human care for the summer. For the last few days our third orphan has been having difficulties with the orphan life, getting used to human contact, and bottle feeding. Today not only did he bottle feed successfully, but took a quick snooze in my lap while I scratched behind his ears. My legs were numb from his unexpectedly dense body, but I let him finish his nap because it was such a huge step for him and seeing a happy lamb is above having to drag my numb legs around for a few minutes as they gained feeling back.

Shy orphan deciding people are kind of nice

Ram lamb orphan approves

Today also marks the two year anniversary of when Snædis and Helgi took over the farm for the University. Snædis took some of today to take an easy at the house, and Helgi took what he thinks is a day off by cultivating some fields. I think they are very deserving of a slow day. From the stories they had told me and the pictures of what the farm looked like before they took over I am in awe at the amount of work they have done in such a short amount of time to improve the flock, barns, fields, and fencing. They have the energy, strength, and stamina of superhumans and love their flock. So, here is a big congratulations on the amazing work you have done, Snædis and Helgi!

While celebrating the sun, I got to go out and grain ewes out in one of the fields. Helgi supplies a round bale in all of the fields and near the bale is a trough where the grain goes. I am not sure why this one group of ewes gets grained, but they are all very aware they get grained. The second they heard the characteristic rattling of the grain in the bucket I was carrying, they all came running. Sheep apparently have superior hearing because ewes from what appeared to be every corner of Iceland came running. I was growing a bit hesitant and exposed as a multitude of ewes came barreling at me with no intent to brake. They did brake at the last second spraying mud and rocks at me and formed a line behind me as I made my way to the grain trough. As I finished feeding, I looked around and was speechless, the view from the field was breathtaking. I stood looking while the ewes bumped my legs and checked my pockets. I took a panorama picture, what cannot be seen in the picture is the snowy mountain range that lines most of the view. I am not sure how long I spent out there just turning and trying to commit this view to memory, but it was enough for some of the ewes to stop their frantic search for grain and give me concerned looks. I eventually made my way back to the barn to complete the morning feeding, and finish the power washing. 

We are now down to less than 10 pregnant ewes, it has taken some time getting used to doing labor watch on half of a pen as opposed to an entire barn. I finished up all of the power washing today, or all of the pens that don't currently house sheep. It was nice to know I would no longer have to wash wool/manure chunks out of my hair and off my face. After a lovely day, Snædis informed me that pouring rain is expected for tomorrow, so I am glad I took my time and enjoyed the view when I could. 
Until tomorrow!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Day 23: Rain, Rain, Go AWAY!

I don't have much of a post today. I was struck down by the stomach bug that plagued Snædis a few days ago, last night. I woke up to more rain and not being able to stomach coffee... not a good day. I still got myself together to go help Helgi feed. The orphans are enjoying the bottle baby lifestyle and have become quite spoiled in such a little amount of time. I was greeted by the choir of orphans which had become less of a cry and more of a tortured screeching. It rips through anyone's heart that has to walk by. Even Helgi could not resist picking one up for a quick snuggle. 

3 of the 4 orphans that are subdued by full bellies

We are puzzled by Stevonnie and how she has taken to the charmed life so quickly. It is debatable on whether someone had been holding her at the farm she came from (possibly Helgi's grandmother?), or she was born this way. Either way, she is a very demanding lamb and even when fed wants to be held at all times. Here is a video I took. I am just entering the barn without trying to make any noise, but she still knows! Turn the volume all the way up to get the real life experience. 

However, she was treated today because a group of school kids (~10 years old) came to visit the farm for a school trip. During this time I was trying to sleep off my stomach bug. Snædis reported that Stevonnie never saw the ground and was held by every child and she was in heaven! She suggested that the class needs a school lamb, which did not pass with the teacher. 

Stevonnie looking down at the other sheep while she is held. 

Again, due to the worsening mud and the continuing rain, we moved another group of ewes and lambs to the fields where there is at least grass and not mud. Many of the ewes that are in the fields around the barn have tried to make their way back into the barn for shelter. It seems like every time I am outside the barn there are at least four ewes milling around the barn door. It is usually a group of younger ewes with their leader, Becca Jr. There is a hole in the fence that surrounds the barn and they all stand around it waiting until we are out of sight and one by one slip under. Becca Jr. is a very mischevious leader ewe and uses her smarts to cause trouble. Once they are caught they are compliant and walk out through the gate and then they walk a large circle right back to the hole in the fence. She even got her mother, Kruna in on the game, except Kruna was interested in grain and I found her making her way around the barn to where the grain is held with her two lambs. 

