Outdoor Lambing

Outdoor lambing in Northern Norway has worked our very well with our Viking sheep.  We keep the birthing sheep in pens in the forest so the lambs are born in ‘natural’ surroundings but with protection from predators.  Because of this they need food several times a day as they eat in their pens.  This might be a hassle for some but we like to keep a regular eye on all our sheep.  The other sheep that aren’t birthing this year, and the rams, are free to roam the forest.  They visit the ewes, especially during feeding time, and then wonder off to forage for more food.

We find outside lambing is a cleaner option than in the barn. We use the trees to set up dividers (Farfar planted a pine forest with trees equally apart so it makes it easy to use them as posts). We tie dividers to the trees making the first pen and then we expand out as needed. When we think a ewe is going to give birth in a day or so we make a cosy pen for her to rest up before the day.

We have to work with the weather when the sheep lamb outside. Each pen has a tarp roof and straw bed (though our sheep like to eat the straw, so we refresh regularly). We use old paper bags as wind breakers and which provide extra warmth. We check the forecast every day and if it is going to be cold (below freezing) then we refill on straw. The last two years there has been snow on the ground when the first lambs came, however under the pine trees there is only a thin layer of snow and it gets melted away by the ewes laying on it. Our pen area is also on a slight hill so we don’t get puddles. The ewes like to eat the pine branches too – minty.

Sheep prefer to give birth in solitude. Naturally they find a secluded spot that is dark and protected from wind. We try to give our sheep a cave type environment and they seem to like this very much. They prefer triangle shaped pens because they like to have their behinds snug between two boards. It makes them feel safe when lambing.

Because we feed the sheep small amounts of silage several times a day there is little waste or build up in the pens. The sheep get a lot of their water from the silage but we give them small buckets of water.  500mls of water a day is more than enough for them.  When we are finished with the pens we take the board away and just rake out the compact bedding to become compost for our forest.

The new born lambs are very hardy and built to handle the Norwegian climate. They are born with wool and the mother licks them dry. They stand up within a couple of minutes of being born and then look for the mother’s teats. Viking sheep are very good mothers, however, this year we have had two ewes that weren’t too keen on being mothers. Sometimes ewes reject their lambs and buck them. It might be because the lamb has the wrong smell, the lamb is sick, there are triplets or just that the ewe is not the mothering kind.  Our two ewes didn’t go out of their way to hurt their lambs, they just weren’t interested in them. So now we have to bottle feed the new lambs six times a day with a special lamb formula. The formula smells very sweet and creamy, I am so tempted to have a try. We have kept our bottle fed lambs in the pens with their mother’s so they can socialise but it is natural for the lambs to get attached to us because we give them food.

When the last lamb born is a week old we release the sheep. It is called vårslipp in Norwegian and literally means ‘spring release’. For the first two hours it is sheepy madness. Mothers and babies all get mixed up and start bleating for each other.

When they sort themselves out they start grazing again and the lambs get confident enough to play. This is the first year we have had male lambs (last year we had all females – very flukey). I certainly didn’t expect the two week old males to be humping their sisters already but it is just play.

We watch the sheep very carefully during this time.  Sometimes the ewes become too distant from their lambs.  They are either too happy about the new food sorce or get caught up with sheepy things like scratching themselves on trees.

So they don’t forget about their lambs or reject them, we sometimes have to force them to remember each other.  The best way to do this is to hold the mother so the lamb can feed from her.  It reignites the bond.

This time of year spring buds are just starting to come out so the landscape is still brown and bare. As you can see from the pictures, the sheep and lambs are a perfect mix to blend into their environment during this season. This year we have bred in some brown and yellow into our flock. We like the look of a golden upper fleece, a brown belly and black legs. Viking sheep don’t have a standard colour or look, the breed is known to be diverse with colour but also curly wool or straight, short hair on the head or fuzz, horns or no horns.

Our two rams, Pappa Ramone and Grandpa Ramstein watched their extended flock. Rams are much more affectionate than ewes who generally keep a distance unless they suspect you have food. We are glad to have several lamb-rams this season so we can continue our natural breeding and also have meat for the autumn.  Many farmers would say that having rams in uneconomical but we find they are very beneficial to the flock – they are no good for meat after they have come of age because they don’t taste as good.  We don’t think it is necessary to cull rams if the flock is healthy and well balanced and the rams well adjusted.  We are thinking of keeping at least two more to run with our flock.

