We’ve started lambing and there’s a Basco Béarnaise !

New-born lambThe days just seem to fly by at the moment. There’s a lot of everyday things going on and like farmers all over France, we’ve loads of paperwork to do this month, then on exactly the date we predicted, the sheep started lambing.

I like it when they lamb early in the year because we have them all inside in the warmth and out of danger. When we let them lamb outdoors there are often mishaps when, for example a new mother abandons her new-born lamb in the field or a fox or badger takes a lamb.

new born lamb with yellowThere’s not a lot to eat in the fields anyway and it’s been bitterly cold and windy out there for the past few days.
We’ve some good hay, mineral and vitamin licks and a ration of cereal for each new mum and being closer to them at the moment makes them less scared of us and easier to manage if there are birthing or feeding problems.

We have a lot more water harvested from the roof this year which the goats and sheep seem to prefer to tap water and we keep the storage close to the shed, in a warm area and so they’re less likely to freeze, which cuts down a lot on the work of smashing ice and carrying kettles of hot water. The new mothers drink an amazing amount of water ! All in all it’s easier and more comfortable for us and them and as we can hear what’s going on in the shed from the house it’s certainly more reassuring.

I’m excited because we’ve had a lamb from one of our Basco Béarnaise ewes. He’s a strapping lad and huge despite the size of his sire – a small but obviously very capable Cameroon ram.

She’s not a terribly good mother which is not a bad thing in some ways. It means we can feed the wee fella a bit ourselves and take some of her milk for tea and for making cheese and I’ll feel a lot less guilty about the whole thing.

We’ve one lamb in the kitchen who we needed to warm up and feed quickly because his mother totally rejected her. The poor wee thing chose the worst spot ever to curl up in and got chilled and when we tried to get her to suck the colostrum from the ewe she was already too weak.

We milked off some colostrum and gave it to her gently in drops from a syringe and she licked and swallowed.

She finally got a bit more strength after she was warmed up and with a bit of help from our Dachshund Bonnie who is a real star and licks lamb’s bottoms to stimulate them to pee and feed just like the ewe does. Thanks to Bonnie, the lamb’s sucking reflex started working and she’s now taking tiny amounts from a baby’s bottle and is slowly walking around the kitchen this evening.

The little thing isn’t completely OK yet but we’re hoping she’ll recover and make a strong wee lamb.

Latest lamb – small but perfectly formed

We have a few young ewes due to lamb soon so we’re keeping our eyes peeled regularly on the field in front of the house since the flock have gone outside on to the new grass.

The sheep turn their noses up at hay now and we’ve almost stopped feeding supplements as both the ewes and the lambs are looking pretty chunky but the yearlings who are pregnant still need a bit extra so we’re getting pretty good at slipping some corn and lucerne nuts in front of them and they’ve started to become used to a discreet treat.

This teeny weeny little lamb was born yesterday. She’s the smallest lamb I’ve ever seen and when we saw her at first we thought she might be premature.

On closer inspection, we saw her little feet are hard and you can feel her teeth and today she’s running after her mum and screams her head off when she’s lost. She’s pretty normal for a day old lamb really.

We’re almost at the end of our terrible foot-rot problem. Seven of our goats still have a slight limp and I still have a slightly sore back but we’re getting there.

Clearing up after the storm and almost the end of lambing

We had a really bad storm in Europe this week and although the Dordogne wasn’t too badly hit, it’s given us a lot more work to do and the animals are stressed and jittery. There wasn’t any damage to our buildings but a few trees have fallen on the fences and in the veg garden and we’ve been collecting debris, cutting up trees and mending fences for the past two days.

Some people in Bourrou still don’t have electricity and of course we’ve had a lot of visits from people who need to borrow lighting, ‘phone EDF or contact family and friends in other parts of France which are suffered badly after the high winds and flooding.

The weather has made working outside difficult for us some weeks now, first the bitter cold and winds then snow. Now we have rain almost every day. In the morning we put the sheep out in warm sunshine then it starts raining and we have to go and get them back in again.

