Life and death on the Rock Farm

Last weekend the family gave me an extremely valuable gift for Father’s Day… a certificate entitling me to a precious two hours of their time.  Two hours to get something done on the Rock Farm.  It was a wonderful gift, in the hectic mayhem of juggling school, sport, work and family time.

I figured two hours would be perfect to complete the most pressing requirement on the Rock Farm.  Marking our lambs.

Marking involves many steps.  We vaccinate the lambs, put in ear tags with our unique property code (colour coded for 2018), and put rubber rings around their tails and testicles.  Our yards are not ideal for this – being mainly set up to handle cattle – and we soon found some of the younger lambs were able to slip out the yards back into the paddock.

Our two hours passed quickly and we soon had marked most of the lambs.  I will need to catch up with the stragglers and sort them out soon.

This year we counted 20 lambs out of 11 ewes.  As one ewe was dry, this means that all of the lambs born were twins.  When we brought in the sheep, one poor little lamb was very weak, having either got separated or rejected by his mother.  I was hoping we wouldn’t have any poddy lambs this year, but we brought the little fellow up to the house and found the re-purposed baby bottle kept especially for occasions such as this.

The little fellow enthusiastically enjoyed his first warm drink in a long time, and we thought that we had saved him from the worst.

As cute as lambs are, the last thing you want is to keep them inside any longer than you need to get them dry and warm.  The Little Fisherman and I collected some old iron from the ‘resource centre’ and soon put together  a shelter in a little holding paddock adjoining the shed.  It was far more substantial than the old tarpaulin I had used to shelter our sick ewes a couple of weeks earlier – and I figured it would hopefully last a little longer too!

Back at the box in front of the fire, the Dachshund was only interested in licking any spilt milk off the lamb.  On the other hand, the Border Collie, Sapphire, wouldn’t let the lamb out of her sight.  She was adorable nursing the little fellow as we kept our fingers crossed.

Sadly the lamb never recovered his strength and passed away the following morning.  I don’t know why he was separated from his mother, but sometimes nature does these things for a reason.  Other times there are no reasons, and we just have to learn to accept them and move on.

They might not be easy lessons, but they are extremely valuable ones to share with our growing family.

Marking Spring Lambs

Spring is a glorious time on the Rock Farm.  Blossoms are on the trees, the slow combustion stove is finally allowed to go out and is laid up for summer, and lambs are frolicking in the paddocks.

These gorgeous animals require little in the way of health and welfare checks – but even such low maintenance sheep as Wiltipolls require some intervention.  And when the city cousins come to stay, it provides the perfect opportunity to bring in the lambs.

It is always a good idea to stay abreast of best practice – particularly for something we only do once a year.  After a quick brush up on the animal welfare standards, we were ready to go.  The standards are available online at:   http://www.animalwelfarestandards.net.au/sheep/

Marking lambs is a necessary part of raising sheep.  The lambs receive important vaccinations and are drenched.  The males are castrated, and all lambs have their tails docked.  All the other sheep receive vaccination boosters and are drenched too.

We use rubber bands to castrate the males and dock the tails.  This is the most humane and cost effective option available to hobby farmers.

The vaccine we chose prevents clostridial diseases in cattle and sheep such as Tetanus.  These diseases are frequently fatal.  They are caused by anaerobic bacteria and are widespread in the environment – especially in the soil.  Protection is provided when all the herd is vaccinated.

We also drenched the sheep with a triple combination drench.  The product we chose provides protection against gastro-intestinal roundworms, lungworm, Nasal Bot and Itch Mite.  It also provides important trace minerals such as selenium and cobalt, often deficient in Australian spoil.

Cell grazing is another technique to reduce the worm burden in sheep or other livestock.  Whilst I would love to develop a cell grazing system on the Rock Farm, this requires a significant investment in fencing and is still a few years away at this stage.

The final job was to put an ear tag in our lambs.  These tags are marked with our unique Property Identification Code (PIC), and will stay on these lambs for life.  This, in combination with movement declarations, ensures a full audit trail for livestock movements in Australia.  The ear tags are also colour coded, and 2017 lambs will wear a white ear tag, allowing easy identification and sorting of stock based on age.

A couple of likely lads also decided to take a couple of tags.  They politely declined my offer to put a tag in their ears, but did agree to marking their hats!

And so our marking was quickly over.  We let the sheep settle in the yards for a couple of hours with some delicious oats before we released them back into their paddock.  All done – until next year 🙂

Count their legs and divide by four

Having returned home after a couple of weeks away (you can read about that trip here), it was great to have a walk in the paddocks and check out the Rock Farm.  The paddocks were soaking wet, courtesy of one of the wettest winters on record.  There were plenty of things to catch our eye, the most exciting were by far our new lambs.

Our beautiful Wiltipoll ewes had lambed, and the spring lambs were frolicking in the fresh green grass.  Yes lambs!

The lambs were curious little creatures.  Some of the ewes were a bit shy and protective of their new charges.

The big challenge was the get a count.

With only 15 ewes, you’d think it would be easy to count all the lambs.  Funnily enough it isn’t.  I got the little helpers onto the job, and gave them some advice I’d learnt years ago.  The easiest way to count sheep is to count their legs, and divide by four!

Sadly we found one dead lamb, and one ewe suffering mastitis.  We took her up to the house and dosed her with apple cider vinegar.  Sadly she didn’t survive either.

So, with a revised total of 14 ewes, we were thrilled with our 16 lambs.  We will mark and vaccinate them in a few more weeks, when they’re a little easier to move.  For now, I was pretty happy to order some black ear-tags (lambs born in NSW in 2016 will wear black ear tags) with our unique Property Identification Code (PIC).  The Rock Farm is starting to feel like a proper little farm at last!