Sheep and Goats


 

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My perfectly serviceable mixed flock

The sheep at Horse Drawn Farms are a motley crew, there’s no doubt about that. Lucy and Lettie are mostly Suffolk. Charlotte has the Charolais spot on her shoulder, Daisy has a top-knot and a milk-sheep udder that would keep a family of six going, plus a lamb. Emily has the fantastic wool of a Romney and Spotty Legs a clean white head reminiscent of a Dorper. Run together as a flock, they look more like an international convention than a unified force. All are extremely healthy and vigourous, and superior mothers. I was perfectly content with my girls.  Their lambs, although varied, were of good size and fetched a nice price on the grass-fed market.

But then. A fellow shepherd keeping a purebred line of sheep contacted me out of the blue. I had purchased a few sheep feeders from her the previous year, but hadn’t had a close look at her charges who were out in her fields. She was now downsizing, and would I be interested in two of her sheep? I looked up the breed, Clun Forest, and was immediately smitten.

“They’re wonderful sheep,” she said. “Good wool. Good meat. Excellent mothers.”

Wikipedia agreed with her. “Hardy. Adaptable. Good foragers. Long-lived,” it said. But it wasn’t that which convinced me. It was something in the pictures… those ears. Those beautiful upright ears, giving the breed a sharp, polished appearance. They were so different from the airplane ears of my typical grade ewes. The Cluns on Wikipedia were jaw-dropping. Draped with ribbons, proud and square and stern and…cool. Dignified and elegant and aristocratic.  Ears like sharp little spears that pierced the heavens and dropped stars on their backs.  Glancing back and forth from my home sheep pictures to the sleek show pictures of magnificently coiffed Cluns began to be like comparing a old Ford minivan to a fighter jet.  I wanted those ears.

I bought the sheep. My little flock has grown by two, and will grow again as I pick up a registered Clun ram for the autumn.

After juggling rabbit pedigrees this way and that for four years, trying to keep my bloodlines straight and pulling my hair out to find a Toggenburg buck for my registered dairy herd, one would have thought I’d had enough of this heritage thing. Alas, I’m a sucker for looks. The fighter jets are movin’ in.

Stolen from the internet (the picture, not the Clun)

Stolen from the internet (picture, not Clun)

 

This year’s lambs seemed to come all at once.   Week after week, our ewes were dutifully trundling to and fro between their paddock and the barn–oh yes, developing the distinct waddle,  udders growing incrementally, getting a little slower every day–but then, whoosh, it was all over.   New lambs peppered the floor, and the barn suddenly became rather crowded as the population tripled.   In this, our second year of lambing, we were decidedly less paranoid about the lamb vigil.  Our mothers had proven themselves as capable parents and we let them get on with what they did best.  Even Lucy, who stubbornly refused to even look pregnant, finally delivered surprise twins.   We were grateful that Ramien, in his last weeks, had quietly cemented his legacy here on the farm.

All colours and sizes.

All colours and sizes.

Once the lambs had their legs and mother-recognition circuits all correctly wired, it was time to introduce them to the outside world.  Now, my memory might be a little hazy, but I seemed to remember that training the little ones to make the 100 meter dash to the paddock was easy last year.   Last year, we shook some tantalising tidbits under the noses of the ewes and headed slowly out.   They followed me at a casual walk, and the lambs followed them.  Ditto for the return, and within a day or two, the new residents had the route down pat.  The ewes began to run along without me, and the lambs ran too, with the occasional mad pronking along the way, in case any predators were watching.  No problem.

We were forced to come to an unhappy conclusion when we witnessed the efforts of this year’s trainees: these lambs were not like those lambs.

At the emergence, chaos ensued.  Some ewes ran headlong to the paddock, remembering that grain was usually waiting there for them.  Lambs dazzled by the open sky and daylight stood befuddled, then shot left, right, forwards and backwards.  Some ewes hit the brakes halfway along and began an ungodly bawling of confusion and alarm, which made any lambs heading in their direction confused (and alarmed).   In the meantime, disappointed ewes who had made it to the empty outside feeder reversed course at equally high speed and shot full tilt past the lambs that had made progress homing in on their mothers’ voices.

