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The first three days of weaning are a fierce competition between Lisa Schmidt’s fences and a lamb’s determination. Each sunrise, Schmidt finds out whether she is winning or not.

Pondering Weaning Lambs

Every morning when I open the corral gate, my flock of sheep flows out as if I turned the faucet on. 

A lamb might kick up its heels as it passes the gate, a little bunch might climb the manure pile for a quick view, but where one goes, they all go. 

So when I glanced up and spotted a ewe lamb standing still, intently gazing across the pasture while the rest of the sheep rounded the barn out of sight, I knew something was awry. 

Most of my sheep are relatively docile, but they are not pets.

As I stepped toward the lamb, she didn’t move. 

She couldn’t.

Her head was stuck in the woven wire fence. 

I bent her ear back and tugged back on her neck wool. 

She turned her head, took one look at me and bounded through the corral gate. 

That night, when I brought the sheep back to the corral, the same lamb missed the open gate. She went to the wrong side and found herself in the pinched funnel of the gate and the fence.

She has only been walking through this gate every night for her entire life. 

She barreled into the unyielding horizontal pipes blocking her progress, managing to stick her head and one front leg through the gaps in the gate. 

I bent her head slightly and tugged backward on her neck wool. 

She turned her head, took one look at me and bounded straight into the woven wire fence. 

I bent her head slightly and tugged backward on her neck wool. 

Into the metal gate she charged, this time managing to get her right front foot and her head all the way through the gate. 

Her left front foot contorted between two metal rungs.

In a tensile strength battle between metal and bone, her bone would lose.

I reached down, twisted her leg just enough to release it from the bind and tugged on her neck wool. 

A person would think familiarity would lead to a lower level of panic, but that was not to be. 

The lamb plunged harder into the gate, apparently sure that the 12-inch space was plenty for her 90-pound bulk to squeeze through. 

After all, a couple of months ago, she would have slipped easily through those bars. 

With a bit of shoving, it was. 

She joined the flock. 

And created a dilemma for me. 

This ewe is a nice lamb, one that at a quick glance would pass the test to become a replacement for older cull ewes in my flock. 

She has no particular feature to distinguish herself from the other potential replacement ewes. 

As she disappeared into the flock, I wished I had marked her while her head was stuck in the gate. 

A couple of days later, my daughter, Abby, and I weaned all of the lambs.

The good mothers bleated over and over, searching for their offspring.

Others sauntered out to the pasture to graze, relieved. 

As Abby directed the flock through the chute and I swung the sorting gates, the lambs seemed to realize this separation might be difficult. 

Several attempted to jump over the sorting gate.

A few even made it.

As those escapees mingled with the ewes, using the age-old strategy of disappearing into the mob, I pulled out my yellow twine.

My neighbor, Don Sporleder, taught me how to maintain control of kicking, wiggling masses of two-thirds of my weight. 

I hooked each lamb with my sheep hook, then Sporledered it -- looping the twine around a hind hock. Each lamb ran in place as I tugged on the twine, backing the lamb to the gate without a single scratch from a hind hoof. 

Then I glanced through the pen at the rest of the newly-weaned lambs munching on alfalfa.

The ewe lamb with the undersized perception of herself had her head stuck in the fence. 

Lisa Schmidt raises grass-fed beef and lamb at the Graham Ranch near Conrad. She can be reached at L.Schmidt@a-land-of-grass-ranch.com.

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