We trust Ramstein even with our children but with all animals we never keep our eyes off the rams or our children when they are together.  Ramstein has never shown any aggression towards us.  He gets playful sometimes, puts his butt in our way because he wants a scratch.  Sometimes he backs up and trots to us but even then he only gently taps us with his horns.

A Story About Faith in Norway

Friday morning I was working on the farm.  I was bending over putting hay into a sheep’s pen and couldn’t stand up again.  I hung over the pen for about ten minutes trying to give my back time to recover, the pain was scaring me, but my hands were going grey and I knew I had to get back to the house and call for help.

We keep our sheep out in the forest during lambing season so I had a way to go before I got back to the house.  I could not stand up.  I had to shuffle sideways bent over holding onto the wire fence to support my back.  Toddling over the terrain with 10cm steps took me forever.  I had to bend down and pick up a tree branch for extra support – I needed something to help me cross the ravine as there was no fence there.  Half an hour later I was half way home.  The kids, Lilu (4) and Lil’Red (2) opened the house door and yelled to me wondering where I was.  Out raced Bear, our Saint Bernard.  The kids closed the door quickly because they knew they had done something wrong.  Bear doesn’t get a chance to be off the leash much as he scares a lot of people with his brute size so he was racing around everywhere.  I wasn’t going to be able to catch him and even if I did he could hurt me even more just by pulling me.  I called him over.  He was half way to me, stopped and saw a jogger on the road and then ran after her.  I couldn’t do anything but watch.

It took me an hour to reach the house but the kids had locked the doors.  They couldn’t hear me ringing the bell and shouting to open up because they were up stairs watching TV, loud.  I hobbled over to Farmors place.  Of course she was concerned but I didn’t want her to bother.  She gave me a key to our house and I hobbled back.  Inside I could not find my phone so I had to hobble back to Farmors.  I called Moose.  He had my phone.  He accidently took it to work which was on an island an hour boat ride away.  He could not come back to help me as the boat only came back at the end of the day.  He was stuck out there.  I called up the medical centre and they had no ambulance available.  I had no clue what the taxi number was.  Thank goodness the neighbours came over.  Farmor took the kids for me and the neighbours drove me to the medical centre.  Then they went back to go find Bear for me.

At the medical centre there were no other patients so I was very lucky.  Sitting for the five minute wait I had a little cry.  I was by myself and safe and my kids were being looked after so I didn’t have to be ‘tough’ for a moment.

My doctor was an Asian lady who was obviously new to Norway.  She spoke basic slow Norwegian but better English.  She tested my reflexes, made sure I could go to the toilet and took a blood sample to rule out diabetes (as I had diabetes when I was pregnant).  She told me that 90% of cases of back injuries go away with rest.  The other 10% was for concern and since my livelihood, dance and farming, depended on me having a strong back she was recommending an x-ray.  She breathed in ‘But the x-ray machine is broken so you’ll have to go to Hammerfest’.  She had to explain that because it was the ‘long weekend’ (it wasn’t really but in the minds of Norwegians if the 17 of May falls on a Thursday, then the Friday is a holiday too) they couldn’t get anyone out to fix the x-ray machine.  I certainly didn’t want to go to Hammerfest.  It was going to be a 2 hour taxi ride there and back (the State pays such expenses, thank goodness).  Hammerfest is where the regional ‘hospital’ is.  Even though Alta is a larger city of 19,000, twice as many people as Hammerfest, someone though it was better to build a hospital in the Northernmost city, which is not in the middle of anywhere.

My doctor called up to arrange the appointment with Hammerfest.  She got off the phone, turned to me and smiled with embarrassment.  She had to tell me that Hammerfest said that there wasn’t enough staff on because of the ‘long weekend’ and so had no one there to man the x-ray machine.  They further said that since arriving at the medical centre, as I was now able to shuffle forwards (with support from medical staff) and half stand up, that I was getting better, meaning that I was getting better, and so had no need to be x-rayed.  My doctor told me what Hammerfest had said because she didn’t believe it herself.  She was as gobsmacked as much as I was.  She obviously did not want to be a part of this Norwegian way of doing things but she was tied to the system she was working for.  However, she did whisper to me that because I still had a 10% risk she thought I should be having the x-ray.  I guess I’ll have to wait for the Alta x-ray machine to be fixed to hopefully be allowed to get one.