On rainy Day Three of Operation Move-the-Lambs, after 40 minutes of trailing wayward youngsters through ponds, blackberry thorns, electric fences and stinking mud pits (yes, we have a few of those here), we finally managed to snatch the foreleg of the last stray and scoop him up.  Once plunked safely down in the paddock to join his nonchalantly chewing mother waiting under the large three-sided shelter, Pete had a revelation.  “You know,” he said, excavating some mud from his ear while I rubbed fruitlessly at the nettle rash forming on my wrist, “we could just build a new barn out of that shelter.  Then they wouldn’t have to run anywhere.”

A sheep barn disguised as a disused horse shelter

A sheep barn disguised as a disused horse shelter

It took just over a week to complete the transformation, entirely with free or discounted lumber we found on craigslist.   It’s solid, it’s dry, and it’s warm, and it’s actually slightly bigger than the converted one-car garage that served as the old sheep barn.  Now, why didn’t we think of this before?  I suppose because until we have a problem, we don’t look for a solution.  The sheep had been using that paddock with that shelter for nigh-on two years, but it hadn’t occurred to us that our system of housing needed improving.  And what a change.  Feeding time has been cut to minutes; we fill the feeders with hay and open the door.  Sheep pour out, walk two steps and are eating.   The lambs gambol about in this protected area, and come grazing time, we can set the electric nets around the gates and simply open them up.

It’s lovely.  And perhaps this change has made us see our farm with new eyes as we walk around for our daily chores.  What else can we work on to make our management–and our lives–a little easier?

Everyone where they should be.

Everyone where they should be.

Saltan making some calculations.

Saltan making some calculations.

When you run a smallholding–especially a really small smallholding like Horse Drawn Farms– every animal needs to pay its way. In our case, our five-goat herd is hardly enough to justify the added expense and management of a buck. Bucks are big. Bucks eat a lot. And bucks are messy, smelly, single-minded fellows. Luckily, the farm is located only an hour away from an excellent goat breeder who offered us her fine Toggenburg buck for service. This is common enough with many farm animals–a way for a farmer with a big enough herd to justify their own stud animal by having him further earn his keep. And so Saltan came to stay.

As this was to be our young Easter’s first breeding, we would need to keep a close eye to make sure it was a fait accompli. The sudden arrival of a big stinky man in her midst would make any young doe nervous, and indeed, she hid behind her mother as Saltan’s head suddenly popped out of the canopy window of my truck and he wildly maaaa-ed in her direction. I wondered if I would need to put a lead on his neck chain to lead him to the does–but the rope burn on my hands from his leaping down and galloping over to their fence answered THAT question.  The main goat pen has held our dairy goats in just fine since we constructed it in 2011. Since our farm is leased, we opted for easily moved hog panels, combined with a top rail for a total height of perhaps 1.5 meters.   Although the girls often spend a pleasurable hour or two gnawing at the top boards, we’ve never found a goat where she shouldn’t be.   So I was pretty confident that the Saltan would live quite comfortably in the pen with the two does I wanted pregnant.  The other goats, I’d keep well out of reach, in the back building.  I let him loose, watched the antics of the two girls greeting this large stranger for a few minutes, then went into the house.

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Who the heck IS that?

I figure it took Saltan about three minutes to discover that neither of these does were in heat, another minute to notice the fresh browse some meters away, and one further minute to assess the location of lowest board, because when I popped my head out of the door five minutes later, he wasn’t in there anymore.    He was munching away on the driveway blackberry bushes, looking quite at home.   “Ah,” I thought. “Hungry.” I fetched a large flake of some alfalfa grass hay, threw it in the goat feeder and quietly led Saltan back into the pen.  Elizabeth and Easter snorted at him all over again, as evidently the five first minutes had not been adequate for getting to know their suitor.   This time,  Sultan gave a perfunctory sniff at the hay, ignored the two girls altogether, then sauntered straight back over to the fence and leapt over.  It took all the effort of stepping across a speed bump.  I put him in again. He jumped out again.   In again.  Out  again.  In again, out again, and this time Easter carefully observed his escape point and tested the waters with a half-hearted little leap of her own.  I knew then that trying to keep him in this pen was going to be a disaster.

