The last couple of yarns were sort of cliffhangers, and even the ones about lambing left off before lambing was done. Like so much in life, these stories are not really finished, but at least here’s an update.
Lambing: I finished up with 55 lambs out of the 98 I put out with the rams. I lost 15 lambs. A 55% lambing rate is certainly not a statistic to crow about, though it hides some good news, and like all statistics there’s a fair bit in the detail. Of the 98 ewes, my best estimate is about 62 actually got pregnant (70 lambs total, but about 8 sets of twins). Whether this is down to joining at the “wrong” time of year for a natural cycle of reproduction (i.e. for an autumn lambing rather than the more natural spring lambing) or the inexperience of all of the ewes and rams, I don’t know, and probably won’t until the next time I lamb with some experienced ewes and rams!
Another detail is the number of twins, of whom only 3 sets survived, counting my bottle lamb Zac, who was almost certainly a twin. The main cause of death, I’m reasonably sure, was unprotected twins being attacked by predator birds while mama was busy having the second one. Two things no doubt contributed to this high mortality rate in the twins: the inexperience of the ewes (first lambs for all of them) and the ubiquitous presence of the eagles and ravens.
There was a flock of 100 or more ravens on my place for the duration of lambing—far more than I usually see: I have about 10 or so resident ravens and 2 eagles who are somewhere about most days. During lambing ravens from the surrounding region tend to travel in large flocks, moving from one area to another as lambing commences in one and tails off in another. Because nobody else was lambing when I was, ALL the ravens were here, ALL the time.
Some of the hidden good news in lambing is I did not have to intervene in any lambing to save the lamb or the ewe. I’m really pleased about this one, as interventions during lambing are one of my least favourite jobs. One ewe had a malformed uterus, and I could not save her.
So, in the spirit of lies, damn lies and statistics, let’s say I had a 90% lambing rate (55 out of 62, rounded up) and no interventions. It’s interesting, too, how working to reduce one cause of lamb mortality—exposure to weather—resulted in increasing a different cause—predation.
The mystery ailment (Snakebite, Lightning Strike and Gunshot): the cause of death of the four ewes who died during lambing, but were not pregnant, was not confirmed by the post-mortem to be pulpy kidney (clostridium toxicity). Pulpy kidney was my cause of choice. Phalaris grass at certain growth stages can cause toxicity as well, though that was not confirmed either. I didn’t lose any other sheep after the episode, and have had to accept this is one mystery I won’t solve.
The fate of our local newspaper and community group (Democracy Dies in Darkness): I’m delighted to report our submission to the elected councillors was successful. We have our funding and our lease will be renewed. It was a fascinating process, and made me realise how critically important it is for ordinary citizens to participate actively in the process of government. The councillors listened to our arguments, and acknowledged they had been making decisions based on incomplete and inaccurate information about our group.
In our submission, we openly challenged the premise put forward by the council’s General Manager—that it was acceptable to punish the whole community group for unfavourable articles about council printed in the newspaper we manage. At the end of the session with council, the councillors made a point of saying they did not agree the General Manager’s position, and they would not sanction retribution of that sort.
In the weeks since the meeting, two of the councillors have joined the community group as ordinary members, and there is an overall feeling we can now get on with creating the future we’ve been imagining. In the coming year, I’m changing roles from Treasurer to Chairman of the Advisory Committee for the newspaper—a job I think I’ll relish! Among other things, I’m hoping to introduce an “Analysis” section, where we look at contentious issues without being adversarial or partisan. I think this may be a good way to improve the transparency of the council and help people to become more engaged in local government.
On the farm: Winter has been dry, but there is plenty of feed and the water table is holding well, so I have to admit I just haven’t been worrying about the weather. We've had lots of frosts, including a couple of -7 C (20 F) resulting in busted pipes. Zac is back in with the flock, and I’ve been doing a fair bit of shepherding the past couple of weeks—it’s a hoot having Zac glued to my side, with Clara and the boys following him, and the rest of the flock following them. Zac still gets a bottle each morning, which means I have to find the flock, call Zac to me, feed him, and then ditch him so I can go home again without him following me! He’s getting the idea, now, heading back to the flock when I start up the engine.
Shearing is coming up in early September, and yarn sales are keeping me busy in the meantime. There’s an order of boucle being spun and dyed as I write this, and I’ve asked Chatty at Design Spun not to send it to me til after shearing—I just don’t have a place to stash it until shearing is over!