Spring has arrived and the mood for me is a pendulum of spring cleaning projects and being totally paralyzed on the porch by the warm sunshine, gentle breeze and the bird’s melodic songs. Along with spring comes lambs. Lambing is also a combination of the above dichotomy of peaceful joy and frenzied activity.
Sometimes on social media I use the hashtag farmlife. A lot of folks have the idea that the farm is either the bucolic porch sitting and fairy tale lambs or really hard dirty work. In reality, it is a combination of both. Wednesday was a good representation of #farmlife.
At the noon health and welfare check, I fed Duchess, a very pregnant Border Leicester ewe, her lunch. I let her eat hay first before the “morning” ration of grain. Duchess has always been a bit of a diva. In addition, she, like many girls, has struggled with her weight. Being pregnant, she has been extra vocal and cranky about her food ration, her condition and life in general. When I approached the barn and did not hear her yelling her fool head off at me, the thought crossed my mind she may be close to lambing.
I opened the door to her area and noticed she was at the hay feeder chowing away. As I passed by, I did a quick OB glance to see how close she was. I did a double take, and said “Uh, Duchess , did you know you have a hoof sticking out of your back end?” She was in labor but didn’t think a quick snack was out of line! I quickly got her attention with the grain and led the first time mum into the adjacent large lambing pen so she could concentrate on the job at hand. Not wanting to distract her, and the labor to stall, my helper and I went up to the viewing stand (barn loft).
Her labor progressed. Because of her large girth, she managed to not only roll herself onto her back but find the exact position that took advantage of the slight incline of the floor! There she was, on her back, legs sticking straight up in the air, unable to move. As soon as I saw this, I dashed down the stairs of the barn loft. I righted the large rotund ewe and positioned her where she could labor without killing herself! As I retreated again so she could continue, I quipped, “Thank you Duchess for having your baby today while I am here”.
Mind you, she has a pretty large area to birth in, but Diva Duchess has this lamb so it is smushed against the wall. Great! Then she just stands there, not moving, back hunched. Another lamb? Addled (Ky farm word) from the on the back episode? Something else? Diva drama? I have farmed long enough to know the highs and the lows of lambing: the good outcomes and the tragic ones.
She doesn’t pay any attention to the lamb. Just stands there. Then she starts licking the wall and everything else but the lamb. The lamb is strong and is calling to her. Duchess is calling back. (good sign) Heart in my throat right now. I repeat to my self, as I descend the stairs to once again assist, “Don’t want a bottle lamb, Don't want a bottle lamb”. I move the lamb with gloved hands over to her. Still nothing doing. She starts to nibble some hay in the corner. “Duchess! It is NOT time for a snack.” The lamb is healthy and strong and the weather is warm and there are no pressing appointments, so we have hope. The lamb, like her mother, has quite a voice and is calling loudly!
Meanwhile, Polly, who lambed last week, is nearby in the nursery pen and comes over to call back to the lamb. Luckily there is a gate separating them because “mother of the year” Polly would have claimed her. I turn Polly out with her lambs, Sarah and Jacob, into the dry lot so we will have none of that claiming confusion.
“Come on Duchess”, I plead, “be a good girl. Cant you hear your lamb say ‘love me, love me!’ You have good mothering genetics……..she’s really cute!” I thought that maybe she was going to have another lamb. Lord knows she's big enough to have quads!
Then a light goes off in my head, what does Duchess like? I have my helper run the the house and get some molasses. I paint the little lambs head and neck with stripes of gooey molasses. I think, if this doesn’t work, this is going to be a mess to clean up. So many things running through my head, I whisper a prayer and I hold the lamb up to her, she turns her head away.
I then employ the divider gate to reduce the lambing jug to a smaller size. “I have tried girl, you are going to have to decide about this on your own.” I leave and watch from above in the loft. Slowly, Duchess seems to come to her senses. Her lamb continually calles to her and Duchess answers back faithfully. Not in her usually bawdy voice but with the sweet vibrato of a ewe bonding with her lamb. She slowly takes a few tentative steps towards the little white creature with the big ears and starts to lick the top of her head. “Oh,” Duchess says, “It’s a molasses flavored lamb. That’s not so bad.” As Duchess beings to gains her confidence as a mother, the lamb responds by standing to search for her first meal. The diva cleans her lamb completely: bonding, calling. But will she let her nurse. If a ewe is going to reject her lamb, this is the point where the shepherd knows if the bond will be formed. The little lamb is strong and persistent. (Maybe loves food and is as spunky as her mum!)
Hooray! Little lamb is nursing, mom loves her! Whew! Thanks Duchess! Praise God! I give her the rest of her grain and clean off the hay from her back. I sit back and watch the precious little girl and her mum get acquainted as the sun and gentle breeze flow thought the slats in the side of the barn. I let Polly and her lambs back in and the little families meet, more joy.
I had planned names for Duchess’ lambs but it occurs to me that this little girl is a “Molasses lamb”. Little Lassie it is!
All is well that ends. well. Duchess continues to be a great mum and Lassie has quite a voice and loves to eat.
Even though this event did produce some adrenaline, it was mild compared to some adventure that have taken place at the barn. Yet this couple of hours in the life of the farm encompassed surprise, fear, determination, anger, gratitude, hope, joy and love.
What most #farmlife taggers know is that the farm is a dynamic living thing. There are situations that arise where life or death is dependent on you, your wits, and the grace of God, where the hard dirty work, and the beautiful pure meanings of life happen simultaneously.