Right about now, we are waiting for the first lambs to be born. We are a couple of days away to be sure, but now is the time to get those final things ready.
So, what is the big deal? Just a few sheep having their lambs surely? Unfortunately, no, that is not usually the case. This year is a little different than other years: I’ll be working hand and hand with my husband who is not working due to Covid. In a normal year though, I am juggling caring for the home, being a mom, washing, cooking, caring for our poultry, caring for our dogs, doing school runs, homework and extracurricular activities along with those few (hundred) sheep having their lambs.
With so many balls in the air, it is easy to drop any or all of them – a little forward planning really helps out!
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Keeping the Farm Tidy
“Whoa, whoa, whoa” I hear you say, “You have to do housekeeping physically on the farm?!” Well, yes and no… there is no hoovering and polishing, but it is important to keep some semblance of order about the place. Discarded silage wrap and netting, are stowed separately away for recycling later on in the year and I seem to constantly be sweeping up the floors!
Everything has a place, and I try to keep putting things back where they are supposed to be. That way they are easy to find when needed, instead of wasting time searching.
Hay and straw on the ground can hide a multitude of trip hazards. Even fresh stuff (-perhaps it was dropped while feeding or bedding), its best to keep it off the floor of the shed so that I can see where I am going. If I am honest, I am the only one likely to trip and fall… I seem to have a knack for it: usually I don’t win out in a battle with misplaced air (no obstacle necessary!) and I end up crashing to the ground. So this one is partly my own selfishness coming through!
Only partly though! Remember that at peak lambing time, we’ll be in the shed 24/7, often with limited sleep. We all know how easy it is to be clumsy when we are tired and dragging our feet!
We usually keep a ‘dung’ pile outside each of the sheds which is frequently removed to our main dung stay. This means that any ‘sweepings’ or other stuff from the floor of the shed gets put outside, out of the way and keeps the place tidy. As an extra measure, I often will spread lime on the swept areas too. It probably doesn’t do any good, but it makes me feel better!
We have set up an area for scanning and weighing the lambs too. Each of them will need to be given ear tags that will hold all information about them. In fact, those ear tags will stay with them for their lives and hold all information that we input about them, including who their parents are, their weights, vaccines they receive and any other relevant information that we want to keep. This process is completed when they are a day or so old. I’ve also ordered the tags we need.
Quick Snacks in the Shed
Not knowing what lambing season will throw at us in any year, I have developed tactics for when we are physically in the shed too. We may get to go home for meals or we may not. I know that some years we have had stretches of days where we seem barely be able to complete the minimum of tasks needed!
Previously, my mother-in-law (who lives adjacent to the farm) was wonderful at supplying us with lunches and dinners at all times of the day and night. This year, we are trying to stay away from everyone due to the virus. Most of all, we do not want to contract it ourselves because we need to be keeping ourselves in top health to prevail through the season.
I used to stock the shed with sugary drinks and chocolate so that they would be there to grab and eat on the fly. I eventually realised that I for one was not eating these as needed but rather, as desired. It became a bit of a habit, dipping in and out of the ‘treat box’ and I ate far too much chocolate!
My latest strategy is to stock less empty-calorie treats. It can be argued that granola and cereal bars have just as much sugar as a bar of chocolate, but to me, they are not nearly as appetising. When I’m rushing around in the sheds filling buckets of water and checking on lambs, I need to be feeling actually hungry before it occurs to me to go find something to eat.
I also make sure to have tea, coffee and some noodles in pots on hand for when you are looking for something a little bit more or something hot at 3am in the morning!
Stocking the Freezer and Pantry
At this stage, my freezer is filled. Pasta bakes and homemade oven-ready dinners sit side by side
with store bought convenience foods like oven fries and pizzas. I also keep sliced pans of bread (great for late night sandwiches) and homemade bread in the freezer ready to be defrosted: it limits trips to the shop to get it fresh.
Last Autumn I was incredibly lucky to add a new pantry to our home… we sacrificed some of our garage space and now have plenty of room for the storage of our food stuffs. Our new larder freezer has been a wonderful addition and we also got a larder fridge too: cheese, milk and our other spare dairy items live in there and it means that I don’t need to do a ‘proper’ grocery shop nearly as often.
As for the non-perishable items? Yup, they live in the pantry too: lots of cereal (it is one of our go to snacks during lambing season), nuts and canned goods, along with tea, coffee and the like.
Keeping Our Home Warm
It seems a bit daft, but the only time we tend to have our heating set on a timer is during lambing time. I have come to terms with how wasteful it seems, because when you are coming in and out at strange times of the day and night, sometimes for an hour, sometimes more, stepping into a warm house makes it totally worth it. We make sure that the hot water is set to come on too.
During lambing season we are spending most of the time in sheep sheds. They allow air (wind) to pass through, because good ventilation is necessary for the sheep to stay healthy. It can be cold, damp and wet. Hours of sleep are often lacking. Clothes may be damp and the body may be thoroughly chilled. During the night the temperature is especially likely to be cold.
Now, think of stepping into a warm house, shedding your stinky, damp, soiled clothes, jumping into a hot shower and then putting on nice fresh clothes. Totally worth it. Every time.
Doing the Hard Thing
Keeping on top of housekeeping jobs like the washing clothes is a chore I struggle at regardless of what time of the year it is. I don’t know where all of the laundry comes from, I truly don’t. No sooner have I cleared the decks and put all of the clothes away, when I find another basket of dirty laundry or else we come home from a heavy day handling sheep and every single item of clothing that everyone is wearing needs to be subjected to a boil wash!
With a minimum of time available to spend at home, launching lambing season with the household in order really helps. It means that there is no backlog of washing etc. and it is easy enough to put on a wash every day and then bung it in the dryer.
Overall, the aim for this busy period is that the house can pretty much take care of itself with minimal input from me.
Preparing for Night Duty
It there are sheep to lamb, we are watching them all day and through the night. This year we haven’t made a plan yet for how we’re going to deal with the nights, because we’re not at that stage yet. It will come though!
In the meantime, the couch is loaded with cushions and blankets that are super snuggly and I always keep an alarm clock close by too.
I know I have mentioned previously that we have four large dogs. Well, those babies need feeding too and as they are New Zealand Huntaways, a large breed, it is important that I have a stash of dog food ready to go.
I have six large (15kg) bags of their nuts and have made up a large batch of the supplementary mix that we feed them and it is stored, portioned, in the freezer.
Their bedding has also been cleaned and their collars for our wireless fence are charged too.
Chicken and Quail Care
There is very little that I can do ahead for the birds… like the dogs, they need to be tended to daily. However, I have stocked up on their pellets and scratch and aside from day to day maintenance, my stores are ready to go.
I also set an alarm clock on my phone to remind me to lock them in at dusk… if they are not locked in at night, we risk losing the whole flock to a foxy invasion.
Medicines and First Aid
I always have a well-stocked medicine cabinet, both at the farm and at home, and I seem to have first aid kits all over the place: at home, in the tractor, on the farm etc. All are stocked and ready for all eventualities I can think of. Colds, sniffles, cuts, strains, aches and pains… I can combat them all at a moment’s notice!
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Of course lots of the preparations I have made are ‘just in case’, but with others it would be downright foolish not to have them in place. Lambing season, especially with as large a flock of sheep as we have, is a gruelling time of year and anything I can have ready to go in advance makes life easier and will reduce my stress levels!