The changeable weather doesn’t matter too much when the sheep don’t have lambs, they’re hardy enough to decide for themselves whether or not they want to come in but I don’t like to think of the little ones outside on the damp grass because it’s still quite chilly here and lambs can go downhill quickly if they get too cold. That’s one of the reasons we like to keep our sheep inside for lambing but they do get bored and there’s a risk of footrot if the bedding gets damp from constant use and of course there’s a higher incidence of external parasites.

Thankfully, all the births this year have been trouble-free and the lambs are up on their feet and looking for food within minutes. We’ve had no problems at all with new mothers and every lamb has a ewe and plenty to eat, so they’re growing fast. Although it’s nice bottle feeding lambs the powdered milk is expensive and not as good as the ewe’s milk and after having done it for a few years, early in the morning and late into the night, the novelty soon wears off !

To begin with we had just single births which seemed a bit strange but in the past few days we’ve had three sets of twins – two within an hour of each other.

We had a problem with one lamb of the second set born yesterday who wouldn’t stay with her mother and kept going over to another ewe when she called for her twins. We put her with her mother who then rejected her but we persisted and the problem seems to have been resolved. Yesterday evening the ewes had worked out which lamb belonged to which mother – as you can see in this video.

Cameroon sheep cross lambing is in progress !

I’ve taken a break from blogging for a while to concentrate on other things but I can’t resist showing you some photos of some of our lambs born this month. They are from our sheep who are a mixed bunch of “normal” girls crossed with our Cameroon ram. We decided to try this cross because last year we had a surprise lamb who was a Cameroon cross and he grew fast and was extremely hardy – out in all weathers yet big boned and heavy like his mother. This might not be the most appropriate time to say this but the meat was wonderful !

That’s him in the middle of the photo at about five months. His sire is the brown strange looking horned ram top left. We inherited most of our sheep from Fabrice’s family and we kept a small herd going of about thirty through a period of some very low lamb prices. We’ve chosen new rams to improve the conformation and increase the hardiness of the flock as the summer grass has been affected by the droughts we’ve been having for the past few years and winters seem to be getting colder.

Now our lamb is selling well locally and it’s very nice when the work involved in keeping them is rewarded with a decent regular income.

We’ve had the Cameroon sheep for a few years. They’re easy to manage, out in all weathers and graze contentedly where there doesn’t seem to be a lot for them to eat. We decided to leave the Cameroon ram with all the ewes.

Unfortunately, we have Blue Tongue disease in France and were obliged to have our sheep vaccinated early in their pregnancy. We’ve had a lot of miscarriages, so many of our ewes aren’t going to have lambs at what is (for us) the best time of the year when they are inside on straw because of the weather and easy to keep an eye on.

So far we’ve had six lambs, all easy births, all fine healthy lambs who fed easily and quickly as soon as they were on their feet but all singles – which is a bit of disappointment because we normally have a lot of twins and sometimes even triplets. Still, the lambs are beautiful chunky wee things and we should have some more later on in the season.

Fabrice and one of our new Basco Bearnaise lambs

We got these sheep as a gift from two women farmers from the Pyrénées who came to Bourrou several months ago with the promise of taking over a farm from a retiring farmer.

They packed and stored their belongings and transported their tractor and farming equipment along with with their herd of 150 pregnant sheep on to their newly rented farm, hoping to start commercial milk production in the spring of this year.

After two months and for reasons known only to himself, the farmer changed his mind, sold his barn and rented his land to someone else. Threatened with expulsion, the girls had no choice but to dry off their ewes, keep the herd off the spring grazing and keep them inside in cramped and unhealthy conditions for several weeks while searching for somewhere to put them.

In desperation, they came to ask for our help and fortunately we found them enough land and a barn on an exploitation just a few kilometres from their temporary accommodation near our farm.

Basco Bearnaise lamb's faceThe girls have managed to sell some adults in their herd and almost all the lambs have gone for meat but these two little females from exceptionally good stock were bottle fed and it seems criminal to kill them.

They are big lambs – these two are just over two months old and, with a strange “Roman” face and a good appetite for milk! (We’re still bottle feeding for a while to get them used to us.)

The Basco Béarnaise originated in South West of France, they’re a good all-round breed and give milk for cheese, meat and wool and they’ve been designated a HERITAGE breed.

