Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The first flowers

When spring comes, I search for flowers. I have to look hard to find the pasque flowers in the Lake Region Electric Coop prairie. Their buds are the same pale parchment color as the dried debris of last years prairie. If the old stalks hadn't been cut and raked, I wouldn't have seen the pale purple petals just inches off the ground.

The pasque flowers aren't flashy; they don't overwhelm you with bright color or scent or their vast numbers. It's the persistence of the plant, the fact that it forces its way up through ground just barely thawed, that impresses me. Any plant that blooms while the nights still freeze regularly and the days hover around 40 degrees must be a survivor. And yet, the pasque flowers just barely survive. They don't compete well with sod forming grasses. They need prairie grasses that grow in clumps, leaving space for the prairie flowers in between. They need the prairie grasses that emerge when conditions are warmer to allow the early spring sun to reach the pasque flowers, heating their patch of soil and building sugars in their roots.

Once the prairie grasses grow, the ephemerals like pasque flowers can't compete for light and they die back, conserving their energy for next spring when the soil warms and the fragile buds push their way up into the sunlight again in a pattern that will continue as long as there are prairies.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Our grandsons, five year old Kieran and three year old Simon helped me feed the lambs.  Two little boys against eight hungry lambs delighted everyone.

After feeding the lambs, we looked for new babies. It had been nine weeks since we had expected our first lamb; there was one ewe left. Dave an I knew that Empress was pregnant. Her udder was plumping up and her abdomen eventually spread outward into that distinctive pregnant sheep shape. She was an experienced mom, but we checked  every three hours, hoping to finally see her with a new lamb at her side. The boys found Empress in the barn lying in an open jug, straining. It was finally time.

I settled the boys in the corners of the pen behind her. Then I leaned against Empress and looked at her back end. "These are his feet." I touched each hoof as I spoke. "And this is his nose." The boys were probably completely confused, the hooves and nose were almost the same color - off white- and covered with a clear shiny membrane.

"I'm going to pull on his foot to help him come out." The boys nodded. Empress groaned.
"You're hurting her," Kieran said. Empress groaned again. "You're hurting her," Simon said.

"We have to get the baby out," I explained. "It's a big baby, so we have to help. It will hurt for a little while and then she'll feel better." I pulled down and out on one hoof.  I grabbed the second hoof and pulled. This was tighter. I eased the legs sideways, pulled. I slid my fingers behind the lamb's head, hoping to ease it out. Empress groaned again.

Then I felt the give as the lamb's head passed through the cervix. Yes! It was a big, big lamb. I dragged it out into the air and swiped my hand across it's mouth and head, clearing the membrane from its nose and mouth so it could breathe. The lamb didn't move. Empress didn't turn to look for him.

This lamb has to  live, I thought to myself. I can't have Kieran and Simon watch me deliver a dead lamb.

I shook the little body. No breaths.

I dropped it gently to the floor. No breaths.  But he did lift his head slightly. I set the lamb down and ran to the cabinet for towels. Then I began rubbing the lambs abdomen and chest, hard. After every couple of rubs I'd pause, watching for breaths.

A flutter. Then another. Yes! As the lamb began to breathe easily on its own, I handed the towels to the boys. "Rub him dry," I said. "He's a nice big, healthy lamb."

I checked Empress for another lamb but she was done. She struggled to her feet and turned to lick her baby. I clipped his umbilical cord, dipped it in iodine and then stripped the milk from Empresses teats, explaining to the boys as I worked.  Then Kieran filled a bucket of water for her. Simon dropped some hay into her pen. I tied the pen shut.

The boys both looked over the pen again before we left the barn. Empress' lamb was standing, nursing. Outside, the bottle lambs mobbed us, hoping for one more drink of milk.