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So much going on with spring birth on the homestead. And abandoned lamb was the immediate task to take care of today. A quick trip to town to get supplies and now I’m late getting to this podcast. That’s what it’s all about on the homestead. I have so much to share with you today and most of it is so much fun!!
I want to take a minute and say welcome to all the new listeners and welcome back to the veteran homestead-loving regulars who stop by the FarmCast for every episode. I appreciate you all so much. I’m so excited to share with you what’s going on at the homestead this week. As I said there is a lot of it and all relates to spring births.
Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates
Before getting to that abandoned lamb, let’s start with the garden and the birthing of new plants.
If you are new to gardening perhaps you are not familiar with the terms spring garden, summer garden, and fall garden. Spring is the time of year to plant crops that thrive in cool weather. Some can thrive in the heat, like maybe potatoes. But most spring garden plants require cool temperatures. Things like lettuce and spinach will simply give up and go to seed if it gets too hot. Other things like root crops will just not grow in the heat. Their growth stalls and there is nothing to do for it but try again in the fall when the weather cools off again.
This spring we are planting two kinds of peas, snap peas and shelling peas. Shelling peas are those green peas that you buy frozen or canned. Snap peas are best for salads and such. They are eaten pod and all, though they can be shelled as well. But the pods are sweet and crisp.
I’m not going to plant potatoes this spring although Scott did dig up the potatoes that we had left in the ground over the winter. They were just starting to sprout and grow again. Really, we should have had them out of the ground a week or so ago before they sprouted. Fortunately, there are not tons of them. We will be able to eat them before they get soft. In the normal course of planting, I would have planted some of them for a new crop. I have enough potatoes and will forgo them this spring. Perhaps in the fall.
I have yellow, red and white onion sets to plant. Onions make bulbs according to the amount of light they need. There are short season, mid-season and long season varieties. Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and other northern states can grow those long season varieties. During the height of summer, the hours of daylight are significantly higher than we get in Southern Virginia. And farther south from us, only the short season varieties will grow. The farther south you get, the more equal the day and night hours become. While far in the northern States like Alaska, they have sunlight nearly 24 hours at the height of summer. Of course, it is dark for nearly 24 hours in the winter also.
Strange place, Alaska. I was there twice. Once near the spring equinox and the days and nights were fairly equal. But the second time I was there in July, just past the summer solstice. The sun was still up at midnight. It dipped below the horizon for about 3 hours and then daylight began to show once again. It happened in Germany also. I was there in August and it was daylight past 11:00 pm and the sun was back up long before I got up in the morning.
So that’s the story of onions. The rest of the garden will get planted in May. That will be the green beans, herbs and crowder peas.
The 500 strawberry roots are all planted and looking great. Leaves are visible on almost all of them. The beds look fantastic. Scott did a great job there. That bank of strawberries will also have four sections of culinary herbs. I already have a good stand of thyme and oregano. Inside I have started more rosemary as it didn’t do so well last year and I just let it go over the winter. It can survive the winter but needs protection. It did so poorly that I just decided to start over this year. And just today I got some garden sage seeds to fill in that fourth section in between the strawberries.
The blueberries and blackberries are leafing out. The blueberries will bloom soon and we will have berries around the first or second week of June. The blackberries will be ready in mid-July.
On to the cows.
Cows and Calves
Last time I talked with you, we had one calf. Now we have three. Rosie, our new Jersey heifer gave birth to Princess. Then Cloud gave birth to Winston. And finally, Claire gave to birth to a, yet unnamed, bull calf. No one has had any trouble so far, knock on wood. Butter and Violet have a bit of time to go before giving birth, Late May and early June respectively.
Now to the fun part of the cow story. Rosie, though she is her first calf, was giving about 2 ½ gallons of milk per day. We were estimating in the beginning because Princess was getting her share so we guessed about how much she was drinking. We were getting about a gallon and a half in the beginning and guessed Princess was getting about a gallon a day. Well, it didn’t take long and we were getting a gallon a day – and then a few days later, a half-gallon or even less. Princess was getting it all.
At this point, we would normally separate momma and baby and control the amount of milk baby is getting. Calves need about a gallon or so of milk to grow strongly. Certainly not two gallons. But they will drink everything they can if you let them. Take a beef cow for instance. Those calves are never going to get more than a gallon or so a day because that is all momma is going to make. But the dairy cows make lots and lots of milk and the calves simply don’t need that much. So what were we to do.
