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.

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