Friday, May 29, 2009

So short a life

Golden yellow dandelions dot the fields on our north facing hillsides; on the south facing fields, the yellow blooms have aged to puffs of white seed heads. A good wind and millions of dandelion seeds will head off to populate other fields and lawns – bane of our neighbors.

A month ago, the dandelions were still dormant, today they are disseminating seeds. So short a life, with such a widespread effect. Of course the dandelions in our fields don’t die after they bloom and disperse, they spend the rest of the summer building a deeper and fatter root, all the better to bloom and seed even more successfully next summer.

The lambs in the field, however, do die.

Today Dave sold two lambs, to friends who will eat them. One for a first birthday celebration, and one for a high school graduation celebration. Both great reasons to have a barbeque. It’s just hard that I know the lambs who are being barbequed.

Yesterday, we corralled all the lambs in the barn. One by one, we selected the biggest lambs and weighed them. Dave picked up each lamb and slid it into a big ripstop nylon bag that I made to weigh lambs. We hung the bagged lamb from our ceiling scale. All the lambs over seventy pounds were marked with a spray of Crayola veterinary spray paint – green squiggles across their foreheads and their rumps.

When buyers come we can say “pick any lamb marked with green,” and know that they will choose a big enough lamb for them to have a good feast and for us to make a decent return on our labor.

The lambs pack so much life into three short months. They form loving bonds with their mothers or their shepherds, nurse enthusiastically, run with abandon. The bottle lambs, especially, beg for attention and food with charm and persistence. I appreciate that they gain weight more slowly than their field mates who were fed by sheep mothers because I won’t have to mourn their deaths until much later in the year.

The lambs are our responsibility – their lives, and their deaths. We try to make both as pain free as possible. Selling lambs from our farm shortens the time they are afraid before they die to a matter of minutes instead of the hours in a pickup, days on a feed lot, and a final trip to a slaughter house that our lambs used to endure. When we sell lambs on our farm, we can insure that they have a good death. If there is any such thing as a good death.

At the very least, I know that we have given our lambs a good life – even though it is so short.

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