Hard Lessons

Your friendly neighborhood farmer has learned some hard lessons in animal husbandry over the past three weeks. Since I last posted, all of my ewes have delivered with varying degrees of success. Of the fifteen lambs born to Runamuk this season, two lambs perished, and I have two in the house at this very moment. All of the others are strong and healthy, growing just as they should, without care or concern. I invite you to join me on the farm now, as I share the story of this farm’s 2022 lambing season with all it’s highs and lows.

I Love My Finnsheep!

Let me start off by saying how much I love my Finnsheep! I thank my friend, Kamala Hahn at Johnny’s Selected Seeds, for indoctrinating me into the Finn fan-club. A hardy breed, originating from Finland, Finns are not the largest of sheep, making them easier to handle. Their wool is next-to-skin quality, oh-so-soft, in a wide variety of colors, and their meat is reknown for being some of the most flavorful lamb you can get. Finns are relatively easy keepers, friendly and personable, with lots of character. The ewes are generally good mothers, known for producing litters of multiple lambs without fuss. After two easy lambing seasons, I felt fairly confident as I came into my third year as flock-keeper.

Up til this year, my ewes had thrown only twins and single lambs. I was looking forward to a larger set, and hoped this would be the year. In that regard, I was not disappointed. On a Saturday night, two weeks back, one of my ewes by the name of Maleficent, gave me my first-ever set of triplets. An hour later, Fiona produced a whopping set of four lambs! The following morning upon waking, a visit to the Ewe-Shed found a third mum had produced a set of twins in the wee-hours of the morning. What a night! I was beside myself─overjoyed with the productivity of my flock.

Everyone looked good to this novice’s eyes. Mums all came through with flying colors. Babies were all in tact. Though the lambs of the litters of three and four were all very tiny, I’d had some smaller ewes produce very tiny lambs before, so I didn’t think much of it. I made sure each lamb got latched onto it’s mum’s teat for a good feed of the critically important colostrum, and checked on them frequently throughout the day.

This particular weekend happened to be the first in two years that my sweetheart, Deron, could not be with me for our regular visit due to a family crisis. Typically he spends Friday and Saturday nights at the farm. Then, on Sundays, I join him at his parent’s home for a family supper, then spend the night at his place in Solon. Since everyone seemed to be doing well, and with the lamb-cam to spy on any new deliveries, I caved to my longing to spend just one night with my huny. I left the farm late that Sunday afternoon.

Hard Lessons

Of course I checked the lamb-cam while I was off the farm that Sunday evening─repeatedly. I even woke periodically during the night, pulling the app up on my phone to make sure all was well. Unfortunately, with so many little lambs, it’s hard to see some of the finer details from a distance like that. It wasn’t until I was back on the farm the next morning that I realized one of Maleficent’s three babies was missing. I released the ewe from the confines of the lambing pen, and only two lambs tottered out after her. Where was the third???

I checked behind the water bucket, and under the hay-net, to see if the poor thing had gotten trapped there. No lamb. Panic welled in my throat─where could it be? What could have happened?

When I spied a telltale tuft of white fuzz peeking above the litter of the lambing pen, I felt sick to my stomach. What had I done?

The ewes will often kick up the bedding material in the shed, and in their lambing pens too, to make a sort of nest for themselves to lay in. This tiny, little lamb had gotten buried in the litter. Whether or not it was intentional on Maleficent’s part, I cannot say. Sometimes, ewes will reject a lamb if there is something wrong with it, or if they feel instinctively that they cannot provide for that mouth. Even if the lamb was destined to be rejected by her mum, I feel fairly certain that if I had been on the farm to check on the lambs in person, I could have at least saved it to be a bottle baby.

To make matters worse, another of Maleficent’s babies took a chill that night. Concerned, and not wanting to lose any more precious babies, I corralled the ewe back into a lambing pen with her two remaining lambs. Thanks to my two previous “easy seasons”, though I diligently monitored the situation, I did not recognize the danger the poor fellow was in. He was nursing periodically, but sleeping more and more. The following morning when I went out at sunrise, the lamb lay sprawled, all but lifeless, on the floor of the lambing pen.

Near to tears with the shame of my failures, I immediately took the lamb into the house. I made every attempt to rescue him, but it was already too late. He slipped away from us. It took a few days before Maleficent finally stopped crying for her lost babies, her eyes pleading with me to return her lambs to her.

Maleficent and her remaining baby are doing well now.

I know that it’s entirely possible those two lambs might have been doomed with or without me, yet the pain of those losses lingers in my heart. I blame myself. You can be sure, the hard lessons those two babies taught me will not be forgotten. Larger litters of multiple lambs are a wonderful thing, but just as triplets and quadruplets born to humans, multiples of sheep are so much smaller and frailer than a single baby, or even twins. They require much more diligence from the farmer. Finnsheep may be fantastic mothers, but that many mouths are harder for them to keep track of. Perhaps most importantly, newborns require my vigilance for the first forty-eight hours─minimum. I can’t be caving to the longings of my heart for the nearness of my boyfriend. No matter how sweet he is to me, nor how much I miss him. Farmers do not have that privilege.

Rejected

It was a little over a week following the loss of Maleficent’s two babies that my last ewe finally went into labor. “Baby” was last year’s bottle baby, whom I never really gave a name. Laughingly, I tell people that she was named after the main character from the movie Dirty Dancing (“nobody puts Baby in the corner”), but the truth is─she was my baby, and I’ve just always called her Baby, lol. She is a very small ewe, from a very small mother. I hadn’t intended for her to be bred, but I guess my ram had other ideas…

I worried about Baby’s birthing prospects, and stayed with her through the entire ordeal. Indeed, she did struggle to bring forth the single lamb she carried. It was a long labor, and the lamb’s legs were not in the right position. Once the little guy had emerged, Baby was less than impressed. It was hard to watch as she head-butted the tiny lamb, pawing at him with her front hooves, and attempting to cover him over with the litter at the bottom of the lambing pen. I toweled him off and tried to get Baby to allow the newborn to suckle at her teats. Unfortunately, Baby wanted no part of this creature that had caused her so much pain and difficulty. She was still very young, and not ready to be a mother.

