EweTube: The Soay nursery as a way-station

By now regular readers know I am a firm believer in every shepherd fine-tuning the lore of how to manage his or her flock to suit farm layout and personal style. Nowhere in the life cycle of Soay sheep are there more variations on standard husbandry practices than in the management of newborn lambs.

Here at Saltmarsh Ranch, our lambs live in several different places before settling onto our pastures for the summer. Most of the lambs are born in the Maternity Ward, a large covered area with ample feeders and a lot of straw for the ewes to paw at in their efforts to create a “nest” in which to lamb. A few of the lambs are born with their mothers already in a jug, either because their mothers follow Steve into a jug in the early stages of labor or because they are twins we were not expecting (and thus had already jugged the ewe and her first lamb).

Once the lambs are 2-3 days old, or sooner if we run out of jugs in a lambing explosion, the ewe and her lamb(s) walk down a narrow aisle between jugs into what we call the Nursery, an area about 15 feet by 10 feet where several ewes and their lambs will stay for a few days before moving to our large sunny lamb pen with the older lambs and their moms. Just as the jugs are invaluable (in our experience) for avoiding lamb mixups, allowing the ewe and lamb to bond very tightly, and providing a calm and quiet place for Steve to work the lambs, so too is the Nursery an important second step, a somewhat protected area for several newborns to start socializing with other lambs, and for new mothers to learn appropriate levels of protectiveness towards their lambs (are you listening Patterdale?). A few days ago I sat in the Nursery watching the lambs sizing each other up as their mothers took a break to dig into the hay supply:

After another few days in the Nursery, or sooner if the pace of lambing results in Nursery overcrowding, we move the Nursery brats and their mothers up to the big lamb pen, a journey Steve has dubbed “On the Oregon Trail.” I’m not at all sure I can capture the essence of the trail drive on my pocket camera, but I’ll give it a try next time we move lambs.

For now …