Sunday, March 29, 2009


Grandma Alice feeds a lamb

Abdi feeds a lamb

Friday, March 27, 2009

Bottle babies

Bottle babies are joy and frustration. They are one of the high points of every day and some of the most aggravating little beings on the face of the earth. They are one of the worst reasons to keep raising sheep, and one of the best.

In the first place, bottle babies are a triumph of the shepherd over death. They become a bottle baby because their mother died or because their mother has rejected them and won’t let them nurse. When I watch a ewe step aside as a baby tries to nurse, I’m furious. I get livid when I hear a mother toss her baby against the wall of her pen to keep the baby from bothering her.

My instincts are to protect that baby. We sometimes force a ewe into a corner and then hold her in place so her baby can nurse. The ewes fight us all the way. I have even bitten ewes just to show them how determined I am while trying to hold them in place and hold the baby on their nipple. Believe me biting a ewe is not nice, but it shows my level of frustration!

Sometimes ewes reject lambs because the lamb doesn’t act normally in the minutes or hours after it’s birth. Sometimes they reject lambs who hurt when they nurse on their nipples. Sometimes they reject lambs who have been warmed in water because they lose their unique odor. Sometimes they reject lambs because the ewe herself is too sick to care for a baby.

Whatever the reason, when a lamb is rejected by its mom, the shepherd takes over as mom. We don’t sleep curled beside them; we don’t lick their bottoms to encourage them to nurse; but we do feed them. We feed them an ounce or two of colostrum every three hours for the first 24 hours. Then we feed them a gradually increasing amount of lamb milk replacer every three to six hours for the next three to four weeks. With only one lamb, we feed it out of a bottle. Even three or four lambs we can handle with multiple bottles. The lambs all vie to be first in line. We struggle to make sure that each lamb gets the right amount of milk and that we don’t miss anybody and don’t feed anybody twice.

When we’re feeding eight lambs, like we are this year, we rapidly shift from bottles to a sucker bucket which feeds six lambs at once. The sucker bucket is a large, square white bucket with two nipples projecting from each of three sides. The nipples go through the bucket wall to suck milk from inside the bucket. We fill the bucket three or four times a day and float a jug full of ice in the milk to keep it cold.

Teaching the lambs to use the sucker bucket is an exercise in patience. They rapidly learn that our hands carry milk bottles. So when we try to direct their mouths away from our hands and onto the sucker bucket nipples, they are incredible dense. They bite our fingers, chew on knuckles and butt at our heads. When we are actually holding a lamb onto the sucker bucket nipple, the rest of the lambs take advantage of our inability to defend ourselves and gang up on us. They jump on our backs, chew our hair, take off our glasses and butt our faces. There is nothing quite so eye wateringly painful as a lamb head butt to the nose.

On the other hand, watching a lamb who began life not quite dead, who needed to be warmed from 94 degrees to 103 degrees and who mostly lay in its pen for the first 24 hours of its life, watching that lamb grow from a scrawny limp white stuffed animal to a bouncing, active lamb fighting to be first at the feeder gives me an incredible feeling of success, even more, of joy. It’s hard to watch a baby lamb without smiling. Baby lambs who have bonded with you make you feel loved (even though you know that they love you for the food you bring them.)

One day during lambing I went down the row of pens offering all the ewes a small treat. The only ewes who sniffed my hand or ate the treat were bottle lambs – last year, or the year before or the in years before that. Those lambs have grown, and have lambs of their own, but they still remember the shepherd to fed them, the shepherd who gave them life when their mothers couldn’t.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Still breathing

The Horned One’s breathing continued to be labored. We gave her calcium injections as often as she got twitchy. And we resolved to try our best to help her deliver healthy lambs.

The Horned One went into labor at 10:30 p.m. We decided not to wait for her to lamb on her own. As soon as we saw mucus trailing down from her vulva and a little white hoof peeking out with each contraction, Dave tackled her and held her down. I wet my hands with wetting powder and water and slipped one inside of the ewe.

