Well, it was a busy winter. We were lucky not to have any snow to talk of this year, and minimal cold weather. It left time to research and purchase 2 llamas to guard our sheep. On a mild January day, my daughter and I drove up to Germantown, NY and went to a llama farm. We analyzed the llamas there on their attitude, their mother’s characteristics and their fiber and picked one silky llama (aged 9 months) that we named Hercules and one suri llama (aged 15 months) that we named Atlas. We also learned a bit more about llamas which are most curious animals for sure!
They have a 12 month gestation and only carry one llama at a time. Hercules’ mother is 24 years old and had not had a cria (baby llama) in 12 years. They didn’t even know she was pregnant until he just appeared one day! Both boys took some time to settle in and despite our friends thinking that the llamas would spit at them the boys are quite the opposite, running from most people at the beginning.
Then, February 28 our first lambs were born to Maggie. Being her 4th time lambing it was a very short labor and she didn’t follow ANY of the textbook rules! Typically sheep will separate themselves from the flock to labor and show various signs. Maggie looked a little uncomfortable and then I went back to check on her a half hour later and there were two wet lambs right next to the big outdoor hay feeder, with the rest of the flock and llamas checking them out.
Her two ram lambs were strong and stood right away (sometimes they can take as much as an hour to walk). Getting them to nurse reliably, though, took a couple hours. Within a day Maggie fully bonded to her babies and if unknown people visited her in her lambing jug (a small stall where new mom and lambs can bond and rest for a week or two) she would call her lambs next to her and stomp her feet to show her displeasure at visitors.
After two weeks we returned Maggie and her lambs back to the flock. It was worrying at first since the smaller ram was not nearly as adept as his brother at finding ‘Mom’ in the flock. And there is some ‘laying of ground rules’ among all of the sheep with this process, involving a few good head-butts between Maggie and a couple other sheep. Little Dude (as we call him) would often find Atlas and hang out with him. The llamas were immediately protective of the lambs, even protecting them from the other pregnant ewes.
Now, four weeks later, they are extremely tolerant of these boisterous boys who delight in chasing each other around the pasture, using the lounging llamas as springboards. And Little Dude still enjoys sucking on Atlas’ back hair when he is lying down. Why? I don’t know.
So, on our farm we don’t need guard animals as we are deer fenced but the sheep will leave the farm for 6 months a year to graze in larger pastures and they will need protection from the packs of coyotes that range our hills and mountains here.
We currently have three more pregnant ewes that should deliver in the next few weeks. As I write this blog post I am checking the cameras we set up in the barn to monitor the lambing. These certainly make for exciting times!