so.. umm… this is my life.
My hands are strong, callused, and rough to say the least. I’m not ashamed of them. Their strength allows me to do many things that many women can’t or won’t do. My hands have pulled unborn lambs/goats/calves from the womb into the world. They have moved countless hay bales. Carried thousands of joints of hand line. Pounded posts into the hard earth and completed countless other tasks. Hands are amazing to say the least. Think about all the things you can’t do without your hands… yeah the list is practically endless.
Here is the catch 22 for women in agriculture…
This is no joke. At least half of the things that I do while working on the farm or ranch involve getting dirty. I don’t shy away from getting dirty. Though there are times that I really want to have pretty nails like those awesome ones on Pinterest. Yes there is yet another unattainable standard for women. Its unfortunate. You can’t have beautiful perfectly polished nails if your hands are constantly dirty. In all seriousness perk/problem it really just depends on the day, where I’m going, and what I’m doing.
Whats a granny ewe you ask? Did you like how I tossed ewe and you in the same sentence…. bet that was a little confusing for a minute. Anyways a granny as we call them are ewe’s that may or may not have lambed that decides to claim or STEAL someone else’s lamb(s). Nearly every rancher has a love/hate relationship with the granny. They are so darn convenient when you have a bum lamb… but you hate when they take others lambs without being promoted to momma status. Most of the flocks at the university have been around a while and all of the grannies in each have been identified.
We recently acquired thirty new crossbreed ewes for a research project starting this fall. My boss being the economical man that he is wouldn’t let them sit idle and burn hay for nine months before the project started… so we bred the ewes for replacement lambs. Now I liked this idea! We get replacements, the ewes produce a few others to sell, and we get the chance to find out what kind of mothers they are before we implant Zillion dollar clones into them. (zillion is an exaggeration).
Fast forward to five months or so later and we are discovering exactly what kind of mommas we have on our hands. Many of the ewes are great they follow you in the barn happily, are attentive mothers, and only one has come up with a bad bag. (meaning she has no milk) Until last night, when I got in a no joke “fight” with a ewe that had already lambed because she stole another ewes lamb. She tried to eat me when I picked the little guy up. I swatted at her, this typically will deter most from attempting push their way back into the equation. In her case it seemed to fuel her need to get the lamb back. We shared words… her in the form of blaa’s and grunts.. I in the form of curse words. Until I could escape the pen with the rightful mother and both of her lambs. Foolishly I thought that the worst of it was over….
Once in the barn with the new mother and her lambs in their own private pen I discovered the worst. Since the granny had claimed and fed the lamb it smelled like her and the “real” mom was rejecting her lamb. When I say rejecting I mean she was stomping her lamb into the ground and pushing it away from its sibling. In a situation like this there are a few things you can do. 1) take the rejected lamb away and let it be a bummer 2) attempt to trick the mom into thinking she just gave birth to a new lamb or 3) drag the granny inside and make her take care of the rejected lamb. I chose to go with option number two. I placed the mothers head into the head stall so that she couldn’t get to the lamb and then proceeded to rub it against its sibling and rub it with after birth. Once momma was released she licked down the lamb and ate the placenta off of it. (yes sheep started the trend long before Kim K) She let the lamb nurse and I went home.
This morning when I arrived at the barn the mom had decided to reject the lamb again. Why is beyond me because she was pretty lovey dovey with it before I left the night before. It’s one of the most frustrating/ hard to understand things when a mother does this. None of us like to take care of bummer lambs; when you have 450+ sheep and goats to take care of its difficult to justify having a bum lamb to add to the list. Dave decided that we should see if the granny ewe would take the lamb back. She only had one lamb to begin with and was more than capable of feeding two lambs. When we brought her into the barn she instantly pushed her way to the abandoned newborn. She now is the happy mother of not one but two lambs.
Whats the moral of the story? Its that granny sheep are a giant pain in my butt… I personally dislike them. I appreciate that she stepped up to take care of the lamb. But we wouldn’t need her to if she would have just mined her own business to begin with!