I could feel a pointy nose and a row of teeth. I could feel the little hoof, and back further, a second little hoof. I slid my fingers along each leg, searching blindly for the shoulder and neck that would tell me that these two hooves and the head were all part of the same lamb.

Yes, there was the shoulder on one side, leading to neck and head. I pushed my hand in further until the wrist on my jacket blocked further progress. I stripped off my jacket and knelt down behind the Horned One again. This time I was able to force my hand and arm in further and to feel along the second hoof, foot, and leg until I was sure that it was connected to the same head as the first hoof.

I slid my hand back out and grasped the hoof at the entrance to the ewe’s vulva with my finger tips. It was slippery with mucus, but I pulled it slowly out into the air. White, a little white lamb, I fished back inside the ewe for a second hoof. The lamb’s head was in position just above the second hoof. I grasped that second hoof tightly and pulled. Slowly, a big lamb slid out of his mother’s body to lay, unmoving on the straw covered barn floor.

Dave grabbed the lamb and wiped it’s nose free of mucus with a towel. Then he began rubbing the lamb’s body with the towel. The lamb’s head flopped. Dave rubbed harder. Soon the lamb took a big shuddery breath. Dave grinned at me from his place beside the Horned One. He laid the lamb in front of his mother, and she began licking it.

I eased my hand back into the uterus in front of me. There should be at least one more lamb in there. Yes! I could feel the curve of a back. Damn. This was not a good presentation, but with the first lamb born, there should be room for me to manipulate the body of the second lamb until it was in a better position for birth. I followed the little bumps of the lamb’s spine with my fingers to a head. Good, the head was almost facing out. Next I had to find feet. I pushed my hand further into the uterus along side the head and finally felt the angle of the lamb’s ankle, facing away. I crooked my middle finger over the angle and pulled. I felt the foot run into the wall of the Horned One’s uterus. I needed more room. I gently pushed the lamb further into the uterus and then hooked my finger over the angle of the ankle and pulled again. I felt the hoof scrape and then come free. Now I had a head and a hoof. With this much, I could deliver a lamb.

The big, black lamb didn’t move when we cleared the mucus from it’s face. It didn’t take a breath when Dave rubbed it’s body over and over with the towel. As a last effort, Dave took the lamb outside and holding it by its hind legs, swung the lamb in a big arc over his head. Once, twice, three times.

The lamb gasped. But still it’s head hung limp, it had no muscle tension. Dave swung the lamb another three times. It gasped, but didn’t keep breathing. He ran back into the barn and laid the lamb beside its mother. He rubbed it again and again. Each time he rubbed, the lamb took a breath. But every time Dave stopped, the lamb stopped. Dave wiped the lamb’s mouth and nose and bent over the tiny head, surrounding mouth and nose with his own lips. He breathed out; the lamb’s ribs expanded. Dave stopped blowing. The lamb stopped moving. Dave interspersed mouth to mouth with rubbing and checking for a heart beat. In the dark of the barn it was hard to see the lamb take a breath, much less detect the rapid shallow flutter of a heart beating beneath the tightly curled black wool.

Everything that Dave tried produced a breath, but nothing seemed to persuade the lamb to keep breathing. “I can see no happy ending here,” I said. “Why don’t you stop.”

“It’s eyes are open,” Dave said. “I can’t stop when it’s watching me.”

I dried the first lamb, cut it’s umbilical cord and then dipped the cord in iodine. I built a pen around the Horned One and her babies and brought her hay and a bucket of water. I entered the date, time and mother’s name in my log book. I entered the color and sex of the first lamb, but hesitated on the second. If the little black lamb didn’t live there was no need for sex or color information, it would just be listed as DEAD.

“Look,” Dave said. “Every time I wiggle my finger in the lamb’s mouth, it takes a breath.” After several minutes of wiggling, the lamb was breathing on its own.

