Chief farmer Jackie, her parents, and Dev attended Lamb camp! Invited by their friend, Martina, a third generation lamb rancher in Prosser, WA, Jackie and Dev got an insider’s look into lambing.
Martina’s camp houses 5,000 sheep, as well as acres of cattle ranching and orchards. Her brothers, sisters, nieces, and nephews work to make this family business thrive. Their sheep graze several pastures and some national parkland around Eastern Washington. For months, Spanish and Peruvian vaqueros move with the herd—it’s cool to think that some traditions haven’t changed!!
Around early February, thousands(!) of pregnant ewes are moved to the Prosser lamb camp where they are kept in large pens and watched carefully by several roaming workers.
Once an ewe gives birth, her lambs are grabbed up (rather unceremoniously, Jackie added) and moved to a small pen with the mom eagerly trotting along behind. Both mom and baby are monitored to ensure that a bond is made and feeding goes well.
Don’t panic—this lamb isn’t dead! This is how the vaqueros transport the lambs and ewes to their new pen.
Here’s a fun fact: most ewes give birth to twins! Occasionally, a triplet, single, or (sadly) stillborn occurs. Because sheep only have two teats, it is common for one of the triplets to get bullied out and thus not get enough milk to survive. If a triplet or stillborn occurs, the farmers will use two kinds of adoption methods to ensure the survival of the new baby and the happiness of the ewe—a win-win for all!
Wet Adoption: This type of adoption requires careful management and timing. If the lamb is a stillborn, the farmer will keep the ewe pinned down so that she never discovers her biological lamb. The farmer will then cover an orphan or triplet lamb in the birthing fluids. Once the ewe smells the adopted lamb and believes it to be her own, the farmers will release the ewe to bond with her new adopted lamb.
The second kind of adoption is Twinning Adoption, and can be riskier.
If an ewe has already bonded with a lamb but that lamb has died, they will attach the skin of the dead lamb and place it on an orphan or triplet runt lamb (think sweater vest!). This “twin coat” remains on the lamb for 24 hours. If the ewe rejects her new lamb, she will not allow the lamb to drink her milk.
After a few days, the bonded ewes and lambs are slowly moved to larger and larger pens until the whole group is ready for the open pasture. By mid-June and July, the lambs are ready for processing. This process used to occur in Ellensberg, but since that facility closed down several years ago, the lambs are sent by train or truck to Colorado and California to be dressed!
A shout out to Martina for an amazing field trip!