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February 2006

It shall never cease to amaze me. Lambing, that is. The drama and its attendant bewilderment. The ewe's drama. My bewilderment, that is. Or sometimes the lack of drama, accompanied by attendant bewilderment. Mine, once again. I've had far bigger lambs born here this year than customary. And in odd combinations.

As in, one large brown ram, stuck, for a few minutes, in its mother, and two small white ones following

immediately, sliding right out. Triplets. You'd never guess to look at them that they are related. I'm so glad I was there. Pulling, feet against a wall, mine, baling twine around the lamb's front hoofs, pulling down and

forward, towards the ewe's head. Just a little harder. Push. Push. Pull. Pull. I'll never stop being afraid, or being overwhelmed by my ignorance. Seventeen years on the job and I'll never feel I know what I'm doing. Not really.

Yesterday I carried a large bale of hay through a gate in the aisle into the barn proper. Filled a manger. Turned on the water from the frost free hydrant. And went back to the gate to retrieve another bale. There, blocking the gateway, one of the black Finns had dropped a lamb, a little white lamb. Not a peep out of either of them. All in less than five minutes. Earlier there had been a ewe whose lamb's head had gotten stuck, and couldn't get out. I tried a baling twine around its neck. Its legs were way back inside in the wrong position. I couldn't get my hand inside to bring the feet out. I put one foot against her, and the other against the wall. And pulled with all of my strength. The lamb was the biggest I'd ever seen. I thought it was dead. I cleaned its nose. It lay, motionless, not breathing. Suddenly it sneezed. I swung it around, holding its legs, to dislodge any mucous blocking his lungs, slapped it, shook it and made noise to wake it. As two more, small, pretty ewe lambs slipped out.

There have been several sets of triplets born here. In unexpected combinations. Sometimes two different colors. Sometimes two different sizes. Or three. One ewe has, each year, one black lamb and one white one, twins. Marcella Greenleaf was the black one last year. Who shall you be the little Oxford grey creature with white on your head, curled up like a kitten, beside the refrigerator in the kitchen. This remarkable warm winter has provided one with very few lambs in the kitchen. Thank goodness. No frozen little things, temperature lower than that on the thermometer, plunged into a sink of warm water, packed in fleece and warmed with hot water in baggies in baskets by the fire.

I'm beginning to choose my breeding stock for next year from this year's lambs. One ram lamb is a certainty. His mother's performance on one level is disappointing. One large single a year. This year's was a ram. Long legged. Rangy in appearance. Six-tenths East Friesian. Four-tenths Dorset-Finn. She came from Old Chatham's flock. A flock which may be a myth maker. Nonetheless, my ewe, Gillian Greenleaf, is not only nursing her handsome young son, but everyone who comes along. And they are legion. Gillian is a superb mother, standing patiently for everyone's lambs to have a share of her milk. A quality to admire and to want to reproduce.

This year's second choice also has a remarkable mother. In a totally different way. Eight or nine ewes were eating from the key hole feeder. Suddenly, I heard the old familiar sound of a ewe in hard labor. One of the ewes at the feeder had dropped on the spot and started to deliver a lamb. The other ewes did not move aside. The yearling, for a one year old she was, and a small one at that, would have been stepped on, as well as the lamb who was considering entering the world at any moment. I picked her up, balanced her against the closed gate of the pen as I untied it and propped it open, then showed her inside. She began to dilate. I got a trusty flashlight I'd been given for the barn, climbed into the pen. Sat down on the straw and, a beam on the dilating ewe, waited. Two hoofs first, thank God. Black ones. A surprise. Then a nose. She screamed. I took the ever present baling twine from my pocket. Tied it around its feet. Pulled. She screamed once more. And there he was! Chocolate brown legs. Floppy ears. A little ram. The valiant little ewe began to speak with the little beautiful sweet noises a sheep makes greeting its baby. It stood. Three minutes old! Shook some junk from its head. Onto me, of course. And yelled. Joy to the world! The little ewe was too weak to stand but washed the face of her lamb vigorously. I went to the house to wash off the blood and other junk. Came back to find them born in perfect shape. I may keep him as well. Because of her, and because he is so very fine.

A Tunis ram was once inadvertently put with the milk bred sheep I had bought from a commercial dairy in Western New York. I haven't forgiven the perpetrator. I may some day. But I haven't yet. However, the Tunis cross lambs, the ones I know of that is, are handsome little things. And carry the genes of their Persian grandmothers. I'm keeping the ewe lambs even though I don't really want the breed in my flock. So be it.

This year I'll have some small starter flocks for sale for the first time in several years. All are part Friesian. I'm beginning to braid ribbons for the ones to keep and the ones to be sold as starter flocks. The rest shall go for meat. Most rams. No ewe lambs. I'm beginning to make a list of names from which to choose. Dodo Farquare is one. Althea MacGillicuddy is another. Scotland. England. Wales. I've ninety-one living lambs to date. Lost two to being too big. A vet had to pull one. But ninety-one have lived. I was alright until the eighty-fourth was born. It then began to seem to be a lot. I moved all of the lambing room ewes and their tiniest lambs, all of theirs, into the barn proper. I then became overwhelmed. Then seven more were born in rapid succession. Only four are in the house. Two of them are to be removed to the barn today. But even eighty-seven lambs and the fifty odd mothers suddenly seemed overwhelming to me. I got scared. Really scared. Every visit to the barn, almost eight to ten times a day, saw me with a flashlight, upending bundles of lambs from their slumber. Are you squished? Are you breathing? Is your tummy full? But it is I who am a little squished. Piles of laundry in baskets. Unwashed. Breathing, yes. Is my tummy full? Not of the right food. Am I alive? Yes. And well. Well, yes. I too am okay. All of us for the moment are doing just fine. Barely but just fine. Thank you very much. Ninety-one lambs.

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