This year’s lambs seemed to come all at once.   Week after week, our ewes were dutifully trundling to and fro between their paddock and the barn–oh yes, developing the distinct waddle,  udders growing incrementally, getting a little slower every day–but then, whoosh, it was all over.   New lambs peppered the floor, and the barn suddenly became rather crowded as the population tripled.   In this, our second year of lambing, we were decidedly less paranoid about the lamb vigil.  Our mothers had proven themselves as capable parents and we let them get on with what they did best.  Even Lucy, who stubbornly refused to even look pregnant, finally delivered surprise twins.   We were grateful that Ramien, in his last weeks, had quietly cemented his legacy here on the farm.

All colours and sizes.

All colours and sizes.

Once the lambs had their legs and mother-recognition circuits all correctly wired, it was time to introduce them to the outside world.  Now, my memory might be a little hazy, but I seemed to remember that training the little ones to make the 100 meter dash to the paddock was easy last year.   Last year, we shook some tantalising tidbits under the noses of the ewes and headed slowly out.   They followed me at a casual walk, and the lambs followed them.  Ditto for the return, and within a day or two, the new residents had the route down pat.  The ewes began to run along without me, and the lambs ran too, with the occasional mad pronking along the way, in case any predators were watching.  No problem.

We were forced to come to an unhappy conclusion when we witnessed the efforts of this year’s trainees: these lambs were not like those lambs.

At the emergence, chaos ensued.  Some ewes ran headlong to the paddock, remembering that grain was usually waiting there for them.  Lambs dazzled by the open sky and daylight stood befuddled, then shot left, right, forwards and backwards.  Some ewes hit the brakes halfway along and began an ungodly bawling of confusion and alarm, which made any lambs heading in their direction confused (and alarmed).   In the meantime, disappointed ewes who had made it to the empty outside feeder reversed course at equally high speed and shot full tilt past the lambs that had made progress homing in on their mothers’ voices.

On rainy Day Three of Operation Move-the-Lambs, after 40 minutes of trailing wayward youngsters through ponds, blackberry thorns, electric fences and stinking mud pits (yes, we have a few of those here), we finally managed to snatch the foreleg of the last stray and scoop him up.  Once plunked safely down in the paddock to join his nonchalantly chewing mother waiting under the large three-sided shelter, Pete had a revelation.  “You know,” he said, excavating some mud from his ear while I rubbed fruitlessly at the nettle rash forming on my wrist, “we could just build a new barn out of that shelter.  Then they wouldn’t have to run anywhere.”

A sheep barn disguised as a disused horse shelter

A sheep barn disguised as a disused horse shelter

It took just over a week to complete the transformation, entirely with free or discounted lumber we found on craigslist.   It’s solid, it’s dry, and it’s warm, and it’s actually slightly bigger than the converted one-car garage that served as the old sheep barn.  Now, why didn’t we think of this before?  I suppose because until we have a problem, we don’t look for a solution.  The sheep had been using that paddock with that shelter for nigh-on two years, but it hadn’t occurred to us that our system of housing needed improving.  And what a change.  Feeding time has been cut to minutes; we fill the feeders with hay and open the door.  Sheep pour out, walk two steps and are eating.   The lambs gambol about in this protected area, and come grazing time, we can set the electric nets around the gates and simply open them up.

It’s lovely.  And perhaps this change has made us see our farm with new eyes as we walk around for our daily chores.  What else can we work on to make our management–and our lives–a little easier?

Everyone where they should be.

Everyone where they should be.