So I went home.  No pain killers, no crutches, no medical certificate to say that I should stay home from work for a week to get better.  I did have to pay kr.200 for the blood test and a taxi home.

The weekend was agonising.  Not the fact that I had to stay in bed for three days, I liked that, but I had my last dance classes before the end-of-year performance on Monday and I didn’t know what to do with them.  I couldn’t cancel and there was no option to shift them – the office staff who had access to all the contact information was away in Oslo for a seminar.  I finally facebooked my dancers to tell them the bad news.  My oldest dance girls rallied together and we came up with a plan.  On Monday they stayed back to help me with my other dance classes for five hours.  They also learnt the five new choreographies just two days before performance so I wouldn’t have to dance myself.  They did every warm up, every sequence and every choreography and leading every class while I stood with my crutches talking them through.  Even though it was hard work for them they loved every minute of it.

Sometimes Norway just beats you down even when you are used to all the silliness but there are always moments that keep your faith strong in Norway.  This rising generation of Norwegians are the best of the best.

(The painting is of Oslo Hospital in 1699 by Jacob Coning.)

17th of May Parade in Alta

A good Norwegian breakfast is what you need to give you energy to walk in the 17th of May parade.  We started our day with chocolate waffles.

Getting dressed for the big day is rather fun.  Stockings, blouses, skirts, aprons, buckles and buttons.

Not everyone wears a bunad but it is usual for everyone to wear a pin and ribbon to commemorate the day.

In Alta the parade starts at 12.00.

The parade is lead by policemen, children carrying the Norwegian flag and then the city dignitaries, including the city mayor.  This parade is for all the school children in Alta, commonly known as the Children’s Parade.  We started at the city hall and made our way down the E6 towards the city centre.

Each school and kindergarten is represented.  They are lead by their school’s banner.  The banners are patchwork cloths with designs that symbolise their school’s theme.

Breidablikk is a suburb in Alta.  They have a Viking ship as their symbol because Breidablikk was also the home of a Norse god.  The design is split with winter and night and summer and sun.

Holmen Kindergarten is a farm themed daycare.  They have various animals and farm activities that the children participate in within their kindergarten program.

Alta musikkorps is the biggest school band in Alta.  When Moose was a lad he played the trumpet for this marching band.

One of my work colleagues playing the tuba, leading his students from Tverrelvdalen skolekorps.

The band pays regular marches along the parade route.

Our family walked with our kindergarten.  We were training our Saint Bernard, Bear, to walk in the parade.  Next year we hope for him to cart.

Lilu goes to the Sami group of the kindergarten so we got to walk with some of the most colourful costumes.  The Sami do not just leave their costume wearing to holidays and celebrations.  They can be everyday clothes.  We often pick Lilu up from kindergarten after a day of playing in Sami dress.

When you live in a small city everyone is a part of the parade.  That means there is only a very small crowd looking on.  So Alta has arranged a unique idea.  There are two parades starting at the same time.  One starts from one end of the city and the other from the other end.  They march along the main road and pass each other.  This means the paraders get to wave and cheer each other on as they pass down the road.

This time we met at the city’s main round-a-bout.  The head of the other parade had stopped to allow us to pass through.

It is great fun knowing nearly everyone in the other parade – waving, cheering, taking pictures and talking to each other as the parades pass.

The Russ were certainly part of the parade.  Russ are graduating students from High School.  They are loud, crazy and daring.

Being an outsider, I often don’t get some customs and jokes.  I understand the party vehicles for Russ, the scavenger hunts and the overalls, but I don’t get the deal with the sexual innuendos for car names.

To me it is a little horrifing.  Maybe they are supposed to be revolting ‘against the sexual repression of a socialist society’ or maybe it is just a ‘lost is translation’.  I am certainly not looking forward to this when Lilu and Lil’Red are Russ.

One of my favourite parts of the parade is seeing all the beautiful costumes.  There is so much detail that goes into them.  The camera certainly doesn’t do them justice.

The parades end up in the city square.

In such a small city everyone has to do their part.  All our family was out and about playing in the bands (hei, Tante!), leading groups, accompanying tourists and being ‘the crowd’.  After a few speeches, songs and music, it is time to go home to enjoy our BBQs, family and, of course, cake!

Gratulerer med dagen!

