Monday, April 2, 2012

The Running of the Lambs

We tried something new last night - we had heard that March is lambing season here in Montana and just this year we heard there was a ranch in town that opens up to the community for these few weeks so you can feed the sheep and visit the new little babies (and learn about sheep ranching overall).
We decided to try going out there, despite Clara's sometimes-worry about larger animals in her face.  It was a good sign that one of the sheepdogs came right up to greet Elena and Clara and was so sweet - it really started us off on the right foot.
Also while we were waiting for the sheep we met this one-horned goat (or unicorn goat, as Christina liked to call it.  Possibly this angered the goat population, as the next thing she knew a goat was eating her hair and trying to pull her backwards, but that might have had nothing to do with the nickname).
The first step in learning about sheep was to feed them - everyone got buckets of these protein pellets and put them in cut-up tires.
You can see some of the older lambs in the background here, becoming interested in what's going on.
Why is Clara covering her ears?  Well, the lambs can get through the fence to this food, but the mother sheep can't.  They bleat for their babies (and probably are telling them to lay off the food and get back in the pen!) at an astoundingly loud level!
Then we all put our kids on our shoulders as they commenced the running of the sheep:
And they're approaching:
While the mother sheep are out eating one of the rancher picked up the baby lamb that had been born just in the fifteen minutes we'd been waiting to feed the sheep, and took him to the warming huts.
We put out more food for the sheep.
And gazed at the ones who had finished eating.  It's funny to see how they eat this hay (there is a better picture later).
Clara loved petting some of these older lambs who were wandering about.
Then, while the mothers were finishing their food it was time for the running of the lambs!  The lambs are not running for food - they just open the gate (that they could get through anyway) and the lambs practice running around - apparently they get good endorphins from running in a herd like this, and they like to play at it!
Then we started our tour of the lamb barns - here is one of the warming huts where the tiny lambs go.
And here is the way they mark the mother sheep and their babies, to keep straight who goes with who.  Apparently they only really want to be in their own mother/baby pairs, but sometimes get separated from one another.
Here's the funny way they eat the hay!  The bigger sheep tunnel these holes as they munch, and then sometimes the baby lambs crawl in and sleep in them!
Elena, future rancher, and the warming hut.  While Clara liked this expedition, Elena LOVED it and was confident and excited and invested and told us she was going to start taking care of the sheep (ranching) when she turns six.  And, she told us she likes getting her boots muddy - a good quality in a rancher!
Look at this girl's pride.

And look at Clara beam! She found it a little tougher to hold the lambs, and liked directing them around a bit more (and playing with the other kids) but when she got ahold of this lamb she was just in heaven!
Steve, instructing Elena on how to support this lamb.
And Elena letting the lamb nibble her boots.  Christina told Elena she could move the lamb away, but Elena replied: "No, don't.  That little lamb can do anything she likes."
Who's that little lamb in the warming hut now?  Oh, it's Clara!
One last cuddle for the night for Elena:
And one last one for Clara.  When the rancher picked this one up from Clara he made a point of telling her that this was a particularly heavy lamb and she had done a great job holding him.  That definitely made her night.
We love living in Montana!

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