Dave and I sat back and sighed. It was midnight. We had two living, breathing lambs and a living, breathing ewe.

Friday, March 20, 2009


The Horned One was lying in the corner. My heart sank as I approached; I could hear her labored breathing from across the barn.

Labored breathing usually meant pneumonia or hypocalcemia. We didn’t have problems with pneumonia, but this year, hypocalcemia, low calcium levels, had been all too common. This year, we’d had only two outcomes from hypocalcemia – a slow, inefficient labor followed by a difficult delivery with weak lambs, or death – and sometimes both.

This year has been the second worst lambing I’ve ever lived through. Ewes died, lambs died, sometimes both a mom and all her babies died. We struggled hard to prevent those deaths. I don’t think we’re bad shepherds, careless shepherds, uncaring shepherds. But as the deaths mount, I face each trip to the barn with dread and I think to myself. “We are in the business of killing sheep. Nobody should be in that business.”

I kept trying to figure out what we were doing differently from past years. Why were ewes and lambs dieing this year? We were feeding the best hay we’d put up in years. The corn was from an elevator we trusted. There was no rain or snow melt finding its way into our feed bin to mold the corn. We were feeding trace minerals and lasciloccid in salt. Our animals should have been in perfect health. Instead we had seasoned ewes dieing in labor and beautiful, big lambs born dead.

I could only think of one change. This winter, the Farmer’s Elevator in town started stocking a new kind of trace mineral salt for sheep. Two things about the salt made me uncomfortable. One, it was supposed to be good for cattle, horses, and sheep. In the past we had been very careful to only buy trace mineral salt designed for sheep because they have very special nutritional requirements. And two, it listed copper as an ingredient. Copper can be toxic for sheep so I usually buy a mineral mix with no added copper. I wasn’t concerned because the copper concentration on the label was low enough that it shouldn’t hurt our animals.

Every time we heard labored breathing, we checked for twitchy skin and took the ewe’s temperature. If her skin shivered and twitched when we touched her and she didn’t have a fever, we assumed that the ewe had hypocalcemia. We treated her by injecting 100 cc of Calphos# 2 under her skin. The drug burned so we injected 10 cc in ten different sites. I could always tell how sick a sheep was by how she responded to the injection. If she tried to run away, there was hope. If she just lay there, her hypocalcemia was advanced and we would be giving her calcium over and over again until she either lambed or died.

After our third ewe died, I went online to learn more about our salt. I was still fixated on the copper concentration, but when I printed out the chemical makeup of our new trace mineral salt and other typical trace mineral salts for sheep for comparison, Dave realized that copper wasn’t the problem, calcium and phosphorous were. The salt we had been using had less than two percent of the amount of calcium and phosphorous that our sheep needed.

We consulted with Dr. Weckwerth one of the two very good veterinarians in town. He agreed with our diagnosis. Low levels of calcium would mean that the ewes’ muscles wouldn’t contract well. Her labor wouldn’t progress normally. And her lambs would therefore have a longer, more stressful labor. Lambs that were born live might be weaker. Lambs whose mothers were particularly deficient in calcium, older mothers who had fed many lambs over the years and might have lower calcium stores to begin with, would maybe not have enough calcium for the muscles of their chest to expand and contract for breathing. Lambs with low calcium might not be able to breathe, even though they were full term, otherwise healthy looking lambs.

We had delivered five lambs who wouldn’t breathe no matter what we tried. Five dead babies without the tiny amount of calcium necessary to cause their lungs to fill with air. All because of a change in a dietary supplement that the sheep eat about 1/3 pound of each week. And the calcium was only 12% of that 1/3 pound. Such a big effect for only 17 grams of calcium, about one tablespoon of calcium per week.

Now we had to decide what to do for the Horned One.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


ewes baa, lambs reply
from far across the pasture -
in the barn, silence

Monday, March 16, 2009


Today, three weeks into lambing, I find myself completely focused on sleep.