The next stop was the sheep barn.  The sheep also have an outdoor paddock with shelter, and would do just fine living outside twenty-four hours a day.  So in went the trio, curiously sniffing around at the sheepy smells.   The sheep barn door is slightly higher than my head.  “No way could any goat jump out of there,” I said to my husband.  But he looked doubtfully at Saltan’s long legs. “Let’s put up a little something extra, just in case,”  he said.   And when I returned with the evening goat rations, he had nailed up a long aluminum ladder horizontally above the door, spanning the entire upper opening.    “That’s over two meters, no WAY he’s getting out now!” he chortled, and we turned in, with visions of the chocolate brown kids to come.

We found Saltan the next morning, loose in the yard.  The aluminum ladder was no longer nailed neatly above the door, but hanging wildly on one bending nail.    Saltan was nose to nose with our other goats, chatting amiably to them through the page wire, a few stray blackberry leaves still stuck to his unruly coat.  He looked up at me with a calm, smiley sort of expression.  It said, “Your obstacle course could really use some work.”  Elizabeth and Easter made some plaintive cries from the sheep barn, where they’d been summarily left at the altar.

There was nothing for it now, but the Fort Knox stall.  This was Cirrus’s old stall, made to hold in and keep safe the most stall-hating horse that ever lived.  Every wall was reinforced, every window barred, every square centimeter guarded against horse teeth, horse muscle and sheer horse determination.  It was a touch small to keep three goats confined, but when I found Saltan and the does still in there when I came around with the 7am feeding, I knew he was finally licked.   He lay recumbent, with a distinctly sulky look on his face.  But at least now he could get down to business, and Elizabeth was encouraging things along–already coming in to heat, standing with her backside as close to his face  as politeness would allow.

In the end, all went well.  Elizabeth became pregnant right away, but Easter went through two cycles before she stood still long enough for any action. Likely it would have been three or four had she been given the room of the outside pen to run away from him.  We became quite fond of Saltan, who was actually a gentle and most affectionate goat, and were sorry to see him leave.    He, on the other hand, did not look in the least sorry.  He settled into the back of the truck for his trip home and promptly fell asleep, no doubt dreaming of better fences to come.

Yep.  That's what they do.

Yep. That’s what they do.

Old Dane smaller

In the end, they compromised as to who owned the chair.

It started out hopefully enough, the slow days of January leading into a busy February lambing.   Although I’m sure there must have been fair, beautiful days, in my memory now, it is mostly raining. The lambs, born into the tail end of winter storms, were protected by our sturdy shelter, but by the first of March, the lion-winds had ripped out every last grommet of the tarp and the ground beyond their pen was saturated into mire.  Still, Rupert Dane didn’t mind standing in it to stare in unabashed amazement at the new woolly lives, bouncing in the deep, clean straw, little tails waggling madly as they sought nourishment underneath their mothers. The day-old chicks arrived the weekend of the first lambs, peeping in bright springtime voices through their temporary cardboard home. With the goats near kidding, it seems the farm was a bastion of life and newness–but it was the last I’d see of life for a while.  The death of the young black lamb was the first hit, I wrote about her earlier in the year.    Days later, it was Rupert.  Magnificent Rupert, Prince of Dogs, it was he who brought the farming life right inside the house, his enormous paws tracking our improved soil all around the living room, his coat spraying the coastal rain over the walls and chairs and door as he shook off after evening chores.  His death ripped a hole in our lives;  his omnipresence, his cheerful goofiness, his stoicism in his last hours on this earth; I can not forget his watchfulness that last night, his look that seemed to say, “It’s okay, my friends, you’ll be all right, you’ll be all right without me.”    But the farm was to see more death yet.

