Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A place in my heart

Art teacher Laura Moe and Chewy

We sell most of our lambs. Each year, a few lucky ewe lambs go to new homes, and we keep a few ourselves, but the rest join the ram lambs in the pasture from which new refugees to our community select lambs to roast for weddings, birthdays and other celebrations.

Because I know that we will sell them, I try very hard to become attached only to the few we will add to our flock. And every year I struggle with the bottle lambs. If the lamb has a nice fleece, and is a girl, and isn’t a bottle lamb because of some physical problem, then I look forward to adopting them. But the rest I have to enjoy as bottle lambs without becoming attached. That is easier to do if they all look the same – plain vanilla white. And I never, ever name them until we decide to keep them.

This year we have two bottle lambs who don’t fit that plain vanilla description. Chewy is black with striking white markings on his face. He went to school to introduce a group of children to sheep and wool. They named him, I didn’t, because he chewed on their shoe laces. Chewy, like all bottle lambs is affectionate, enthusiastic, and follow us everywhere. Then, Chewy broke his leg. I don’t know if he got tangled in a fence, or stepped on by a ewe, but he was limping when we found him on Sunday. I held him and Dave fit a curved metal splint around his hind leg. Next Dave wrapped his leg in bright blue vet wrap and attached it to the splint. When I let Chewy go, he struggled to his feet and raced off, half the time dragging the splint and half the time walking with it. Wherever he went, he was recognizable by his walk and by the bright blue bandage.

Although he is a white lamb, Little Bit is not plain vanilla either. Dave struggled hard to resuscitate him when he was born and we had to warm him twice. He eventually grew enough wool and matured enough to maintain his own body temperature and we were able to turn off both the heat lamps that warmed him. He finally learned to use the sucker bucket and we were able to stop going out to the barn to feed him every four hours.

Now, after only four weeks, we are trying to wean him. All the other bottle lambs are weaning successfully, but Little Bit always looks hungry. He is the smallest lamb in the flock. He was too fragile when we should have docked his tail, so he is the only lamb in the flock with a tail. And to top it off, he developed a septic shoulder joint which Dave drained and treated with antibiotics for two weeks and now he limps.

Tonight when I took fresh milk out for the sucker bucket, Little Bit looked hungry, but his limp was better. Chewy, on the other hand, had lost his splint and his limp was worse. Tomorrow, we will resplint his leg. Tomorrow, I will dilute Little Bit’s milk with water so he will have to depend even more on hay and lamb creep, the ground grain and vitamin mixture that we feed to the lambs.

With each succeeding day, Chewy and Little Bit will look more like the other lambs in the pasture. For now, when I stand at the fence line watching the lambs, Chewie and Little Bit rush to welcome me, their little faces eager for milk and attention. I pet their heads and they suck my fingers. I can’t keep either of these lambs. They have no place in my flock, but they do have a place in my heart. Lambs like Chewie and Little Bit remind me that I don’t raise meat, I raise breathing, running animals.

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