Starting from scratch
Newborn lambs vanish
Malcolm Graham with some new lambs at Oxbow Farm in Dublin recently.
New lambs at Oxbow Farm in Dublin frolick in some fresh hay in their stall. The two later escaped, never to be found again.
As soon as you tell someone you meet that you’re a farmer, they inevitably ask, “What do you raise?” I always answer that we have laying chickens throughout the year and in the summer we raise meat hens. Depending on the situation and how much time we have to talk, I will sometimes say that we have started to raise pigs and, provided they stay within their fencing, we will continue to do so. More times than not, the other person will always ask, “Are you planning on raising (something else)? If you did, I would buy some.”
This something else that they are seeking could easily be ducks, cows, goats, vegetables or even rabbits. There is no limit to what I have been asked to raise. At that point, I always get a little panicked on the inside and think, “Should I be raising or growing this product? Can I do it? Is there a need?” The pressure to be all to everyone is tremendous and some customers even seem disappointed when I don’t have available what they want at that moment. If I can think of another farmer in the area that has what they are looking for, I give them the information and send them on their way.
My husband, Farmer Jim, loves lamb, as in the stew, and therefore ordered a couple of lambs last fall for this spring. Our intent was to raise them for ourselves and then figure out if it was something that we wanted to continue and sell to our customers. And although I didn’t want to add to my to-do list here at the farm, I agreed to their moving in, with the knowledge that they would be helpful in keeping the brush down along the edges of the fields.
When the lambs arrived a few weeks ago, they were bigger than expected, but still cute. I was still picturing the cute newborn lambs that we saw at our friend’s farm a few months back. Our lambs were about 12 weeks old and just weaned from their mothers. One had the biggest eyes you have ever seen. It was almost unreal, like big glass eyes on a stuffed animal. The other looked so dopey with one ear up and the other ear down. It was love at first sight for my children. I think these were the first barn animals, besides the cats, that they could actually pet and cuddle, and were excited to see.
Because of my unfamiliarity with raising sheep, I was inspired in my writing and decided to write a blog, and eventually a book to document my learning and experiences.
After three days, I decided it was time to move the lambs outside, instead of keeping them in the barn.
In order for that to work successfully, we needed to train them to avoid the electric fence they would be confined by.
That meant, erecting the fence within a stable, confined area, and leaving the lambs there for a few weeks, until they learned that trying to get through the fence would cause mild discomfort.
One of our barn hands, Marika, and I spent a lot of time with that fence and a somewhat shorter amount of time trying to coax the sheep out to their new pen. Once there, though, they were pretty content.
The problem came later that night when I got a call from Marika, who was tending the farm as I watched my son’s baseball game a few towns away. The sheep were gone. As in vanished without a trace.
Marika has a lot of experience working with animals and had already looked for signs as to which direction they might have gone, but was unsuccessful in tracking them down.
I coordinated a drive home for my son and headed back to the farm to help with the search party. I enlisted the help of my neighbor, Sturdy, who knows the area around my house really well. He has also raised sheep himself, so I figured he would know what they would be looking for when they wandered off. It turns out that what they would be looking for are nice, green, open fields, which can be found in every direction from my house. We searched until it was too dark to see two black lambs in the woods.
And they have never returned.
I never heard any coyotes over the next few evenings, but a good friend said that was because they had a mouth full of lamb.
I have learned that you must always make sure your animals know where their food comes from, in case they do wander.
This usually takes a few weeks, but after that, hopefully, it will help them find their way home. The other lesson I learned was to make sure the gates on fences are shut and secure, so they cannot be maneuvered to facilitate an escape.
So my new book about lambs and sheep will have to be put on hold for the time being. I doubt it would be a best-seller with only one chapter.
Kim Graham lives in Dublin with her husband, Jim, and their two children. The couple hails from New Brunswick, Canada. This column chronicles their first-ever adventures in farming. For more about the farm, see www.oxbowfarmnh.com. She can be reached at email@example.com.