I slept from 12:30 a.m. until 6:30 a.m. last night, certainly enough sleep to get by on. Much more than Dave got because he gets up for the 3:00 a.m. barn check and usually spends at least three quarters of an hour in the barn feeding lambs. Interrupted sleep is the worst of all. But I’m the one who can’t seem to drag myself out of bed or off the couch. When the alarm goes off, my mind says ‘time to get up and check for new lambs’ but my body is saying ‘just a few more minutes, the lambs will be alright for just a few more minutes.’

As I drag myself out of bed and downstairs, I fight the urge to lie down for just a minute while the running water warms up enough to make lamb milk, or until it’s a little bit lighter outside. But the lambs need to eat and there might be a mom out there who needs help with lambing. So I go.

After the ewes are fed and watered, the bottle lambs satisfied, and I make sure that nobody has lambed since Dave was out three hours earlier, I stumble back to the house, strip off my barn clothes and curl up on the couch under a quilt. When Dave wakes up, we’ll deal with the rest of today.

After breakfast, I return to the couch. After our 10:00 a.m. check of the barn, I return to the couch. And so the day progresses, doing lamb checks, eating and sleeping. I could even ignore the eating, but Dave insists we eat together.

Why am I so tired? Is it accumulated worry over sick ewes and hungry lambs? Is it working outside for a big part of every day? Or is it too many nights of not quite enough sleep?

What ever it is, I can’t fight it. It’s time for another nap.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Patient acceptance

old ewe just lies there
waiting for babies to come -
warm barn, fresh straw

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Full Moon

Sometimes when the moon is full, the sheep stay out all night to eat. Their breath crystallizes in the still air and their shadows run across the snow behind them.

Last night, the moon was full, but because the temperature was way below zero, we shut the sheep in the barn and spread a bale of hay across the barn floor for a bed time snack. The lamb born at 10:00 pm had ice crystals in the tight curls of his wool and his umbilical cord was frozen. He was nursing when I found him, so I just rubbed him well with a towel and hung two heat lamps over the pen where he and his mom would spend the next two days.

The orange glow of nine heat lamps lit the barn and 80 sheep warmed it. When I stepped out into the barnyard, the cold caught at my throat and the moon lit my path home.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Two degrees Fahrenheit

The weather has turned cold again. The wind generator is humming on the hill, and gusts of snow swirl down off the barn roof. Two days ago, I walked back from the barn without gloves or hat on, savoring the cool air on my face. When the air temperature drops ten or twenty degrees, I add layers – long underwear, wool sweaters, extra gloves under my mittens.

The sheep don’t have that luxury. When the temperature drops all they can do is try to stay out of the wind and eat more food. The more calories they eat, the more calories they can burn to maintain their body temperature – about 103˚ Fahrenheit.

The lambs have even more of a problem. Their only source of calories is their mother’s milk. They have very small reserves of fat that they burn up in the first 24 hours of life. After that fat is gone, they are at the mercy of disease, cold, wet and starvation. The starvation comes if a mother doesn’t have enough milk, when a lamb doesn’t learn to suck right or when a ewe is a bad mother.

When lambs don’t get enough calories from milk, they can’t keep their bodies at body temperature. Our first sign of starvation is a lamb standing with it’s back hunched, feet close together. When we feel the lamb’s belly, it’s concave instead of flat (or in really greedy bottle lambs – bulging). When we hear a lamb crying in the pen, we suspect that it is hungry.

First we try to get the lamb to nurse on it’s mother. Dave is especially good at the patience it takes to hold a lamb under a ewe, and persuade the lamb to open it’s mouth and suck on a nipple. This entails either calming the ewe, calming the lamb, or more likely, both. Trying to get a lamb to nurse gives us some idea of the problem. If the lamb sucks well but the mom is agitated, the mom may be rejecting the lamb. If the mom is encouraging but the baby is listless, the lamb may already be too weak to nurse.