How to Make Friends in Norway

Since moving to Norway I have really missed my girlfriends back home. Giving up your friends and your support base is one of the things that makes Norway hard to live in. Sure we stay connected via social media but because my friends are there and I am here, the problems and challenges I face every day is a little alien to them. There is just too much to explain about the little nuances of everyday life in Norway for them to understand where ‘I am coming from’. They hear me complaining one minute and then adoring the next and they just can’t get how living in Norway can be so ‘hot and cold’. After a while they get bored of hearing about my new country and so discussions move onto different things. After five years, it is just easier not to talk about Norway.

Everyone needs friends to share their life!

The next best thing is to make friends in Norway, however, this is not easy. When you don’t understand the subtexts in society and you don’t know the language it is extremely hard to make Norwegian friends here. When you don’t have the same background, the same upbringing and the same experiences it is hard to connect. Now you can get many ‘hello/good-bye’ friends and ‘only at work’ friends, but bosom-buddy friends, the kind that you can confide in, the Sex and the City kind, are almost impossible to come by. But you have to start somewhere so any friend is an achievement in Norway.

Truthfully, I haven’t found a best friend yet in Norway. I have a lot of friends, especially work friends, but it’s not on a level where I can get completely personal. There are three reasons why it is hard for me to make friends in Norway. Firstly, I don’t drink, therefore, I don’t hang out in bars or pubs. I’ve heard that getting drunk with a Norwegian is a fast track to making friends. Secondly, I don’t like watching sport, I like playing it. Soccer is a very small sport where I come from and watching boring ‘fotball’ games for hours on TV is not appealing to me. Though, to get male friends, watching sport with them is a good start. When we lived in an apartment building the guy below us had a ‘fotball’ party every Sunday. I’ve never heard Norwegians get so excited and loud!  And lastly, I don’t speak Norwegian, well, not fluently enough to have an ‘adult’ conversation. Because of this I am limited in meeting Norwegian friends in every situation. Because of this, I prefer to stay home when there is a social function because I don’t like making Norwegians have to ‘include’ me because they feel sorry for me. You can see it click in their brains – ‘oh, L-Jay is here, better say something so she doesn’t feel left out’. (Funnily enough, this happens even with my Norwegian family too.)  I love them for it but it highlights the fact that I am still an outsider. However, the people that I have made good friends with here in Norway are the Norwegians who don’t mind speaking English.

The best way I make friends with Norwegians is through my work. My work is very social and puts me in contact with many people. I work in the Arts so English is important as this industry in Norway is flooded by international artists and English-speaking media (such as movies and music). It is valuable for a Norwegian in the Arts to speak English fluently so I often find myself as a practice dummy. One of the key elements that helps me is that my reputation proceeds me. I’m a crazy hard worker, I exceed expectations and everything is a ‘possibility’. (Sounds like a resume, doesn’t it?) Norwegians like this as it means I am contributing to the community and more importantly not reinforcing the immigrant ‘stigma’.

Through family and social encounters it is harder for me to make Norwegian friends. These are always Norwegian language based situations and I am usually a silent spectator. However, I am lucky enough to have a farm that sells produce and we get many visitors. Because Norwegians are coming into my realm they accept, and I would say ‘appreciate’, the language environment – Norlish.

The most important things I have learnt about making friends:

- It happens through one-on-one encounters when there is a purpose. There has been many discussions, even on this blog, how Norwegians are rude because ‘they don’t strike up conversations with ‘immigrant’ strangers at bus stops’. It is generally believed that Norwegians don’t like making friends with ‘immigrants’. However, this is a cultural misconception. It is not that they don’t want to make friends but Norwegians need a purpose to make a connection. Just striking up a conversation to be polite doesn’t exist in Norwegian culture. (And there is nothing wrong with that!)  When there is a purpose, or something that needs to be achieved such as getting information, then Norwegians will strike up a conversation. The friends that I have gained in Norway are because we had a common purpose. It is usually because we had to collaborate on a project. Sometimes they needed advice and sometimes they needed extra help. The only time that I have made friends with a group is when I participated in a dance class, and even then that was only because first I was a specialist instructor who taught them some choreography for a performance.

