By Liz Brownlee
It’s a girl. And a boy. And another boy. And — well, you get the idea: It’s “lambing” time at Nightfall Farm.
“Lambing” season is the time of year when ewes (mama sheep) give birth to fluffy, bouncy bundles of joy.
We helped with lambing season on farms that we worked on in Maine and Vermont, so we know the basics (how to care for expecting mothers and newborn lambs, how to watch for problems, etc.).
But this is the first lambing season on our farm. We are both nervous and elated.
These are the first babies to be born on our farm, and we can’t help feeling proud. For our first four years, we bought weaned young animals from other farmers (pigs are about 8 weeks old when we bring them to the farm, for instance). The fact that we’re ready to start breeding animals here means that we’ve come a long way:
First, it means that we’ve cleaned up the 1800’s barn that sits on our farm enough that it can house our ewes (mama sheep) in the winter. When we moved home four years ago, it was filled to the brim with piles that had amassed over the decades.
We’ve cleaned it up a little at a time (there’s still one section to go). We’ve found junk of all sorts — as well as lots of usable tools, lumber and even a high-quality hay wagon under all the junk. We’ve added a new roof and had a few corners jacked up (they were sagging after more than 100 years of service). We built a new fenced in paddock for animals to enjoy in winter, and dug in a drainage system to keep that paddock (and the barn) dry.
Starting to breed also means we’re feeling more confident about the health of our pasture. We’ve spent four years building up the health of our soil, and we’re starting to see progress. We’ll actually spend the rest of our lives working to improve and care for our soil throughout our farm, but our pasture is now healthy enough to support more grazing livestock.
Sheep are, after all, ruminants with four stomachs: This means that they can eat 100 percent grass and thrive. We can now grow enough grass and forage to support our sheep. Our plan is that, as our flock expands, we add additional and ever-healthier pastures.
For now, we can take pleasure in our bouncing lambs.
It’s been a joy to watch the mothers nursing and interacting with their lambs (cleaning them up, nuzzling them, calling for them to stay nearby, and snuggling up on chilly nights). The little ones are growing and strong. By the time grass is green, they’ll be ready to head to pasture and start grazing.
These first lambs feel like a clear indication that, while we still have a lot to learn, Nightfall Farm is headed in the right direction.
Liz and Nate Brownlee operate Nightfall Farm in Crothersville. Send comments to email@example.com.