Jugging with your blue gloves on

When I looked at the first draft of this post I nearly cancelled the whole blog in despair.  Nitrile gloves — now there’s a headline grabber.  If I did not lose you to generalized boredom, I was sure to lose you to a bad case of MEGO.

Then I remembered the “dance” I describe here, the task where the (blue) gloves come in so handy, is part of “jugging.”  All of a sudden I was no longer in the throes of writer’s block.  I was back at a 10th grade sock hop in rural Iowa, flailing to the sounds of “Devil with the blue dress on.”  Talk about random access.

Back to the Lamb Kit.

Nitrile gloves are the only equipment required for a task unique to the lambing phase –“jugging” the ewe and lamb.  Here is how jugging works and where gloves fit (oops) in the picture.  Stay with me and stop tapping your toes.  DWTBDO was a truly awful song and I’m sorry I brought it up.

A couple of weeks before lambing begins, we bring our pregnant Soay ewes up from the pasture to a fenced paddock named, in a fit of originality, the “Maternity Ward.”  The MW consists of a small area near the barn where we keep the ewes at night, and a surrounding area beyond that where they can graze during the day with our guardian dogs.  This setup allows us to keep close tabs on the ewes and quickly spot the newborns.  Having a small inner sanctum also allows the dogs to “patrol” the perimeter around the sleeping quarters at night.  The combination of scent and their physical proximity to the ewes is enough to ward off coyotes looking for dinner, a bigger problem for us when the tender baby lambs start arriving.

To be sure, the Maternity Ward is a bit crowded, especially at feeding time, and once a lamb is born, it can be stressful for the ewe, especially a first time mother, to keep track of and stay focused on her young one in the general chaos.  Now we (finally) get to “jugging.”

As soon as we discover a new lamb, we move the ewe and newborn to a “jug,” one of several 5′ x 5′ paneled areas within the Maternity Ward that are warm and and have dry fresh bedding straw.  Here the mother and lamb can be alone for the first 24 hours or so while the lamb learns its mother’s voice and smell (and vice versa), and here the gloves (finally) come in handy.

We want to avoid human scent on the lamb until it has bonded with its mom and the reciprocal “imprint” is firmly in place.  Steve wades right in, picks up the lamb with his gloves on, and starts the jugging “dance,” walking slowly backwards, holding the lamb low enough for the nearsighted ewe to follow closely, nervously licking at her lamb and usually gurgling and muttering a lot.  It takes just a couple of minutes to get them into the jug and is guaranteed to work as long as the ewe’s nose is close enough to smell the lamb.  This is one time when I needed a camera [note: in a later post on jugging, I did have one: check it out here]. There is no dance quite as odd as the 6-step the shepherd and the ewe perform in jugging.

After the ewe and lamb are safely ensconced in their jug, everyone relaxes and the ewe gets back to work cleaning and feeding her baby, savoring the relative tranquility until the next ewe/lamb pair displaces them.

Our gloves of choice are made of nitrile, rather than rubber.  Nitrile is much stronger and just as thin as rubber, so you also can wear them to do the fine work necessary to vaccinate, tag, or otherwise handle the lamb if you do not want to work bare-handed.  Nitrile gloves are easy to locate in the farm supply store or pharmacy.  They are the blue ones, disposable and inexpensive.

Oh yes, if you have nothing better to do in late March/early April, you are welcome to stop by the ranch and watch a demonstration of jugging with blue gloves on.  I probably do not have to tell you what 1966 “hit” tune by Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels will be  piped into the Maternity Ward to accompany the dance.

For now …

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  1. Jim says:

    Remembering that our veterinarian father used to say that, appealing as they were, sheep were — next to turkeys — doubtless the dumbest domesticated animals on earth, and primarily useful for converting grass and hay into wool and legs of lamb, I can well understand the difficulty of enticing a ewe off her maternal bed onto the dance floor to “do the jug.” That said, there might be an interesting research project to determine the off-setting effects of inspiration via the playing of Devil With The Blue Dress against the likely impact of the animals’ Attention Deficit Disorder. On the other hand, fitting the ewes with their own little iPods would be tough enough under any circumstances, much less in the Maternity Ward.