Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Clip, dip, strip

Clip, Dip, Strip is a mnemonic that we use in the barn to make sure we remember to clip every lamb’s umbilical cord, to dip the stub of the cord into iodine and to strip the first milk from the ewe’s teats. I think most shepherds use something similar. Those first actions go a long way toward ensuring a new lamb’s survival.

We clip the umbilical cord to shorten it so it’s less apt to trail in the manure of the barn floor and pick up bacteria. We dip the stump to help it dry up faster and further protect the lamb from nasty bacteria. Lamb’s don’t start making their own antibodies for several weeks; they depend on the antibodies they receive through their mom’s milk. If they don’t have enough antibodies, or if the number of bacteria to which they are exposed are high enough, young lambs can develop fatal cases of diarrhea. And finally, we strip the ewe’s teats to make sure she has milk and to expel a plug of dried milk that might make nursing harder for the lamb.

All three of those actions help ensure a new lamb’s survival. With the mnemonic, they all get done even if the shepherd isn’t thinking in top form at all hours of the day and night. And we don’t, think in top form that is.

One night, before his 3 a.m. barn check, Dave sat on the edge of the bed for an embarrassing length of time, trying to figure out which opening of his sweatshirt he should put his right leg through. Sunday morning, I lay in bed telling myself that because it was daylight savings time, I could wait until 8 a.m. to do my 7 a.m. barn check. My reasoning made perfect sense. We were supposed to move our clocks one hour forward, so from seven to eight, and I hadn’t changed mine yet. The fact that I had been out in the barn until 2 a.m. with an old ewe and two new babies might explain why my brain wasn’t working quite right.

Last night, I was disappointed to find several sheep and a lamb outside at the feeders because I had hoped to lock them into the barn again. But it was really quite a mild night so I set aside the idea of herding them into the barn in the dark. As I headed back down the hill, the lamb followed me, crying. I picked it up and checked its number. 61. Hmm, that lamb should be still in a pen. But a ewe at the feeder called and the lamb responded. Then another ewe called and the lamb responded. Okay, I reconsidered, that was a 16 not a 61. I set the lamb down and he ran off towards the calling ewes.

I went to bed. This morning, I noticed that the lamb sleeping curled in the corner next to the waterer (a favorite place because the water heater warms that corner), was white instead of black number 45, the usual inhabitant. I checked to make sure it wasn’t 29, our sometimes bottle lamb, but the number showing on the tag was a one. So I went on with my barn chores, giving the penned moms fresh water and hay. I also checked to make sure that every baby in every pen stretched. When I got to 24 red’s pen, I paused, there was only one lamb where I expected to see two and the one lamb was tagged with the number 60.

My heart sank; I ran for the barn records. Yes, 24 red should have had two lambs, number 60 and number 61. I picked up number 61 from his spot next to the heater and put him in his mother’s pen. She sniffed him; he headed for breakfast. When I checked his belly a few minutes later, it was round and full.

If we can just think of mnemonics for the all the rest of our lambing actions – like “can” means “check all numbers”, or “slot” means “short leg openings = tshirt” we would have perfect lambings.

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