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The Rees farm is mostly a sheep farm, but they also have beef cattle.  A good farm is a lovely example of how to run a business, and Welsh farms underscore the diversity-equals-survival-and-maybe-even-profitability idea!

(It’s been weeks and I’m still posting pictures and bragging about their farm, but if you don’t like that, your people better talk to my people, because my people says that posting pictures isn’t out of season yet.)

One afternoon we tagged cattle.

It was time for one of the cows to be culled, so we unceremoniously loaded her into the trailer.  To all you Canadians out there, who appreciate the meaning of all those people wearing red poppies in their respective lapels around Remembrance Day: Matthew told me that he’s a farmer, so he can’t wear a poppy in his suit jacket.  That’s why he has it stuck in the grill of his vehicle.  And it is on the correct side–it’s on the side of the vehicle closest to his heart. 🙂

Since I was taking pictures that morning, I got one of the farmhouse.

Here’s the cow “shed.”

We took the cow to the “cattle mart” (cattle auction sale) in Lampeter, about 12 miles from Rhydalen.

A few hours to go until lunch… so the auctioneer ordered hot drinks for the buyers. One of the buyers went to the concession stand and returned with a tray of cups of hot tea!  See all those white styrofoam cups?

My people tell me that if I want comments on this post, I need to “wrap it up.”  I don’t know how to summarize, so just comment anyway!

~09250671

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New Quay, or Cei Newydd, is this absolutely darling fishing village on the coast where I stayed in Wales.

A picture is worth (more than) a thousand words, yes?

From a little lane–yes, this is a public road–leading to Penhryn, a farm where I worked for a few days:

Roads sort of evolved along with the country; it’s just a new dimension to the bucolic charm.

The village is chock full of colourful houses,

built on surprising slopes.

It is still officially a fishing village

with lots of pleasure craft.

The old cemetery is, well, just lovely.

Of course, the Church of Wales is present in New Quay.

Welsh, they told me, is very easy to read–you pronounce it just as it’s read.  Mama mia.

Just like there must be a church, there must also be a rectory.

As of tomorrow morning, though, this rectory will be empty.  The vicar has resigned his position and he and his family are moving to Ireland to be part of Dunmore East Christian Fellowship for a few months. We’re looking forward to this new addition to our “family.”

~09250671

This ewe’s lambing took about half an hour.

If you have questions about parturition, you probably shouldn’t ask them of me–unless it’s about random, theoretical things like hormones, and I still might not be able to give a good answer. If it’s about the presentation of a ewe in Stage II labour, well, ask a real farmer! And if it’s about maternal instinct, ask your mom.  If your mom was anything like my mom, she’s brimming over with the stuff; she’s super at being a mom and can explain it better than I ever could.

It’s pretty obvious when a ewe is in Stage II. This is especially true if a bit of the lamb is showing, but I’m pretty sure it was not showing when I was getting ready to take this picture!

If all goes well inside the ewe, delivery is over awfully soon. The umbilicus tears and everything involutes (goes back to its normal shape/size) beautifully.

The ewe will often lamb her first lamb in the holding pen.  She’s surrounded by about forty other ewes who are very close to lambing themselves.  Think about this in, well, whatever context you want, but include adjectives like adoring, fascinating, curious, supportive, and ideas like desperate to nuzzle the lamb and suddenly protective of another ewe’s lamb.  You know what I mean–you’ve seen these same biological phenomena after the benediction was pronounced on Sunday.

Unfortunately, in the ovine world, new mothers can be quite stupid.  If you leave a new mother with her first lamb (of twins or triplets) in a holding pen, she’s mildly fascinated by it–until she begins delivering the second.  By the time she’s taken care of that and has the latest arrival all licked off, it’s quite possible that the first lamb is on the other side of the pen, surrounded by mesmerized ewes and getting their body smell all over her/him. If she/he doesn’t find his mother again soon, the ewe won’t accept that first lamb anymore.

