Birth is a beautiful thing. It’s a gross, wet and just plain disgusting, but beautiful thing, and it’s something a rancher like me gets to experience around this time of year, as calves, piglets, and my personal favorite, lambs, are born. Growing up on a farm is a huge learning experience. You gain skills that most people just don’t get, like a strong stomach when it comes to blood, and an appreciation for the beauty of life. Each year, as February and March approaches, a ranch kid knows it’s almost time for sleepless nights, too much coffee, and lots of time spent dozing on the hay under a horse blanket waiting for the next baby to arrive.
Why the Lambing Barn Closed
That’s why it’s disappointing that people in Corvallis haven’t been able to visit the Oregon State University Sheep Center and Lambing Barn in recent years to share in this experience. Representatives say it’s been closed because of a budget shortage, and that personnel are unable to care for the animals and provide tours. Therefore, they chose to close the barn to the public to maintain the safety and health of the animals; they also cited bio-safety concerns.
What Kids Are Missing
Sheep breeding season usually begins during late summer or early fall, so lambs are born at the height of rainy season in Oregon. This ensures that the lambs will be ready for harvest by the following summer. Sheep are pregnant for about five months before they give birth to lambs that weigh an average of 12 pounds. The birthing process usually takes a good deal of time. In my experience, a typical twin birth can last from one to three hours. Some sheep breeds can have as many as five lambs, but most have one to three lambs per birth.
The process of labor and lambing is an intricate one for ranchers. Ewes typically give birth in the field and clean their lambs. They are equipped to handle the entire birth on their own if everything goes smoothly, which seems rare. A lamb will normally be born with its two front feet first, followed by a nose in between. Sometimes a lamb presents backwards, or breech, and the rancher has to help pull the lamb out. In rarer cases, a lamb may present with its neck turned behind it, which is a rancher’s worst nightmare. The rancher must then glove up and push the lamb farther into the ewe to get the head turned around and to come out the right way. Once the lamb is on the ground, especially if the weather is cold, it’s a race against time to get the lamb cleaned and dry and up nursing. When this is done, some ranchers choose to leave the lambs and mothers in the pasture, while others bring them into a lambing barn.
Lambing is an experience all its own, and you can bet that as the season approaches ranchers are in for a long haul, making sure that every birth goes smoothly, and are there to help if they don’t.
They Want to Reopen to the Public, Maybe? Sometime?
Sheep are a big part of agriculture in the valley, and many people in Corvallis know about the OSU Sheep Center and Lambing Barn. According to the Animal and Rangeland Sciences website (http://anrs.oregonstate.edu/group/sheep), the Sheep Center is four miles west of campus and located on 600 acres of hillside pastures.
The university is fully accredited by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC), and the center follows the standards and procedures set by the Guide for the Care and Use of Agricultural Animals in Research and Teaching. The flock is also watched over by OSU’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, a group of researchers, veterinarians, ethicists, and the public who review every aspect of the animals’ participation in research and teaching.
The supervisor, three student employees, and around 40 student volunteers from all parts of the Animal Sciences department provide labor for the Sheep Center.
The Department of Animal and Rangeland Sciences is in the process of redesigning their building and they hope to begin involving the public more as the newly designed buildings become finished and functional. Currently however, nobody at OSU could offer a timeline.