- It is vital to establish language limitations on first contact. It is awkward, embarrassing and can make me feel a little guilty but the sooner my language ability is known the easier the relationship will progress. When I meet a new person I state right from the start in Norwegian ‘I speak very little Norwegian but I must practice’. Then I can continue with my bad Norwegian. The Norwegian will either speak with me in Norwegian still and this gives me a clue of whether we could be friends or not. If the Norwegian breaks out into English (to gracefully stop me from struggling to express myself) then I know we can get to know each other better and maybe become friends. This is largely because they are giving me an opportunity to express my personality, who I am. It is usually your personality that begins friendship. My personality certainly doesn’t come through my Norwegian. My Norwegian is basic, factual, short and boring. It is only used to communicate the most necessary information. Jokes, innuendoes, intertextual references, etc, don’t exist in my Norwegian and to warm a Norwegian up to you it is good to be funny. A Norwegian who allows me to be me with my own language is a friend in my book.

- This goes without saying, but it is important to have a common element to make friends with a Norwegian. Norwegians grow up together and they know all the social history of Norway. They understand what it means to be Norwegian. They understand Norway. (This is the same for every country and every community.) A lot of Norwegians have their main circle of friends from their childhood. Having a history together connects people. This is one thing that ‘immigrants’ and I certainly don’t have with Norwegians. Only time can connect you with Norway and its people. I have been here  in Norway five years.  I cried with Norway through the Breivik massacre, I cheer at every National day and I actively care for the community. These are part of my Norwegian ‘history’ that help me connect with Norwegians. The other common elements are, of course, activities, clubs, politics, you name it. Being active in Norway (even going to your work ‘blåtur‘, will be your biggest avenue to making friends.

- Make your ‘community’ a Norwegian one. I usually find those ‘immigrants’ who have a strong ‘immigrant’ community in Norway are the ones who have a hard time making Norwegian friends. Being from a ‘British imperial’ country, I don’t have the safety net of an ‘immigrant’ community in Norway. Being Caucasian, I am expected to ‘integrate’ more than others but sometimes I wish I had an Australian community to lean on. However, I also know that ‘immigrant’ communities are hiding places. They enable people to withdraw from Norwegian society and live in Norway without having to live with Norwegians. The key to Norway is to keep your own culture but also make room for Norwegian culture. The government says they don’t expect anyone to give up their culture to live in Norway (so they say) but I find a lot of Norwegians do expect it. Unfortunately, the more Norwegian you appear, or the more you are trying to be Norwegian, the easier it is to make friends. It is obvious but funny to say, Norwegians have the greatest common element with… Norwegians!

- Norwegians are creatures of habit. They don’t like anything new or strange (just check out the supermarkets for evidence of this – ‘wink’). The more they see you, the more you are around, the more familiar you will become, you will become a ‘habit’ and the easier it will be for them to become your friend. In most countries immigrants have already pushed through this barrier (last century). In Norway, we ‘immigrants’ are the ones that have to push through this barrier to pave the way for those who follow behind us.

In my reflections in preparing to write this post I wondered why I haven’t really made that many friends with ‘immigrants’, even English speaking ‘immigrants’. I think mostly because they are movers. They move around and they don’t normally stay for too long in Norway. Unless they have a very good job, a good family base or a strong ‘immigrant’ community, they generally give up Norway. All my friends from my Norwegian language course have all gone back to their home countries. One of the other reasons I don’t have many ‘immigrant’ friends is because of the group of people I’m attracted to – I like self starters, people with enthusiasm and people who do things for the community. So far there has only been one immigrant, a woman from Africa, that has made a great impression on me. She created a small annual festival in Harstad that showcases ‘immigrant’ culture through food, discussions and performances. We had a chat once about how hard it is to try to break the ‘immigrant’ stigma about not contributing to the community. Norway needs contributors! Contributing is a great way to make Norwegian friends.

I think one of the main reasons why many ‘immigrants’ think Norwegians are unfriendly is because they are judging all Norwegians according to one type of Norwegian. There is a Norwegian out there that doesn’t like ‘immigrants’. There is a Norwegian out there that doesn’t like people living in their country who don’t speak the language. There is a Norwegian out there that only likes other cultures while on holiday. These Norwegians can be found in all communities of Norway. They are usually the ones that are uneducated, usually the ones who need or want financial help from the government and are usually from a community that has their own stigma of being ‘Hill-Billies’. And then there are others who have a certain political view point. Believe me, their perceptions also urk regular Norwegians too. The good thing about this is that the educated, the secure and the ‘diversity’ accepting are out their too! If you want Norwegian friends you just need to find yourself a community of people who are the best of society. That certainly doesn’t mean the richest with money but the richest in character. And where do you think you can find these Norwegian friends waiting to happen?

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