We came up with a very good plan. During this time when the milk volume we were getting was diminishing rapidly, Cloud had given birth. We cannot milk Cloud anymore. About mid-season last year, something spooked her and she began kicking the milking inflations off. Then she began kicking more and Scott got quite a few bruises and even a really badly sprained thumb from her kicks. We had to stop milking her. We thought we might try again this year if she perhaps had calmed down a bit. No luck there. We had her walking into the stanchion before she even gave birth, just getting her used to coming in and getting a little treat. They all get this training. It makes it easy to work with them for just about any vet treatment. Anyway, she got startled again by something and started kicking and we weren’t even trying to touch her udders. That answered that question. Cloud would not be milked this year either.
This is also a dilemma on a homestead. Every animal needs to have a purpose. Her purpose was to have a calf every year and to be milked. Now half of her purpose was eliminated. That means she has become more of a cost than a benefit. And even though we love all of our milk cows, we simply cannot afford to have any of them as pets. They must cover their own expenses at the very least. And of course, we really need them to provide some income. Otherwise, we are using our precious time to maintain a cow that is not giving much in return.
This year, she got a reprieve. We figured out how she could pull her own weight. She could become a nurse cow. Separating a calf from mom is normally a loud experience for three days. However, we separated Princess from Rosie and began grafting her onto Cloud. Princess was happy with the arrangement. Rosie was not. She still moos at Princess all the time. Princess ignores her and has since the second day.
A cow will sometimes easily take on another calf. In fact, we have had issues in the past with calves nursing on any cow in the area. Our Normande cows are pretty willing to let anyone nurse. Cloud was not quite so willing as Claire and Buttercup, but we were confident she would eventually accept Princess as her own.
We put Princess in with Cloud and Winston. And we had them separate from the rest of the crew for the exact reason I just described. We didn’t want Winston browsing around and finding milk beyond Cloud. Anyway, each day we bring all three up to the milking shed. Cloud goes in the stanchion and her head is locked in. She can still see who is back there nursing and the first day, she kicked Princess off repeatedly. Princess is quite resourceful and persistent. She was hungry after all. It didn’t take long for her to figure out how to position herself so that Cloud could not reach her with her kicking. She would get almost right up underneath Cloud with her butt close up next to Cloud’s front legs and her body nearly underneath Cloud’s belly. Cloud is locked in the stanchion and can’t walk away. The first two days, Princess was voracious in nursing. We were relieved and confident that she would be fine. She was filling her belly at least once a day. The third day or fourth day, Princess did not persistently try to nurse. In fact, she was rather disinterested in nursing at all. That told us that she was getting at least some nursing in earlier in the day.
As of yesterday, I did not see Cloud even push her away. At all. Princess was getting some milk with persistence in previous days. Now she is nursing whenever she wants. It’s a done deal. Cloud now has two calves. And we now have that full two and a half gallons of milk.
A yesterday and today’s bonus is that Rosie all of a sudden started producing even more milk. We believe it is the warmer weather. She now gives us over three gallons every day. That is fantastic for a first year Jersey cow of her size. Remember, she is still quite small in stature.
I can’t wait to see how Butter does this year. We are expecting in excess of five gallons a day from her as she is now a seasoned Jersey cow. Butter is as tall as any of the Normandes. She looked like a mini cow when we first got her, but she is definitely full grown now.
That’s it for the cow stories. Now on to the quail.
Just a brief tale here. We had 68 eggs in the incubator. There were 40 of those eggs that hatched. We lost three babies in the first day or so and now have 37 quail babies in the brooder. They are about 10 days old now and have nearly all of their feathers. In about 8 days, they will be fully feathered and strong enough to go out on their own.
We will do our semi-annual deep cleaning of all of the quail cages just before we turn them out into the grow out cages. The breeder cages also get a deep cleaning during this time. We will sterilize and treat the cages for mites. They will all get fresh new sand in which to take baths and the automatic watering system will be started up again. The automatic waterers don’t work well in winter as the lines and water cups freeze over. Instead, I take fresh water out to the birds every day from late fall to late spring.
So, the cycle of birds is in motion. I’ll keep you updated on each new batch of cute quail chicks.
Sheep and Lambs
The biggest spring birth story is the lambs. It would have been nice to have a 100% success rate like we achieved last year, but alas, we knew it was not likely. Lambs are delicate animals in the beginning.