A big reason farmers don’t want sheep to lamb in the wild is because foxes and badgers, the wily rascals, take advantage of these very same characteristics to steal the new lambs.

All that to say: the new lamb is taken to a lambing pen.  The ewe, who will follow her lamb to the end of the world, unsuspectingly ends up following you right into the pen.  The farmer usually doesn’t deliver subsequent lambs unless she/he senses a problem, but Matthew let me “pull” the second lamb then and there so we could go home sooner.

It’s in the right position to come out!

I wanted to stop school and be a Welsh sheep farmer.

Getting the mucus out of the airways isn’t exactly necessary, but it means the lamb will suckle a bit sooner.

My story for this evening is about adoption in ewes.

It started with finding a ewe that was obviously lambing, but didn’t seem able to deliver any lambs.  She had been scanned with twins. (The pregnant ewes get ultrasound scans to determine how many lambs they’re carrying.)  We got her out of the large pen and into a little lambing pen, and Matthew let me try to find out what was wrong.

The first lamb had its legs folded in such a way that the body couldn’t come through the birthing canal.  Poor ewe, but lucky Gabriel—I was sure hoping for the chance to have to push around bodies and try to untangle the various body parts so that the lambs would come out, and I got the chance that day.  Dear Matthew is blessed with a lot of Welsh farmer patience, because I’m sure it took me about four times longer than it would have taken him.  Finally this slippery thing falls down onto the straw, and while I’m all excited and trying to wipe the lamb off, suddenly I hear him give this sort of yelp.  “Crikey!  I’ve never seen that before.  There’s something wrong with the head on ‘im!”  It was like some of the skull bones hadn’t knit, and perhaps a few bones didn’t even form.  Check out the membrane hanging out between bones!

The little character was still alive and struggling to suckle, but Matthew, um, had to put it out of its misery.

He told me to stop right there, not to pull the second lamb.  Now we get to the adoption part.  This freshly lambed ewe was all ready for twins, including lots of milk (plenty of oxytocin running rampant in her body), but suddenly only one lamb, healthy and beautiful, to be sure, was going to drink that milk. Well, a few hours previously another ewe had had triplets.  Since sheep only have two teats, no ewe is good enough to rear three lambs well.  Matthew told me that he was going to take one of the triplets and “adopt it onto” this ewe that was supposed to have twins.

He chose the largest (and hungriest) of the triplets and put it into his “adoption bucket.”  First, he tied the lamb’s four legs together with a bit of “cord” (we call it twine).  Then he poured warm water all over the lamb.  Finally he brought the bucketful of a rather perturbed wet lamb over to the ewe, and while I pulled that second lamb, he made sure he caught all the gooey stuff in the bucket. I even reached in a few more times just to scoop out everything I could, and the positively perturbed lamb was unceremoniously smeared all over with, well, blood and afterbirth. I felt some pity for the wee mite, but Matthew explained that those weren’t actually angry bleats–the lamb just wanted to be born again so badly.

Then Matthew put the tied-up lamb in the pen beside the newly born lamb.  You see, since they’re both lying down, wet, struggling, and bleating, the power of maternal instinct kicks in and the ewe licks both her own lamb and the interloper violently.

A few minutes later, both lambs were clean and dry.  The white lamb (the biological offspring) was now a bit stronger, and trying to get up and hobble over to nurse.

Matthew cut the twine off the four legs of the brown/black lamb (the interloper)—but then tied the two front legs together.  If the lambs are at the same stage of development, you see, the mother will pay the same amount of attention to them both, and thus doesn’t really notice that the one lamb had a bit of lingering foreign smell.  So both lambs are hobbling around, falling all over the place, bleating angrily… and the ewe is frantically trying to nuzzle them both equally!

Several minutes later, the mother was fully convinced that she had given birth to two healthy lambs, and the twine could be cut off the brown/black lamb’s legs.  By this evening, not even the most observant farmer would see the difference between the two lambs.

And once more I knew why I want to be a vet.

