Lambing Season is Hard Work for Ranchers

Last weekend I visited with a ranching family near Fort Shaw and they said they were getting ready to start lambing, probably this week. Right away I set up a time to visit and get some photos.   

We had periodic snow throughout the week but, for the most part, everything that fell in Great Falls melted. I kept thinking about how those little lambs would react to cooler weather though.

As I drove south of Fort Shaw I realized they had quite a bit more snow than Great Falls. That made the landscape really look pretty with the white ground and contrasting cattle against a mountain backdrop.

As soon as I got to the ranch I headed to the barn where the ewes and lambs were. Rancher (and lambing assistant extraordinaire) John told me the ewes usually go into the barn when they are ready to have their babies. After the lambs are born he puts the ewe and her baby (or babies…multiple births are pretty common in sheep) in 4 foot by 4 foot wooden pens called jugs. This keeps mom and baby close together, they are warm and it’s easy for the lamb to get milk.

The first lambs were born Monday and I believe they were doing their afternoon exercises – jumping in mid air, just for the sake of jumping, then running on their spindly long legs.

John has two kinds of sheep – targhee and textile. The targhee seemed softer and a lighter color, almost white. The textile lambs had very tightly curled fleece and looked more beige than the others.

These sheep are raised for meat consumption. They stay at the ranch until they reach about 80 pounds, then they go to a feedlot to gain another 20 or 30 pounds. I was amazed at just how small the lambs were. One was a “bum” which means the mother didn’t claim it. John and his wife took it in their house the first night to keep it warm and bottle fed it. Gosh, I would get so attached to these cute little critters!

We visited about potential dangers for the lambs. The ewes are shorn before they have their lambs and they can get hypothermia when the temperatures drop. Wool is a natural insulator so after shearing, it probably feels pretty chilly. Of course, the lambs can get hypothermia too and they don’t have much fat on their bodies when they are born. Predators are mainly coyotes.

I was at the ranch about an hour and a half and during that time four ewes delivered their lambs. One ewe was busy fussing over her newborn but John said she was also getting ready to deliver one more lamb – she would be delivering twins! And, by time I was walking out the barn door, the ewe started to deliver a second lamb! This photo shows just how long those lambs’ legs are.

When you see the amount of work that goes in to helping with lambing, tracking the ewes and lambs, feeding and protecting them, you gain a new respect for ranchers.

I had a fun and educational visit but I don’t think I’d make a successful rancher!


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