The pregnant ewes are now is one pen! While I was power washing, two ewes decided to lamb out at the same time. It was like I was back in the days of the "lambing storm" and jumped back and forth to check on progress. Both had healthy twins with a tiny bit of difficulty (just a bit of readjustment on my part). I finished the evening with the evening feeding, feeding the orphans and checking on the special case ewes and lambs. Because no other pregnant ewes appeared to be close to lambing, we will not need to stay at the barn through the night, but instead, make periodic checks every few hours through the night. Yay for no night shift! 
On that note, time for sleep!
Until tomorrow!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Day 21 & 22 1/2: Choir of Orphans

We have gotten a lot of rain here. There will be brief hiatuses in between rain storms where we think we will get a break and then it starts to pour again.

Lambs drying themselves with the brief bit of sun in between rain storms. 

 Helgi's field work has been put on hold, as well as, the fence work that will keep the sheep out of the fields already seeded. Yesterday Snædis and I spent much of the day quickly preparing groups of ewes and older lambs and driving them out to the field. This was the catch, the bigger trailer and truck was being used by Helgi's family so Snædis got to drive 3 ewes and their lambs out in a small trailer hitched to the ATV at a time, making for MANY trips back and forth. How we prepare the ewes and lambs is the lambs get a dose of dewormer and the ewes have their udders checked and checked for any lameness, then sent on their way. We had to clear out the inside/outside areas because they were quickly becoming mud pits with all the rain and heavy hoof traffic. Many of the lambs loved the mud and you could see the mothers standing in the doorway screaming at the top of their lungs while their lamb jumped around in the puddles and pouring rain outside. The storms seem to have also encouraged those pregnant ewes to go into labor and we had an influx of ewes that needed jugs. So, with many muddy pens now not usable we had to hustle to find room for these sheep. In between all of this running around, we have our orphans. Our orphan pen has since doubled. Helgi brought some motherless lambs from his uncle's farm in the hopes the ewes expecting a single lamb would accept them. One, in particular, was adopted out almost immediately but the ewe did not accept her. The lamb knew it would not work and when I first met her she was standing in the feeder checking out her new surroundings and where to escape to next. We made eye contact and she let out a scream and came running towards me. She was wet with amniotic fluid (part of the adoption process) and smelled horrible but I could not resist letting her rest her head on my shoulder, while I held back my urge to gag at the smell of her. To sum it up, she is the female Delicate Steve.... although not as delicate and does not smell as good. She is very demanding of attention, suckles ears and loves to be held and walked around while I am on labor watch. If she does not get her way, she has a powerful set of lungs that she is not afraid to use. I think I will call her Stevonnie.
Found in the feeder, demanding to be picked up.

Pouting because I stopped holding her

There were two other orphans that were brought over from the other farm that were adopted to a ewe that was expecting a single. We adopted the first one before she gave birth to her own. However, after an excruciating delivery in which Helgi and myself had to both pull on this gigantic baby, her lamb did not survive. The lamb was alive before the delivery and from what it looked like (to me), her rib cage was too large for the birth canal and squished into her lungs making the lamb unable to breathe. This delivery is why the pregnant ewes have had their food cut off during the night and is one that we do not look forward too because it is very rough on us but mostly the lamb and ewe. However, there was a silver lining, we could give her another orphan. She was not as accepting to this one as the first and we struggled to get her to accept the little lamb. There were many ideas tried. First tying her horns up so that the lamb could nurse off of her and smell more like her so that she would be more accepting, wiping the goop that was on the lamb on the mom's nose so that she could only smell that smell. There was also another idea. Snædis brought out a large blue bucket. She put both lambs in, her idea was they would smell identical coming out and the mom could not choose favorites. Also, by letting them out for a short period and letting them nurse associated these lambs with a comfortable udder for mom. All of these ideas combined worked, and the two orphans now have a new mom! 