We take the temperatures of listless, hungry looking lambs. Two degrees can make an amazing difference. A lamb with a temperature of 101˚ often stands with it’s back hunched and head down. We may have to encourage it to eat by squeezing the milk bottle after we get the nipple wedged into the lamb’s mouth. If we can warm the lamb and get some milk into it, we can always save it. A lamb with a temperature of 99 degrees may not be able to stand, only lie there with its head turned back over its body. It won’t suck or swallow. It is close to death. Those lambs we feed with a thin gavage tube attached to a 60 cc syringe. We can push the milk into the lamb’s belly. In all these young lambs, if we can get that temperature back up to normal, we can usually save the lamb.

The best way to warm a lamb with a mom (as opposed to an orphan lamb) is to immerse the lamb up to its neck in a bucket of hot water, right in front of its mother. That way the mom can keep sniffing the lamb and talking to it. Because when we pull the warmed, dripping lamb from the bucket and dry it off, it will be a lot cleaner than it was when it went into the bucket and won’t smell the same. If she can’t recognize her lamb, the ewe will reject it and not allow it to nurse. Sometimes it takes two or three buckets of warm water to get the lamb’s temperature back up to 103˚. We can almost tell without a thermometer when a lamb is ready to come out of the bucket. They lift their heads, kick their feet and call for their mothers. Complete cures at the cost of a half an hour of time and a few gallons of hot water.

Warming lambs always makes me feel like a successful shepherd. Now if I could just learn to recognize the problems before my lambs have lost those 2˚ of heat.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Sheep humor (revisited)

Some people don't believe that sheep have a sense of humor. Here is actual photographic proof. None of these images have been retouched in any way.

Polite Attention

Barely Controlled Mirth

Helpless Laughter

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Sheep humor

Sheep personalities (I bet you never pondered that concept before, did you?) generate sheep humor. Most people don’t realize that sheep have a great sense of humor. It’s not obvious. You’re not going to see a ewe doing standup on Comedy Central. But it’s there for the astute observer to see.

Maybe and Zaida have spent much of the last two weeks sleeping on their sides with their legs stretched straight out. This is, of course, also what dead sheep do. The first few times I came around the corner of the barn and saw a sheep on it’s side, not moving, legs stretched straight out, My heart sank.

“Oh, no!” My shout startled the sheep. She’d clamber to her feet and wander off, snickering. As they became more and more pregnant, they lost their ability to scramble to their feet. By the time I learned that it wasn’t an emergency when I found Maybe or Zaida lying on her side with her feet stretched straight out, it was. Eventually, they both birthed big healthy baby girls and were then too busy to lie around with their feet stretched straight out.

Puzzle is either a great mother or seriously in need of psychotherapy. She steals new lambs. If I walk into the barn and there are two moms hovering over a new, wet lamb, Puzzle is sure to be one of them. Both make mothering sounds. Both try to nudge each other out of the way. Both lick the baby. But only one mom has remnants of her amniotic sack hanging from her vagina. Only one has a milk swollen udder. So far, Puzzle has been disappointed. But I have lost all sympathy for her. Catching a determined 150 pound sheep and wrestling her away from the baby and out of the barn is no small task. Today she stole a lamb we had separated her from just yesterday evening. The sides of the pen in which the lamb had been getting to know her real mom didn’t quite close. Puzzle coaxed her out and renewed their acquaintance. Dave was most perplexed when he found ewe in a jug with no lamb and Puzzle with a lamb but still no udder and nothing hanging from her vagina.

