Lambing in synch
Shepherd Lynne Deshler of Cedar Haven Farm oversaw the birth of 16 lambs in one week, due to a technique called estrus synchronization
The barn was clean, nine pens were prepared, the birthing supply cabinet was stocked, and helpers were scheduled to arrive.
Saturday, March 24, was the day Lynne Deshler's nine pregnant Shetland sheep were due to give birth-146 days after being bred on Oct. 30 last fall. Deshler was prepared for the birth of as many as 18 lambs.
Lambing season usually spans over a three-week period every spring at Cedar Haven Farm. But this time Deshler tried something new-something called 'estrus synchronization.'
'I was interested in trying to see if I could control the time when the sheep lambed so that I could arrange my work schedule more appropriately and have fewer sleepless nights,' she said.
So she established a calendar. On Oct. 15 Deshler inserted intra-vaginal sponges into nine ewes, which artificially induced ovulation. The sponges were removed Oct. 29, and 24 hours later the ewes were introduced to the rams, whose chests were slathered in yellow paddle paint. Within 90 minutes, all of the ewes had bright yellow backs.
'It takes a lamb 146 days to develop,' Deshler said. 'So if everything went as planned and all my sheep got pregnant on the first try, then 146 days later is March 24.'
On the morning of March 24, Deshler was already a bit sleep deprived. She made a few barn checks throughout the night. By 4 a.m. Opal was pawing: she was preparing a nest. The process had begun.
This is Deshler's 14th lambing season-she recognizes the signs of pre-birth. When Opal began bleating and looking back, Deshler knew the time was near: Opal was talking to her unborn baby. Deshler brought her tub of supplies into the pen, a mucus syringe, iodine, rubber gloves, lubricant, towels.
While Opal labored, three very expectant ewes stood in the shadows. Four white doves cooed in the rafters of the barn, and outside a rooster crowed and a turkey gobbled.
By late morning Opal delivered twins. The first one, Dahlia, weighed just under five pounds, and her brother, Dalton, weighed just under six.
At the end of the day, Lynne sat down to share her lambing experience with her friends through an e-mail journal. 'The plan was to have a bunch of my sheep lamb today on their 146th due date, but Opal is the only one who knows it was her due day. She had an easy, natural birth, she is a good mom. I am learning that synchronized breeding may mean that everyone is not synchronized to give birth on the same day, but instead synchronized to give birth the same week. I do anticipate all the lambs will be here by Wednesday,' she wrote.
On Sunday morning Twinkle gave birth to a little ram lamb, and a few hours later Hannah delivered twins.
But, on Wednesday morning, four more ewes were still awaiting birth. It was a busy day; six more lambs were added to the flock by evening, leaving one last pregnant ewe.
By Saturday, March 30, the last two lambs were born, two boys.
'My count now is 16 lambs, 12 boys and 4 girls,' Deshler wrote in her e-mail journal. 'Never in all the years that I have been doing this has there been such a lopsided ratio. A boy count of this magnitude will create a number of challenges as the upcoming months unfold.'
Deshler plans to keep one or two of the lambs, and will sell the rest. 'I like it when they can go to new homes as families (mom and her kids),' she said.
Some of Deshler's customers are other breeders looking for new blood lines for their flock. 'But most of my buyers are people who are living on small farms who want a few easy-to-manage friendly farm animals to enjoy,' she said. 'Sometimes they just want friendly lawnmowers, but often they want a nice fiber animal for their spinning and knitting interests. Many Shetland sheep buyers have small children and they want an animal that will be easy and safe for children to be around.'