Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Gift

On the first day that lambing could possibly begin, 56 yellow presented me with a pre-birthday gift - two healthy, white ram lambs. I was not as overjoyed as I should have been.

Usually, the ewes don’t get pregnant the first day the ram is introduced. Usually, we have two or three days, sometimes even a week of “lambing” before the first baby is born. That’s why this year, Dave planned to work at the ER the first four nights of lambing. That’s why I hadn’t bought new ear tags or replenished my colostrum supply. That’s why I had four meetings scheduled in the next four days. It wasn’t why I was still finishing Valentine’s gifts and our holiday letters (that was just slowness on my part). Whatever the reason, I wasn’t ready for lambing. But that didn’t matter, the lambs were here.

Dave clipped their umbilical cords, dunked the cord ends in iodine, and stripped milk from their mother’s teats at 2 PM. When I came back from my first meeting, one of the lambs looked kind of hungry. He didn’t stretch or shake when I set him on his feet; his skin was sort of wrinkly, not smooth like his sibling’s; and he baaad. I checked his mom’s teats. Plenty of milk in the left one, only a drop from the right. And her udder was hot and hard on the right. I gave her an antibiotic and would keep watching her.

By my 3 AM check, the wrinkly lamb’s wrinkles were more pronounced. That could be due to dehydration, or the fact that he was part merino, a breed with very wrinkly skin. But he seemed hungry and I hadn’t replenished my colostrum supply! I vaguely recalled a small container of powdered colostrum in one of the garage freezers. I trudged back to the garage and dug through the freezer until I found it. I measured the colostrum and warmed water and mixed them until the colostrum dissolved. Then I scoured the house for a plastic pop bottle. We don’t drink pop, but someone must have left one at some point. Nothing in the recycling. Nothing in the fridge. In a back corner of the pantry I found a bottle of iced tea. It didn’t have quite the right threads for the nipple I used, but it would work.

I tried to feed the wrinkly lamb. He wasn’t very interested. In fact, I couldn’t get him to drink at all. His belly felt flat, not concave, so he probably was nursing on his mom. I decided to stop worrying and look at him with more rested eyes at my 7 AM barn check.

Three days later, the wind across my face was no longer balmy. When I breathed, the cold caught at the back of my throat on each breath. The setting sun stained the western sky a beautiful orange that silhouetted the trees in our woods. Both lambs and number 56 were doing well. My Valentine’s gifts and holiday letters were finished. I only had one easy meeting left. Dave was due home in 24 hours.

As I walked back to the house and a nap on the sofa with a good book, I felt relaxed. I could lie around and read or sleep for three hours and not feel guilty. There were no problems in the barn, and no “to do” list in the house. For the next month, our responsibilities were to watch over the sheep and do what needed to be done to feed and clothe ourselves and sleep. This is the gift of lambing, the gift of simplicity.

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