Even the bottle lambs play jokes on us. They see feeding time as a sort of shell game. First I grab lamb 003, one of the gang of four – three white siblings and a fourth black lamb with white frosting on his head – stuff him between my knees and feed him. The other three lambs nurse non-discriminately on my fingers, my knees and each other. They force their heads in between the 003 and the bottle. I struggle constantly to keep the nipple in 003’s mouth. He gulps the milk. After he has downed three ounces of milk, I release him and look up to get the next lamb in line. I check the level of milk on the bottle. When I turn back, 003 is standing there in front of me, eager to eat. I look at him carefully. All the lambs are equally enthusiastic. 003’s belly doesn’t look any fuller than the other two lambs. He has no distinguishing characteristics except that small black 3 on his bright orange ear tag. Maybe I haven’t fed him yet. The other white lambs are 001 and 002. Funny how the 00 part is the easiest to see and sticks in my mind while the 1, 2, or 3 just slip away. I resolve to start next time with 001 and move sequentially.

Spring is lazy. She lies on the barn floor all night, not bothering to jump up and mill about with all the other sheep when I walk into the barn. Because she doesn’t get up, we have to assume that she might be sick, having trouble lambing, ketotic or hypocalcemic. And so we have to get her up. I start by pushing at her shoulders. She ignores me. I get behind her, squat, looking over her mountainous pregnant belly, and lift her hips. The back end of a ewe doesn’t have any convenient, hygenic handles. She doesn’t move. I rock her to encourage effort on her part. Nothing. I squat lower and lift harder. It’s like trying to lift a car with no bumper to hold onto. Nothing happens. I kneel in the dirty straw and put my shoulder to her back end, and push with all my strength. She is unconcerned and unmoved.

Finally, I get up and head to the house for Dave. We’ll have to try to get a ketone reading, or inject some calcium. Dave dresses for the cold and grabs a bottle of calcium phosphorous #2. We trudge back to the barn.

We find Spring out back eating hay, obviously not in labor, not ketotic and not hypocalcemic. Sheep expressions are subtle, but I’m sure there is a smirk on her face. On the other hand, it may just be my sleep deprivation.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Morning sun

The sun through the morning mist painted the air yellow. It glowed on the ridges and snow cornices sculpted by yesterday’s south wind. In the barn, Apple Blossom lay in a patch of sunlight. Everybody was still asleep: lambs curled next to their mothers, the quartet of bottle babies under the heat lamp, yearlings with their heads on the backs of their siblings.

I hated to disturb them. But I needed to know that each animal was sleeping contentedly, not just laying there, exhausted or sick. I walked through the crowd, encouraging the ewes to their feet. They grumbled and complained, but eventually all 46 animals milled around the barn. By this time, fourteen of the fifteen lambs were up and either loudly insisting that mom stand still so that they could nurse, or that I come to the group pen RIGHT NOW and feed them.

Fourteen of the fifteen lambs. Rooster’s little white girl lay curled in their pen. I lifted her up and set her on her feet. She wobbled and staggered. She didn’t stretch or wriggle.

I felt her belly. Concave, not fat and firm like the belly of a full lamb. I urged her toward Rooster’s udder. The lamb didn’t seem to know what to do. I knew the lamb had nursed just after she was born, shortly after midnight. Had she forgotten how in the last seven hours?

I emptied the rest of the lamb milk into a second bottle and rinsed out the feeder bottle. New born lambs aren’t supposed to have anything but colostrum in their bellies for the first 24 hours. Anything else shuts down the lamb’s ability to absorb antibodies from it’s mother’s milk. I planned to express colostrum from Rooster’s udder and then feed it to the lamb. So I needed a bottle uncontaminated by milk.

Rooster let me express an ounce of her colostrum. I poured it into the empty feeder bottle and screwed on the nipple. Rooster’s baby wouldn’t even suck on the bottle. Little shivers ran across her body. Rats! I had to get some colostrum into this lamb before she ran out of energy and we had to do major resuscitation.

I put the lamb back into Rooster’s pen and ran to the house for a gavage tube and syringe. The sky had turned an ugly gray, all the light drained from the morning.