The shenanigans start at an early age…

Fearing for the lamb’s life, I made the call to take the rejected lamb from the ewe. I refused to allow another lamb to perish on my watch. For the last week and a half, the little ram has been living inside the farmhouse. He eats from a bottle, and sleeps in a playpen I scored for $5 last year at the Embden Community Center’s thrift shop. After such an awful entrance into the world, I thought the little guy needed some kind of empowering name, so BraeTek dubbed him “Big Man”. Mercifully, this little lamb is thriving under the care of his farmer.

Perks of the Job

Our young CSA member, Saffron (in pink), shares her farm with her friends.

One of the perks of the job is being able to share bits and pieces of farm-life with the public. Initially, the lamb was eating every two hours, so when I left the farm last Friday to make my CSA deliveries, I couldn’t just leave the infant at home alone. I put him on a towel in a wooden apple crate and placed him on the passenger seat of my Subaru. He traveled that way, making the Madison-Solon loop with me, pausing at Deron’s long enough to feed him another bottle before we continued on to Harmony to make our final delivery. On our way back to New Portland, I stopped by the Solon Corner Store to pick up some weekend provisions. Reluctant to leave Big Man alone in the car, I tucked the four-day old lamb under an arm, and took him into the store with me.

My friend, Trin, finds spending time with the lambs to be very healing.

Since Deron’s home is located in Solon, I am frequently in and out of the Solon Corner Store when I go to visit my sweetie. The clerks there have come to recognize me, and know something of my farm. They all knew I’d been welcoming new lambs to the farm, yet these ladies fairly melted at the sight of Big Man! I wish I could have gotten it on video to share with you.

Heedless of the other customers waiting to check out, Gayle came around from behind the counter to get a closer look. I placed that bundle of legs and wool in her arms for a few moments, allowing the cashier to gush over the lamb. She brought him close for a handful of other shoppers to pet him, before relinquishing Big Man back to my care. Needless to say, there was quite a line behind me once I’d finally checked out with my things, lol. And then Gayle offered to carry my bags out for me hahaha!

No one complained though…it’s not every day you get to see a teeny tiny baby lamb in the grocery store.

Quasimodo

It was the day following the grocery store scene that I realized something was not right with one of Fiona’s quadruplets. Again, with so many mouths to feed, it’s harder for the ewes to care for their offspring appropriately. Concerned about the runt of the litter, who was all hunched over and pitiful looking, I’d taken to bottle feeding him in the Ewe-Shed. Over the course of the week, I was trucking out there several times a day with a bottle for the lamb I called Quasimodo, the hunchback of Runamuk Acres (I know─not funny, but funny. What can I say, lol, I have a perverse sense of humor.). I had hoped that the bottle feedings would bring an improvement in the little guy. Unfortunately, on that Saturday morning Quasi was looking particularly cold and pathetic, so I made the calldecided to bring him inside for some extra attention.

That’s when I realized just how much Quasimodo struggles to move around. I did some research and found that sometimes babies of large litters can be born with under-developed hind legs. This can be due to a nutrient deficiency, or because of the cramped quarters in-utero. I believe that is what is going on in Quasimodo’s case, and have given him a selenium/vitamin E supplement, as well as an injection of vitamin B. Though I have seen some improvement, and overall he is content enough to keep Big Man company here inside the farmhouse, it will take time and exercise for his muscles to develop properly─if at all. Another of Mother Nature’s hard lessons in animal husbandry this year.

New Donate Button!

Pan, the Lamb.

On a completely separate note, I would like to take this opportunity to point out to followers the new Donate button in my website’s sidebar. I’ve fielded a number of requests for a Wish List on Runamuk’s website. Folks want to know what it is we are needing here, so they can donate items if they have something they’re no longer using that might help our cause. I have had one listed, but it’s rather buried amid the other pages listed on the drop-down menu under the “About Us” tab. This Donate button will now take visitors directly to that page. Woot woot!

Donations have come to Runamuk in many forms─monetary donations, yes, but also donations of materials, equipment, and supplies. I’ve even had folks volunteer their time and energy to lend a hand on the farm for a day. I also barter for the things we need, trading farm-goods at a fair market value for the item being traded to the farm. There is a PayPal button on that page for those who are able and inclined to donate funds to this farm, but donations come in many forms, and cash is not the only means of greasing the wheels here. Every donation makes a big difference in this mother-and-son driven farm. I am always grateful for every gift or trade, small or large, because they allow me to keep doing what I do─nourishing and educating my family, and my community. That’s what it’s all about, my friends.

The Life of a Farmer

Mother Nature is a beautiful─but sometimes ruthless─mistress. With these hard lessons, She’s reminded me this year that it does not do to grow complacent in Her presence. As a farmer, I must always be vigilant for the lives I am responsible for: human, plant or animal, vertebrate or invertebrate, fungal or microbial, wild or domesticated. This is the life I have chosen to live─the life of a farmer. While there are certainly a great many blessings to be thankful for, there are equally as many burdens associated with it, and I must bear them. Come hell or high water, this farm must thrive.

Thank you for following along with the journey of this female-farmer! It is truly my privilege to be able to live this life, serve my family and community, and to protect wildlife through agricultural conservation. Check back soon for more updates from the farm, and be sure to follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram or Facebook! Much love to you and yours, my friends!