Do you like my play on the apocalyptic idea of armageddon? Lamb-ageddon is when you have a huge wave of lambs being born; typically on a weekend, late at night, in the middle of a snowstorm/rain/or any other crappy weather. You never have enough jugs (pens) to put the ewes and their lambs in because 15-20 ewes will lamb in 48 hours. Yeah just about every rancher has at least one massive wave of births in a short period of time during their lambing/calving season. It happens with most species of livestock and some other wild animals. For example Wildebeest will commonly cycle so that all of their calves are born in a three week period after the rains come. Why do they do this? Because if they all give birth at once the predators will be overwhelmed and won’t be able to eat as many of the babies. Why do sheep do this? Same reason… except I believe that they do it to overwhelm us! Most livestock animals are seasonally polyestrous which means that they come into heat only one time a year and they generally cycle together, this allows them to have all their babies pretty much at once. Evolutionarily and genetically this is what our animals are programed to do. We as ranchers prepare for this as much as possible.
Now I know that our lamb-ageddon is coming; we have only had one or two ewes lamb a day for the past week. That would be about average if we didn’t have 40 more ewes in the teaching flock that are due to lamb in the next 5 days…. do the math… its not going to be good. On top of the 40 that haven’t lambed we also have another 90 ewes in the Callipyge project due to start lambing on Monday. How am I going to prepare for this? Coffee, lots and lots of coffee. Maybe a little bit of red bull. To be honest there isn’t a whole lot that you can do to prepare… you keep the barn clean, extra feed on hand, and tackle the population explosion head on.
I live for lamb-ageddon. If there is one thing that I am very good at its managing the chaos that emerges when animals are giving birth. I’m the kind of person that thrives in the midst of chaos… it is one of my strong suit… and let me tell you lambing is complete and udder insanity!! Jugs need to be cleaned, lambs tagged, bum lambs fed, ewes fed, and there is always the occasional case of mastitis. Mastitis for those of you that don’t know is an infection of the mammary glands; it can be quite painful and requires antibiotics. Where was I? oh yes, I’m a rockstar at being a sheep birthing coach/nurse/doctor. So lamb-agedon may be exceptionally stressful, cause me to loose a week of sleep, and push me to my limits but I can handle it.
Well ladies and gentlemen it has begun, Lambing season, my most loved/hated part of the year. One of the Universities newly purchased Merino ewes gave birth yesterday morning (I know I’m a day late and a dollar short) outside in our balmy 17 degree weather. The lambs weren’t outside long enough to dry off and quickly adjusted to life with a heat lamp.Being born at Utah State University Sheep and Goat Unit has its perks, like the Aggie Blue coats that keep them warm!
How many girls do you know that can pack two 50 lb bags of grain? Well I can 🙂 I’m quite proud of the fact that I can lift and or drag just about anything within reason. Ive been told quite frequently that women don’t belong working in agriculture, especially in jobs that require hard manual labor. This notion is completely absurd to me… its what I grew up doing and its what makes me happy. Working with animals and knowing that I can do just about anything that the guys can do makes me feel empowered.
Stomping wool, the old fashion way. In a gunny sack at the 4-L Packas Farm. (AKA my grandparents house) May 2013
To much pressure is put on young women these days to be dainty, super feminine, and look like the girl on the cover of vogue. For example the “thigh gap”. What the hell is up with all this “thigh gap” garbage? I don’t want a thigh gap… ladies lets quit killing ourselves to get a thigh gap… go have yourself a hamburger its good for you, it will also support our nations beef industry. Who decided that thigh gaps where the thing? Now I’m not saying that if you have a thigh gap your an emaciated person that doesn’t know what real food is, I’m just saying that we as women shouldn’t feel like we have to fit into a mold that someone else has made for us. I won’t ever have a thigh gap… I don’t really have the body type for one, nor the desire to work that hard to get something so insignificant. Seriously though I have big hips, big boobs, and I’m no size two. I would rather work towards my goals of being healthy, getting into Vet. school, and traveling the world.
Why not give up the absurd goal of looking like a french model and work towards a meaningful life? Is this really the picture that we want to send to our friends, sisters, daughters? I would hate for my sweet little sister to think for even one minute that she is inadequate, that she has to look and dress a certain way to be loved and accepted. I want to be the role model that my sister deserves to look up to. Thats why I fight to be in agriculture doing what I love, its why others should fight be who they are. Quit letting some stranger decide the standards for how you look, how you act, and what should be important to you.
So yes I lift heavy things, I work with dirty stinky sheep, and I like it. I’m a boss at driving a skid-steer and I don’t particularly care what anyone thinks about it. Working in agriculture isn’t for everyone, it has its problems and its perks. Ladies in agriculture lifting heavy things is defiantly a perk! So go out and lug around some hay bales, let your daughter try it out, she may just fall in love with a wonderful lifestyle.