The first ewe’s lamb was born without a hitch. He is strong and healthy. The second ewe, not so much. She had a big beautiful boy and a very, very tiny girl. The girl was born an hour or so later and we suspect that she was in the birth canal too long and was oxygen deprived. She passed within a couple of hours. She was never able to get up.
We only have four ewes giving birth this year and I thought perhaps that would be the only issue. Unfortunately, that was not the case. This story has a better ending. I had to rush into town to get colostrum for an abandoned lamb. In all of our 11 years of raising sheep and lambs, this was the first abandoned lamb that we had. Well, Lambert was close to being abandoned. That was two years ago. He was small and one of three. The other two were getting all the milk and we ended up bottle feeding him.
Today’s spring birth of lambs was, again, twins. But the ewe never touched the second lamb. Right after milking this morning I went out to check on the ewe because I could tell she had given birth. I had looked out the window and I could see the one up and running around. He was already dry. But she was laying down and straining again, so I thought another was on the way. And perhaps she was having an issue as the other was already standing up quite strongly and dried off. I feared a repeat of the previous situation where the lamb was damaged in the long birthing process. Nope, not this time. When I got out there the lamb was born and was actually standing up. She was significantly smaller than her brother, but still quite strong. She was as wet as she could be and still standing strong. I could tell that mom had not licked her at all. Who knows why it happens? But it does happen. Mom just rejects one of the lambs, usually the second or third one. As I said, we have had lots of issues with lambing but this was first time we had experienced the complete abandoning of a lamb. I tried rubbing the birthing fluid that was still on the new one onto the older one. Perhaps I could fool mom into accepting both as hers. No luck. She simply ignored the other lamb.
What to do? What to do? We quickly put all three in a smaller enclosure. We tied up mom and put baby girl underneath her and showed her where to nurse. While this little girl was strong, she seemed to have no clue as to how to nurse. Finding the correct location was no issue, but latching on was not going well. We fiddled with her for about an hour before giving up and deciding that we were just not going to be able to get her to nurse. And even if we did, mom was going to push her away, or walk away and leave her behind. She had already done that. When I first arrived, she took her boy and moved away from me. I brought the girl up to the boy and laid them together. Mom approached as a I walked away. She sniffed and licked the boy and completely ignored the girl. Then she walked away again with her boy in tow, abandoning the girl.
So, what happens when a lamb is abandoned? Well, we have to get colostrum into her within 24 hours. If you ladies out there have children you know what I mean when I say colostrum. Or if you have your own homestead you will know what I’m talking about here. For those of you still considering and learning, colostrum, not milk, is created for about three days or so. In sheep it contains lots of protein and a higher amount of fat than other species. The fat is important for lambs. The other really, really important part of colostrum is it contains the antibodies for common ruminant diseases. Lambs, kids, and calves can survive without it, but their chances of getting sick and dying due to lack of the antibodies to fight the infection is very, very high. All newly birthed ruminant animals need that colostrum for survival. On top of that, the ability to absorb the antibodies declines quickly after 24 hours. Therefore, it is imperative that the newborns get that colostrum immediately.
Once we made the decision to bottle feed the new lamb, we now needed the supplies. We have never really kept lamb colostrum on hand since we reduced our flock to a half dozen ewes. We picked the best moms and we’ve never had an abandoned lamb, as I said. I was aware that this stuff can be hard to come by for lambs. All kinds of calf colostrum which will do in a pinch. But the lambs really need the extra fat. That means I had to get on the phone and find some ASAP. The closest Tractor Supply that had some was an hour away. No problem, put everything else on hold, get in the car and make the trip.
I got back with the goods, fixed up a bottle for her and she drank it down in a couple of minutes. She is a really strong lamb and I think she will do fine. The other thing I needed to find was lamb milk replacer. Again, this formula needs to be made for lambs. The fat content of ewe’s milk is very high compared to cows or even goats. Fortunately, the Tractor Supply store that had the colostrum also had the lamb milk replacer. Phew. I got it all done. I feel pretty good about this little girl’s chances of survival. It was as flurry of activity, but that’s pretty normal for homestead life in the spring.
There is one more ewe still to give birth. Praying all goes well for her.
That’s about all I have time for in this podcast. It’s time to go bring up Cloud and make sure once again that Princess is being fed properly and we need to give Cloud some calorie treats daily as she needs to supply milk for two calves. I’ll feed and water the baby quail and get another bottle of colostrum ready for the ewe lamb. She will get fed at least three times a day for a few days. Then it will drop to twice a day for at least two months.
It’s all in a days work on the homestead.
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