I slid a six inch gavage tube into the side of the lamb’s mouth and down her throat past the opening to her lungs. She didn’t cough or choke, so I pushed the plunger on the syringe and forced the colostrum into her stomach. Then I settled the lamb back in the pen, under a heat lamp with Rooster.

Two hours later when we returned to the barn, the lamb stretched a minuscule amount and refused to eat when Dave tried to put her on her mother’s nipple. Her belly felt full.

Sunlight once again stretched into the barn through the open door. The ewes had settled down for post-breakfast naps in the sun’s warmth. The lambs nested with their mothers in piles of straw. Time for the shepherds to return to the house, at peace, because their animals were also at peace.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

I promise new experiences

Although being a shepherd can be a solitary occupation, Dave and I have been lucky enough to work together. Sometimes we are especially blessed when family and friends work along side us.

With Tom Sawyer as a role model, we have enticed countless city folk to join us at the farm during shearing, lambing and haying. We work them hard, but always promise new experiences, and most have returned to play again.

Our daughters Amber and Laurel are the most amazing volunteers. They helped with lambing every year of their childhoods from the time Laurel was four and Amber was eight. They fed bottle lambs, helped feed moms, ran errands, lay on top of ewes who needed to be restrained, baled hay, and checked the barnyard several times a day for new lambs. When they weren’t helping in the barn, they did laundry, fixed meals and washed dishes. They’ve continued to help out at the farm when their schedules allow.

One year Laurel and her husband Gautam arrived for a long planned vacation half way through haying. They put on jeans, long sleeved shirts and leather gloves to lift and stack 50 pound bales of hay on the back of a hay wagon, in the sun, for an entire week of 80 degree weather. Not the vacation they had planned.

Amber and her husband Jesse came to help last weekend and brought Jesse’s dad, Carl, to experience the farm too. They cooked, washed dishes, did laundry, and helped feed lambs and moms. When a new baby needed to be warmed, Carl brought him into the house and then dried him carefully. When he left, Carl thanked us.

Dave’s mom, Alice comes for four or five days every year during lambing. She cooks, does dishes, washes clothes and feeds lambs. I think she is reminded of her childhood on a dairy farm and glad she no longer has to be a farmer the rest of the year.

I don’t envy the shepherds out alone in their wagons on the western plains. I lambed alone back when Dave worked full time away from home. It was hard work, frustrating and exhausting. Lambing with someone else is less frustrating, less exhausting and less work.

Tom Sawyer had it wrong; working along side your partner, your daughter, your mother, your friend, is more fun than doing it alone and way better than having someone else do the job for you. Because amazingly often, lambing brings new experiences for Dave and I too.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Sheep Dreams

Friday night, the moon was a thin sliver low in the western sky and Venus rode one of the points of that crescent. I walked to the barn with a light heart. We had three healthy babies in the barn and as far as we knew, no sheep was actively dieing. Several of the ewes looked uber-pregnant, but that’s normal when you’re carrying three babies.

I am amazed at the difference that 24 hours can make in my mind set. For the last week, every trip to the barn was full of dread. I could not imagine any good endings. Even in my sleep my mind cycled between dead moms and dead babies.

Three healthy babies was beyond my imagining.

Three healthy babies is the reason that we continue to breed our sheep every fall. We know the risks. We remember the deaths from year to year. It isn’t that we don’t feel sorrow over the deaths or that we forget the hard work.

The joy of delivering healthy lambs a powerful emotion. Even in a normal, “successful” delivery, each lamb is a gift. But when the options are as poor as they were yesterday, the gift of three healthy lambs is a real miracle.

How can you walk away from a job that brings you miracles on a daily basis?

The Saturday night sky was a deep velvet black. Venus had set, leaving the moon hanging in the blackness alone with only the brilliant stars for company. Lights in the distance silhouetted our trees. The lambs were sleeping. The ewes were sleeping. I joined Dave in bed and we slept too, dreaming of sheep.