You see, I knew next to nothing about the concept of lambing–still know next to nothing, to be honest.  As far as I understood it, here are some basic steps.

First, some background knowledge: Sheep farming is seasonal.  (You’re going to hear a bit of the vet student coming through right about now.)  Without going into the birds and the bees too deeply, you know within a few days when your entire flock is going to lamb.  If you want them to come early, e.g., so the lambs are ready for the Easter market, you synch them.  (Using hormonal therapy–this is one of my favourite parts of dairy and sheep farming.)

1. Get the ewes in from the field just before they’re ready to lamb.

2. Put them in holding pens.

3. If they lamb in the pen, that’s wonderful! If they and their offspring seem to be doing fine, let them there until it’s time to take the little family back out to the field.

4. If there are any complications with the parturition, then you bring the ewe out into a lambing pen.

I feel all maternal and warm and fuzzy about these lambs–the mother was my first ovine obstetrical patient!

5. Aren’t these darling?  They’re called the pets.  For whatever reason, their mothers couldn’t feed them, so they are fed by bottle (or stomach tubes) until they are able to hold their own and suckle out of the “automatic feeder.”  For example, the mother had triplets, and can only feed two lambs.  There are lots of sad reasons that a lamb becomes a pet, though.

6. Twenty-four hours after birth, all going well, the mom and her family are taken back to the fields.  This time they’re not herded into a big trailer, but rather, they get personalized care and VIP treatment.

8. The field is full of other new mothers, too.

9. Ewes don’t often need good fences, but lambs sure do!  If they get through the fence, well, marine biology would come into play.

10 It really was quite a cliff!

What to do when one ewe has triplets (she can feed a maximum of two lambs)… but another ewe has a single?  Next up: adoption.

Some time ago Jenn wrote about new words that we meet in Ireland, or, at least, new meanings for familiar words.  Today I learned a new word that I long to share with you, but first, here’s a bit of history to my understanding of the word.

When I was in Wales, dear Gill Rees–the Rees family were my lovely hosts while I was there–served us some cawl.  There were bits of “swedes” floating in the soup.  To this little farmboy from the uncivilized colonies, that means I a) was cannibalistic and b) don’t know how to capitalize the term for natives of Sweden.  Then today Dr. Crowe was telling us about sheep eating swedes; however, “you know them as turnips” (you, referring to the Irish students, I guess).

After that, I had to look it up, you see.  Good ol’ Wikipedia.  As it turns out, North Americans often call that cross between a cabbage and a turnip a rutabaga.  So there you have it.  As far as I understand, Mother England (and the rest of UK) call it a swede, while the colonies decided to call it a rutabaga, yes?

~09250671

Last night Chadwick and I were discussing the coolalities of ferries.  That’s my nephew–if he has similar genes to me, he might never grow out of his fascination with big diesel engines.  This post is for Chadwick.

The bus on the far left was mine.  It took me from my home to the port, where the ferry was waiting.  Your Uncle Conrad would be hugely surprised to know that I actually caught the bus at 3:20 a.m., and I was even half-awake!

This was my first view of “my” ferry.  MS Stena Europe can carry almost 500 vehicles and over 1,000 people!  This picture is blurry because I had to take it through a (very) dirty plastic window.  But see how the entire back of the ship opens up so vehicles can drive onto the ship?

MS Stena Europe, at dock.  To get on the ship, we had to walk through big buildings and long tunnels, so I actually didn’t get to see the outside of the ship.  This picture is from the internet.

And so is this one!

When I was on the ship’s deck, I could watch the trucks (over here they’re called lorries, though) drive onto the ferry.

There were plenty of lifeboats for us all!

There’s even a helicopter pad on the ship.  When the ship is far from land, and somebody on board needs to be taken to land right away, a helicopter can come to the ship and pick up the person.

And somewhere across this Irish Sea is the lovely country of Wales!

~09250671

P.S. Yes, I had to return to student life.  So I’m signing my posts with my student number again.

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