A new fight began on the first day of May, when I found my thoroughbred Cirrus with an appallingly swollen leg.  In decades of experience with horses, I’d seen my fair share of lameness, but this level of inflammation was new, frightening.  His near hind leg appeared several times its normal size– I wondered if he’d broken it in a struggle to get up somehow.  He stood, swaying, sweating, shaking with pain.  Yellow lymphatic fluid oozed from every pore.   Our horse vet, arriving at her earliest availability, diagnosed his condition as acute lymphangitis and set to work with a series of antibiotics, analgesics and diuretics.  She was optimistic about his prognosis, as many horses recover well and go on to return to riding condition.  And for the first few days, Cirrus did show improvement.  He began to walk about a little.  To eat and drink a little.  To show his old brightness when the feed buckets rattled in the morning, swirling the grain around with his nose in his old ham-it-up style.  He became pragmatic about the cold hosing and leg wrapping that were to define the days of his illness.  When the hose appeared, he’d walk away for a few laps of his paddock to show his general disapproval, but later stand resolutely still as I proceeded to run the icy water over his ruined leg.

Cirrus was a fighter, there was no denying that.  He’d been given to me as a starving rescue by a friend who’d found him abandoned in a field.  Apparently he’d spent years there, eking out a living on the sparse grass, summer and winter, forgotten and alone.   He was tattooed, through which I learned that he was born in California but was sired by a British stallion.  His beauty was evident even as I first saw him, listless, emaciated and dull.  He was tough to keep, right from the beginning.  The weight was slow to come on, his immunity poor as skin conditions surfaced and resurfaced.  But finally, a year after he had come home with me, he was the horse he’d been born to be, vivacious, strong-willed and powerful.  Riding him was a revelation, especially since I soon discovered he knew far more about equitation than I did.  He was undoubtedly the most sensitive, highly schooled horse I have ever ridden, and his demands from me as his partner improved me in ways I can only begin to guess.  I could only be puzzled at how this well trained horse had simply been dumped in a field.  I could only gratefully breathe in his intoxicating horse scent each time I brushed out the tangles in his mane.

Three weeks into the lameness it became pretty clear that Cirrus was running out of fight at last.  He had become progressively thinner, with bouts of fever, and edema beginning in his three other legs.   On the good days when things seemed hopeful, we’d head up the road for a walk, he and I.   He was bright on those walks, forward and keen, and his snatching the fresh roadside grasses without stopping as we passed was as representative of his nature as anything–“there’s good stuff here, but let’s keep moving and see what’s ahead.”  However,  back home, he’d lie down for unusually long periods, deep in sleep, his legs twitching as he ran through dreamland pastures.  When he began to dribble urine,  when his fever began to rage every time his medication wore off,  when the shine of his eye began to fail,  when my mother, in the first minute of visiting him, spontaneously and sadly blurted out, “Oh, he’s dying!”, I put down my hope.

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Cirrus

The morning of his euthansia was a strange blur.  There was no sleeping the night before, so the eleven o’clock appointment seemed a torturous wait.  Cirrus had spent the night in a far off shelter, head down, away from the morning chores, away from his best friend Jimmy.   I stood with him a long while in silence, just standing.  Watching.  Later, I was lucky in my own companions, my veterinarian– a wonderful sensitive practitioner–and Steve, our local deadstock hauler.  His gentleness and empathy with animals, in life and after it,  was a tremendous comfort.  Finally, finally, on that quiet weekday morning, Cirrus leapt into death.   No serene downward crumple for him–he fell right over sideways, legs strong and straight, with a grunt and a colossal pounding upon the earth, a thunder that has left me shaken since.  I’ve read that once in your life, you, a horseman, will love one horse with everything you have, and never again, no matter how many others may come and go through your life.  For me, Cirrus was that horse.

My husband had for years jokingly referred to our place as “Old Man Farm”, populated with racetrack retirees and greying muzzles of many kinds.   I’ve just come in from the death of yet another of our old men, our ram, Ramien.   He’d been ill, getting slower, always trailing his girls at a quick walk, the fastest gait he had left.  After a brief illness and no response to treatment, he, too, was to take the journey. He was a gentle, gentle old fellow that came to us late, as a gift that became a treasure.   Always ready for a friendly scratch and the piece of toast that had accidentally fallen on the floor, his solid enormity was what I watched for when trying to find the lambs grazing out back.  He guarded them with the steady majesty that defined him, and never lost his dignity, even when the goat kids discovered that, when recumbant, his head was a perfect launching platform for aerobatic leaping.  He simply chewed his cud, one eye half closing when a sharp little goatie hoof happened to land inside his ear.