New mom snuggling with the no longer motherless lambs

So, our orphan count is down to 4. The two original orphans that have not been assigned names, another older lamb, and Stevonnie. The two original orphans seemed to pass on some wisdom that if you see a person, scream and sound pitiful. Snædis calls it the choir of orphans as you try to sneak by them without being noticed. It is the most heart-wrenching sound and I usually get drawn into the pen very easily when I hear them. All of them have taken to bottle feeding except for one. The ram lamb has taken to bottle feeding a little too well and today ripped the rubber nipple clear off the bottle (it's a good thing that it was not an actual sheep). He also seems to forget that he drank a bottle and will run over crying for food when he still has residual milk still on his face. (He would make a perfect Patrick.)
"What bottle? I never got a bottle!"

Even though my sleep schedule is incredibly disjointed and coffee no longer seems to take any effect, I continue to have a blast here!
Until tomorrow!

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Day 20: Excellent English

The sun is just know starting to peek through the clouds this evening as I write this post. I took the night shift last night and all through the night I could hear the pouring rain on the roof. I would periodically check outside on the ewes in the fields and they were all hunkered down, most of them with their lambs glued to their side. Rain is great for the fields, but it is also a threat for the sheep. In Iceland you will notice there are a lot of ditches that are dug along fields. This serves as irrigation. Without them, much of Iceland would be wetlands. The threat of these ditches is that they are deep and when there is heavy rain there is a lot of water flowing through them. Lambs and ewes are usually able to jump these ditches at the more narrow spots and more experienced ewes know the ins and outs of the ditches and can navigate them safely. This afternoon Snædis asked me about a ewe that appeared to have no lambs with her out in the field. Usually, when the ewe is alone and is not distressed, she knows that her lambs have died. Snædis went walking around the field and found her lambs in the ditch haven drowned. I know this is not the best story to start the post with, but this was the first time I had the realization that even though the ewes and lambs are right in front of the barn and house we can not protect them from everything. I keep talking about how we are preparing them for the mountains when there are still dangers close to home.
Enough with the fears of the outside and now for the more positive stuff! 
My rainy night shift last night was an interesting one. The heavy rain on the roof upset our two orphans, so I spent some time sitting with them. They continue to thrive and bask in human attention. The little ram lamb has already figured out the weak links and will cry at Snædis and me when we walk by knowing we will stop. Pug continues to struggle to nurse and instead of working with us to learn to nurse she prefers jumping, running under mom and hiding behind me. During the night shift, I was entertained by one ewe who really enjoys playing with her waterer. I don't think any of us have talked about the watering system. There are either paddles or nozzles in each pen that dispenses water when the ewe pushes on it. It is a really great way to ensure clean water and the sheep have no troubles using it. Que the trouble maker. This ewe spent most of yesterday night playing with the paddle making this *clack*clack* noise. She did it most of the night, letting the water run down into the manure pit. I would walk by and get her to stop temporarily, once I walked away and she looked around to make sure no one would bother her, she continued. This ewe and her lambs were moved into a slightly larger pen with a nozzle instead of a paddle. I was so excited to see that when she played with the nozzle it did not make the obnoxious *clack*clack*. She serves as a great model of how the two waterers worked. Put sound on for full effect.

Another great thing happened during the night shift, we finally had a ewe lamb out! It had been almost 48 hours of watching and waiting and finally, a yearling decided I would be the perfect person to help her. All the pregnant ewes are uncomfortable and groan and complain, so you are never quite sure if someone is lambing out because of the background noise. They also had their hay cut off during the night, in the fear that we will have to deal with more hulk-sized lambs. This is very upsetting for the ewes and instead of eating, they complain to the nearest person about their plight. 

"I am very pregnant and very hungry, listen to my complaining"
Human Steve returned to do some more power washing and the general "Steve stuff". I spent today taking care of the ewes and lambs, feeding, putting in new bedding, graining; the normal daily chores, as well as, getting in some snuggles with the lambs. We were also visited by the tourists staying in the bedroom on the 3rd floor of the house. For the second time this visit, I was complimented on my English. The first time, it was a group from Boston and after they complimented my English they asked Helgi whether he was actually from Iceland (Helgi was quite insulted but to be fair there was a bit of gloating on my part). I took the compliment and later had to explain that I spoke such excellent English because I was from the United States. This group, however, didn't ask so I will continue to be the Icelander with excellent English. 
Until tomorrow!

Friday, May 26, 2017

Day 18 and 19: Still Here!

