Friday, March 23, 2012

Bottle babies

photo by Amber Walker

Bottle babies can be a real pain. When you bend over to feed lamb a, lamb b butts your nose, bringing tears to your eyes. They suck your fingers in a vain attempt to get milk while waiting for their turn at the bottle. They tangle with your feet when you walk through the barnyard. They baa incessantly in your ear while you feed their siblings.

Bottle babies happen for lots of reasons. Bucklet’s mother didn’t have any milk. Christmas’ mother died. 63’s mother was too ditsy to stand still for a lamb with sore joints to keep up with her. Sometimes ewes with triplets don’t have enough milk for three babies and we bottle feed the weakest one. Sometimes lambs have sharp teeth or a painful suck and their moms keep trying to get away.

Bottle babies can be a real pain. But they make you laugh on gray days. They continue to recognize you and approach unafraid, no matter how old they are. They wrap themselves around your heart. They make you cry when they die. Bottle babies can be a real pain, and yet they always add to the joy of lambing.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Feeding hay on the ground

Most sheep raising books say never, ever feed your sheep on the ground. It’s a good way to infect them with worms or coccidia. I’ve been in barnyards (even mine after a good rain or in the late spring) that make ground feeding an obvious hazard. But I also know several good shepherds who fed their sheep onto snow as long as the snow was fresh and clean.

That’s the technique we use. When there’s clean snow, we spread hay onto the snow. It forces our sheep to exercise, important for the health of the mom and the fetus, and it distributes their manure throughout the pastures rather than just around the feeders. Come spring we can tell exactly where we fed hay onto the ground - the grass there is greener and grows faster because of the manure.

This year has been a barren, snowless time for feeding. Both Dave and the sheep were unhappy using the feeders. Dave didn’t appreciate how fast they filled with stems the sheep didn’t want to eat and which he then had to clean out of the feeders. The sheep didn’t like the way the tasty leaves sifted through the stems to the bottom of the feeder. They complained all the time. When the snow finally came, we all rejoiced. Once again we can feed hay on the ground. Of course this year, within a week the snow is almost gone. But while it lasted...

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Little Things

After the big wave of lambing has rushed over us, we can take the time to notice little things. Those treats are there all the time, but only appreciated when we aren’t rushed or sleep deprived, when we open ourselves to seeing them.

Yesterday I noticed (as if for the first time) how the light from outside the barn door glowed through a lamb’s ears. Last night I marveled at the warmth of a new mother’s teats as I expressed milk for her hungry lamb. This morning I smelled clean wool as I pressed my body down on an anxious ewe while Dave gave her a shot.

Those little things – the sparkle of snow crystals in the moonlight, the crisp imprint of a lamb hoof in new snow, the soft rustle of sheep settling into fresh straw – those little things are such a big part of a good life.

Friday, March 2, 2012


We need solitude. I think that’s why we live in the country. It’s not that we don’t like people; we love it when friends and family come to visit and we enjoy every minute of their stay whether it’s measured in hours, days, weeks or months. We enjoy the stimulating conversations, the music we make, the arts and crafts we create, the cooking we do together and even the work we accomplish together. Family and friends make our lives meaningful and rich.

But we also need the time when it’s just us and the animals, the fields and the forest, and no people for as far as the eye can see. Blizzards enforce our solitude. As long as we don’t have to be somewhere else when a storm rips through, we fill the wood box and the bird feeder, shut the sheep in the barn and hunker down, surviving quite well on the meat and vegetables in the freezers and the pantry shelves holding jam, honey, tomatoes, pickles, maple syrup, and Dave’s home brewed wine and beer. We do much more than survive as our driveway fills with snow and our only connections with the outside world are the telephone, the computer and two pair of snowshoes. That solitude enriches and nourishes our souls.