Monday, 19 August 2013

Tough Decisions

I was out walking the property we are looking after for friends on Saturday morning, and to my surprise one of the ewes had lambed.  I say surprise because the instructions we received when we arrived said they weren’t due for a month, plus there was not one, or two, but three lambs, all belonging to one mother.  All three looked like they were trying to feed from mum, and we brought them into the paddock close to the house so that we could keep an eye on them.  The next morning, however, it became apparent that one of the lambs was not strong enough to feed on his own, and that if left on his own would probably die.  He could barely walk a few feet without laying down, and didn’t have the strength to get to the mother and feed while competing with two siblings for her two udders.

Two of the triplets
We had a tough decision to make.  Learn to bottle feed him, with all the work required in doing it every 4 hours, or leave him to die.  If it was our animal, we would probably have left it to die, as the genetics of the natural survivors are stronger, and the cost of sheep-milk replacer doesn’t really justify it ($60 for the powder, $70 to actually buy a lamb).  Plus the owners of the farm said they were not going to be upset if he died.
Tough decision time for this guy
We decided to bottle feed him.  This isn’t our farm and that is not our animal.  Our job isn’t to make the decision whether to let it die, it is to do our utmost to ensure every single animal is alive when they get back, regardless of how much work is required.  It is our responsibility, nothing less.

Getting the lamb used to drinking from the bottle
And the little bastard has responded marvellously.  Some borrowed goat colostrum from Matthew next door (sheep can digest it), fed every 4 hours over Sunday and Monday, and the little guy was running about the house this morning, sprawling all over like Thumper on ice (apparently wooden floors aren’t that grippy for cloven feet).

We gave him a feed in the morning, and then put him in the paddock with mum so he can hang with his siblings.  We didn’t expect the ewe to take him back, and she was knocking him around whenever he tried to follow his instincts and feed from her.  But she must have caved at some point, because we came back in the afternoon and wouldn’t you know it, there he is, drinking from his mum, like nothing at all had happened.  He was a different lamb to the one we brought in on Sunday, running around and playing with the other two.  After a bit more watching it seemed like the ewe wouldn’t always let him feed, so we decided to keep up the bottle feeding.

One of the lambs may still die (they will always grow slower than a single lamb), but it won’t be because we didn’t try to keep them alive.

The other tough decision surrounds the house/land hunt.  So many options, and so many possibilities.  We don’t know what business we would want to setup, which means that we are trying to buy a place that gives us the greatest number of possible businesses.  So do we take a place with an established orchard with some sheds that requires tree removal to create pasture and a house-site, or a blank-slate of pasture with a few sheds that is an hour from Hobart?

Each of these would lend themselves to a great business: the orchard property could support pigs, farmstays and farm gate sales; the blank slate could run pastured beef and poultry and farmstays.  But which would be better?  As I said, tough decisions…..

Cor and the agent walking around the orchard property

Just part of the orchard

The Buff Orpington rooster where we are farm sitting
And finally, a Muscovy drake, a great duck for eating

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