Yesterday was a sad day. I had to say goodbye to Dana and Jess as they headed back home. They both did one last night shift, Dana helping with her last lambing, packed and said their goodbyes. Even though the day before I accidentally rubbed mint udder cream into my eye and was blinded for a while (the nice tingling that is supposed to happen is more of an excruciating burn when in the eye), they still let me drive them to the airport. Once the were on their way to their plane I went to a coffee shop in Reykjavík to get some lunch, coffee, and process what it was going to be like without them. When I arrived back to Hestur there was a rainbow. To each their own on the symbolism, but Snædís likes to think it was a "welcome home" rainbow.
I took the night shift that night to watch on our pregnant girls as well as take care of our orphans (names have yet to be set, suggestions?) and a peculiar little lamb that I am calling Pug. This was the last lamb Dana assisted with before she left and it was fitting because she shares a striking resemblance to her dog, Moo. She has an underdeveloped upper jaw. Her nose is there, as well as her dental plate and works just fine, it just looks like she was smooshed while in the womb. The reason why we need to check on her about every hour is that she struggles to nurse having little to no upper jaw. She has the motivation but struggles to latch on. If she is not successful with nursing she will not be able to go outside with her mom and brother. For now, we will continue working with her until she is able to nurse on her own.
Pug when she was first born

Pug at 2 days old in a milk coma
As for our orphans, they are coming around to human contact. Given that there are so many ewes that lamb out here, if the ewe has no issues and the lambs have no issues, then they get minimal human contact while in the barn and are released onto the pasture when old enough. These orphans had the minimal human contact and were not only scared because they lost their mother but plucked from the pasture by Helgi and Dana and put back in the barn. It has only been a few days and they are already loving cheek and chest scratches and lots of attention.
Little ram lamb enjoying scratches

Both orphans watching me prepare their bottle
The are both about a month old, so they are eating hay and grain but they still get to enjoy a bottle about 3X a day. Here they let the mother's wean their lambs on their own given they are up in the mountains for the duration of the summer. 
As the lambs get older they are moved to larger areas to help them to learn how to stick by mom for when they are brought to the mountains and need to fend for themselves. Many of the ewes are in fields that surround the barn and house. Some ewes are not keen on being just on pasture and will find any way to get back into the barn and look for grain. This morning I had a scare because while I was dismantling some of the lambing jugs in the barn by myself, I heard heavy breathing right behind me. I quickly turned to see two ewes and their lambs with their necks stretched out looking at my pockets as if to say, "grain?". I quickly herded them back to the fields to their dismay and made sure all gates were closed. 
Do you know who else is in the fields around the house and barn? Steeevee! He, his brother and mom are out mixed with about 200 ewes and their lambs in a wide expanse of fields and almost impossible to find. Whenever I have to walk from the barn to the house, I walk a bit slower hoping that he will see me and want to visit. Dana was the last one to see him. She had hurt her ankle that day and was making her way back to the house to ice it and Steve was there in the walkway to get in a quick snuggle with her and then get back to mom. So we agreed that Steve will appear when you really need him. 

So many fields!
Human Steve has made a reappearance (coincidentally the day after Dana and Jess left.... interesting) and has given me a break from power washing by doing it himself, so I get to spend my days monitoring the pregnant ewes, making sure the older lambs and ewes are comfortable in the middle and old barn and slowly dismantling the no longer needed lambing jugs. On that note, my lunch break is about done. 
Until tomorrow! 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Days 16 and 17: Monotony and Goodbyes

Day 16:

Hello again!

We are still waiting for the last 30-something ewes to pop. In the meantime, we are continuing to clean up the barn. Dana has joined the power washing crew.

Most of the pens in the main barn are cleaned. We have now begun working on cleaning up the group pens.
Every day we shovelin' shovelin'...

In a brief (and sad/comical) break from the humdrum of shovelin' and power washing, a dead ewe was discovered, and her lambs had to be caught so that they could be fed and cared for. The first lamb was caught quickly, but the second was a feisty beast who would not give up easily. Dana and Helgi ran off to capture the wily creature, but in the process, Dana managed to twist her ankle. Lacking an ice pack, she found a bottle of frozen colostrum to sooth her pain.

Dana recovering from the hunt (the colostrum is tucked in her sock on the opposite side of her leg).

Day 17:

Today is the last day for Dana and I. We will be flying out of Keflavik Airport tomorrow afternoon and abandoning Grace to her duties as lamb wet nurse. This experience has been amazing, painful, educational, and in some cases, downright infuriating. We've had long days and late nights, but we learned so much and met some amazing people. 