Heritage Sheep Breeds (HSBs) are defined as genetically distinct, geographically concentrated and adapted to their environments.
Basco Bearnaise lamb from the sideTypically, these sheep breeds are “local” breeds, traditionally farmed for commercial use and play an important role in the culture and rural economy of the regions in which they are managed.

Heritage Sheep Breeds are already used to support the environmental and economic sustainability of local rural communities and may reasonably be expected to become even more significant in agriculture in the community as low input farming systems are prioritised. In addition, with the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), breeds such as HSBs that are environmentally adapted to their local geographical regions will become even more important given the de-coupling of subsidies from production, with increased focus on the environmental status of agricultural holdings.

We’ve called the very white one Juliette and the bigger one Coco and we’re hoping they’ll do well enough to provide us with milk for cheese next year, I’ve already started Googling for recipes !

We’ve just had a surprise lamb “thanks” to the Cameroon Ram !

His mum is one of ewes from our flock which has just finished lambing.

Unfortunately she was mauled by a dog when she was only a few weeks pregnant and she lost her lamb. We brought her up nearer the house to cut around the wounds and clean them up and it was more convenient for us to keep her up here to dress the sores and make sure that she wasn’t bothered by flies.
Cameroon sheep
We put her in the same field as our Cameroon sheep and we didn’t think she’d come into season for a while yet because she was in such a sorry state.

Well this little fellow is the result ! He’s a first cross we’ve had with our Cameroons and he is really very pretty with a good strong body and lovely soft curly hair.

Cameroon sheep cast their wool and don’t need shearing. They are very hardy and are out in all weathers (by choice) and help us to clean up the land after the Angora goats have been on it. It will be interesting to see what happens to his fleece if we decide to keep him for a while.

Surprise lamb - a cross with a Cameroon Ram

We got the corn harvest in this weekend

Normally, we just fill the dryer with a bit left over, but this year because of all the rain everyone in the village is really pleased with their crops and we’re all trying to find suitable containers to store and dry the corn so that it lasts well all year.

We use the same machines all round the village, going from field to field loading the wagons, then one by one we get our corn dryers filled. The men work together with several tractors pulling all the different machines needed to do the job. It’s very exciting and a good crop like this means we don’t have to spend money buying in expensive feed for our animals.

We use the corn for feeding our pigs, sheep, goats and poultry and the local wild birds do very well on it too ! We also swop the corn for other cereals like barley and wheat with our neighbours.

We give the whole cobs to the goats and pigs and they have to work to nibble the corn off. We have a hand machine to grain the corn for our sheep and poultry and we’ve a neighbour with an electric machine who’ll do a load for us when we visit him.

I’ve gathered in most of my Indian sweet corn which I planted in the potager, it’s a good crop too although about eight of the cobs were attacked by a mushroom and disfigured. In France this is considered a “maladie” called “Charbon” and the corn is worthless. I was really disappointed and showed the corn to my Flickr friend Podchef (Now there’s a man who can cook!) and he suggested that it was a highly prized delicacy in Mexico called Huitlacoche !

Huitlacoche [wee-tlah-KOH-cheh]
Mexican Corn Truffle
Huitlacoche (also spelled cuitlacoche) is a fungus which grows naturally on ears of corn (Ustilago maydis). The fungus is harvested and treated as a delicacy. The earthy and somewhat smoky fungus is used to flavor quesadillas, tamales, soups and other specialty dishes.

Fortunately, I didn’t give Peggy all the “damaged” cobs, so I’m going to try cooking with the Hiutlacoche and see how it tastes. Fabrice will never eat it – I just know…

Here are the four cob colours I got from last year’s saved seeds and I want to keep as many as I can of the best from this year for planting on a bigger patch next year.

4 cobs all different

Hay making, tagging and dagging, sheep shearing and the vet

The time’s passed so quickly over the past week or so.

This is the latest we’ve ever made hay – it’s quite nerve wracking waiting for the rain to go off. We were lucky and got the hay cut, turned and baled on the only two consecutive dry days this month.

We’ve also been waiting for the shearer for our sheep – he finally came this morning, and in the afternoon the vet came to take the yearly blood samples from the goats and sheep. If only he’d come in the morning the sheep would have been easier to catch !

We’ll sleep well tonight.

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