This was Runamuk’s first-ever lambing season, and I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to sheep-breeding. I’ve more than doubled the size of my flock this spring, going from 4 sheep to 10, my ideal flock-size. This means that next year Runamuk will be able to offer our grass-fed lamb-meat to local patrons. I am one happy farmer.
While I’ve kept chickens and bees for well over a decade, I’ve never raised anything larger. Breeding and birthing critters is still new to this farmer. Since the fall of 2018, when a pair of Romneys were first donated to Runamuk, I’ve learned a tremendous amount about sheep. Like: they can (and will) jump a fence, how to treat bloat, and─consequently─how to prevent bloat in the first place lol.
Those donated romneys are no longer with me, but they spurred in me a love for ruminants and sheep in particular, and last spring I invested in a starter flock of finnsheep. The goal is to use the sheep for pasture management and soil remediation. With that comes the additional benefit of grass-fed meat to feed my own family, as well as other local households.
Aside from the sheep-shenanigans leading up to breeding season (for details on that story check out: Lilian’s Temper Tantrum) and difficulties keeping my rams separated from the ewes, my first-ever lambing season was a wonderful success. There were no calamities or disasters. I did not have to intervene in the birthing or resort to calling a vet. Everyone is happy and healthy here at Runamuk and that is a beautiful thing.
Making the decision to invest in an older ewe was a good move on my part, I think. Lilian was 2 years old last summer when I picked her out at Olde Haven Farm in Chelsea, Maine. She’d already been through a pregnancy and was a good mother to her previous lambs. Being a novice to sheep, I’d never been through the birthing process and it was my hope that Lilian’s experience would carry us all through it without any issues. And she did, too.
I watched my ewes growing broader around the middle, anxiously awaiting lambing-day (or night), and even installed a security camera to better monitor the situation. I dubbed it the “Lamb-Cam”.
Somehow the lambing still came as a surprise. It was March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day. My 13yo son, BraeTek, and I, had just settled onto the couch for a movie night. I used an app on my phone to check the security camera just as the movie was starting, and there it was! A tiny white squirming lamb that Lilian was busy cleaning! I showed the video to my son and then had to practically race him out to the sheep-shed, so eager to see this new addition was he that he could scarcely contain himself.
While we were there in the shed admiring the newborn, Lilian flopped herself down and gave birth to a second lamb. It was astounding to me that BraeTek was so ga-ga for the whole experience. I’d once teased him about his own birthing process, and he’d become so upset that he was nearly in tears because the thought of it was so utterly repulsive to him. His enthusiasm for the event was a precious thing for this farmer/mom.
Lilian gave birth that day to 1 male lamb, and 1 ewe lamb, which was exactly what I’d hoped for out of this breeding season. Of course I want more ewes, but I need enough rams too, that when I put one with the ewes for breeding, there’s not just one ram left all lonely by himself. Sheep are gregarious creatures and always need a buddy for company.
Runamuk was also featured recently in the Irregular’s Spring Guide! Check out the article: Local Eating and Agriculture
Because of her diminutive size, I had intended to wait til next year to breed Lucy. Mid-winter sheep-shenanigans, however, resulted in Lucy’s impregnation, and on May 5th she gave birth to a tiny, but very strong and healthy, ewe lamb. Thankfully there were no complications and everyone is doing fine.
Before I realized that Lucy was expecting, I’d sent part of this year’s tax return to Pam and Kelby Young at Olde Haven Farm for investment into another breeding ewe. My ideal flock size is a 10 sheep. 10 chosen breeders will live here at Runamuk. Every spring the flock will grow with lambing season, but every fall the extra animals will be turned into food. It may seem cold or harsh, but this is the reality of farm-life. I believe that 10 is a comfortable number for this small farm to support.
So when Olde Haven reached out to say that the lambs were ready, I gladly made my way southward to Chelsea, ME. Bringing new animals to the farm is always a treat.
This was my third visit to Olde Haven Farm for critters. Breeding stock is a big investment, and not to be taken lightly, I think. The animals at Olde Haven are high quality: happy, healthy, friendly, and they come from good people doing good work for their family and for their community. It makes me feel really good to support a fellow farmer.
Pam met me at the busy farmstand and led me to the backside of their farm’s property. The pastures at Olde Haven stretch out behind their high-tunnels, all surrounded by the Maine forest. The newly weaned lambs sprawled en masse in the shade under a tall tree, and Jack, the Great Pyrenees, monitored the situation. A trio of small lambs came crying to the fence at the sight of us.
“Can you tell which ones are the bottle-babies?” Pam asked.
Kelby joined us on-site, and I relayed my 3 specifications for this year’s investment: it needs to be a girl, needs to be friendly, and not too small. Coloring was less of a consideration now that I have a fairly well-rounded palette in my flock.
I really admire the way Pam and Kelby work together as a team to help me select the animal that will best meet my needs. They know their flock well, so they know who is more friendly, which lambs came from good mothers, and which ones will make good breeding stock.
At length we selected a sturdy white ewe lamb and tucked her into the dog crate I’d brought with me. Then, as we were preparing to depart, Kelby gestured to the little black bottle-fed lamb and asked, “Are you sure you don’t want one more?” I think he was seeking to reduce some of the burden on the farm-staff. Bottle-feeding babies is a huge time-commitment and Olde Haven is a diverse operation; the Youngs have a lot going on there.
Half-joking I retorted, “Is it free?” At this point in the season I’ve already made my annual farm-investments and the funds are not there for Runamuk to make any large purchases.
Kelby looked to his wife, Pam, “Fifty bucks?”
Pam agreed and so I gratefully accepted the animal. I would have to feed the lamb a bottle every morning and night for the next 3 weeks, but $50 for a breeding ewe was an offer I couldn’t turn down.
I managed to get outside the fence this time, making my departure, when those farmers petitioned me to take a third ewe. A little white lamb, another of the bottle-babies, was crying pitifully as I took the black lamb away─they were sisters. Pam and Kelby didn’t want to split them up, so of course I said yes. I came home that day with 3 new ewe lambs, paying just an additional $50 for the pair of bottle-fed lambs.
First-Ever Lambing Season a Success
And just like that I now have 10 sheep in my flock!
It’s a relief to be able to say that Runamuk’s first-ever lambing season was a success. I’m not too proud to admit that I still have a lot to learn about sheep husbandry. However, there were no major calamities or tragedies, and for that, this farmer is extremely grateful.
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