Our hosts: The lovely Snaedis and Helgi who housed us, loaned us their car, provided funds for us to go horseback riding, and taught us all they could about lambing and how to properly speak Icelandic (through no fault of theirs we still can't pronounce anything).

 Eyfi: the ear tagging extraordinaire and Icelandic Willy Wonka who kept us sane during lambing season by bringing us candy and being constantly cheerful.

Gudbjorg: Our wonderful cook who kept us fat and happy with steaks, pastas, and cakes.

Tonight, Dana and I will work our last red-eye shifts, and then perhaps, we will have earned the right to this ornament:

Have a good night everyone!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Days 14 and 15: Aaaaadventure Tiiime

Day 14

Hey guys! As it has begun slowing down with lambing, things have started changing around the barn, and our focus has shifted from pulling lambs out to putting them out to pasture and cleaning up after them.

Moving the sheep out to pasture requires a number of steps. Ewes and their lambs are moved from individual pens to slightly larger pens which hold two ewes and their lambs. The sheep are moved into successively larger pens until large groups are let out onto the pastures near the house or up in the mountains.

Snaedis' mom moving a ewe and her lambs into a pen with another ewe.

Snaedis' dad encouraging nervous lambs to leave the trailer and find their moms.

As I mentioned before, we have also begun cleaning empty pens. This involves a lot of of scrubbing and sweeping (*coughDANAcoughcough*) and power washing which is extremely satisfying and VERY messy. Grace and I took turns getting "shit-faced" as we power washed the poo covered pens.

Me after a round of power washing.

Grace looking super cool while demonstrating proper PPE and wielding the power washer.

Despite the cleaning we've been doing we're also getting some time for fun now. We explored nearby waterfalls and played with bouncing baby goats at a nearby goat and sheep farm.

Dana makin' out with Spock the Kid.

Homemade goat cheeses and sausage.

Grace living dangerously by the waterfalls.

In case you couldn't tell, these are some of the waterfalls.

Day 15

We have begun working in shifts throughout the night so that we can get sleep while the ewes selfishly hold their babies in. This morning Grace did some power washing and I cleaned out hay feeders while Dana slept off the red-eye shift. After we convened for lunch, we did some more exploring, but this time, on horseback.

Snaedis called a nearby riding stable and arranged for us to try our luck (and legs) with the famous Icelandic ponies. Our two hour trail ride took us through the gorgeous rocky countryside, across rivers and streams, and along black-sanded beaches. Our backsides are definitely going to be sore for a while, but it was so worth it.

Grace's first time in an English saddle went really well (She had only ridden western before and was a little nervous).

The entourage riding across flatlands.

Dana and Grace on their sturdy ponies.

My sleepy pony during a grass break.

Until next time! Jess

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Day 12/13

Day 12

Yesterday we got our first day off and drove to Reykjavik. The drive itself was an adventure as we braved numerous roundabouts and the quirky car lent to us by Snaedis and Helgi. Not to mention the fact we didn't know what any of the road signs meant!

Our first stop in Reykjavik was the Icelandic Philological Museum. We figured we had seen enough vaginas and life is all about balance. Our visit from from start to finish was full of jokes and fascination (we are animal scientists after all).

Jess and Grace with a specimen from a sperm whale 

Me studying a specimen from a reindeer

Something we spotted in the gift shop and desperately needed

After the museum we headed to Reykjavik Roasters, a cozy coffee shop. There we nursed our caffeine addictions and took in the luxury of sitting down and relaxing. 

We did lots of exploring in the city we stopped in little mom and pop shops, many more coffee houses, the city park, checked out the street art, and ended the night grabbing a few drinks accompanied by live music.
Jess and Grace at a little tea and spice shop

Even in the city the mountains are never out of sight

The Leif Erikson Statue 

All the buildings are painted different colors making Reykjavik a very colorful city.

Day 13

With lambing almost complete and most of the sheep turned out we spend most of our time in the barn cleaning the empty pens. However, we were rewarded with a trip to the local university's dairy and horse barn. We were especially interested in the university's robotic milker. I was overcome with jealously as I watched cows entering the milker without the assistance of people. WE NEED A ROBOT AT WITTER!!!!! Not only did they have a robotic milker they also have a robotic manure scraper or manure Roomba as we called it. 
 The coveted milker

Icelandic cows 

Grace and one of the University's Icelandic horses