I shot him myself, the first time I’ve done this.  It is quite a thing to look down the barrel of a gun at yet another friend.  We buried him on a rise in the back pasture, where he can watch over his new children, coming soon.  A year has passed in a flash, a year defined by grief and loss, a year of questioning motives for the farm, of the purpose for which we keep these animals to begin with, when we know, we know, that we will suffer their loss.

Horse Drawn Farms, entering now into the winter rain, seems a bleaker, darker place.  May the lambs of spring, the blossoms, the first bleat of a new goat kid, remind us that joy will return.

Old friends.

Old friends, now departed.

In the farming calendar, there will always be a few major chores which are approached with particular reluctance.  For some, it may be rounding up fall slaughter stock, when a favourite steer hops onto the trailer for a final ride.  Or it could be that first cut towards the commitment of haying–the hours of working under a hot sun, or under cloudy skies, the anxious hope that the weather will co-operate until the bales are safely stowed away.

For this beginning farmer, there are a few runners up in the Most Trying Task category. Clipping the wings of my entire laying flock comes to mind. The pastures of Horse Drawn Farms are peppered with trees that allow easy escape up and over the electric net to any bird with a sense of adventure, making it necessary to limit vertical advantage. The first few are easy–one just reaches into the mass of feathered bodies in the coop and grabs the first pair of available legs. Invert legs, find wings, snip off feathers, done. But as the number of legs decreases and the hens have room to run away from grasping fingers, it becomes progressively dirtier, dustier, and dandruffier to catch the little devils. By the time the second-last hen has exploded up and over my head for the fourth time in a cloud of flapping feathers, pulverized bedding and scrabbling poopy feet,  I usually regret that I began the whole operation. But this is not the worst chore on Horse Drawn Farms. Oh no. That dubious distinction belongs to the sheep barn.

Equipment for the Tri-Annual Sheep Barn Marathon

A pleasantly innocuous place, the sheep barn. At least, most of the time. Most of the time, it has a mild, sheepy smell.  The smell of lanolin and fresh straw.  The straw is fresh everyday, layered over the old straw, building up the floor a bit at a time.   It’s a method that works well with sheep as they pack it down into a straw mattress, and it makes preparing their night quarters laughably easy compared to, say, the horse stalls, which must be carefully cleared of all soiled bedding.  The addition of fresh straw can continue for quite a time.  As long as one can find other things to do with one’s evening hours–and what farmer doesn’t?– it’s easy to just keep layering.  And layering.  No matter that the sheep are now leaping up a foot or so onto the bedding,  or that the hay bunker, bolted to the floor, is slowly disappearing.  It’s clean, odorless and comfortable in there.  So what if I have to duck to avoid hitting my head on the rafters?

It is usually around the time I can spot the ears of three foot high sheep protruding above the five foot high door that I realise the inevitable has come around once again.  The bedding has become ridiculously high, and all those time-saving layers are about to get their revenge.  Ushering the ewes off the edge of the straw precipice and back to solid ground outside the barn for the last time, I steel myself and head to the tool shed for the pitchfork and the muck cart.   For unlike my more fortunate compatriots who would be able to complete the job in ten minutes with the bucket on their John Deere, this tractorless farmer is obliged to scrape out the sheep barn by hand.  Scrape is perhaps not the appropriate term under these circumstances.  The floor is so packed that it requires agonizing, vicious fork-jabs to even begin to loosen into manageable chunks.  Chunks utterly sodden with urine and manure, disgorging a most remarkable stench, and weighing seventy-five pounds each.  I can manage to lift three or four into the cart before its wheels begin to flatten in protest and I won’t be able to push the thing to the muck pile.

Three or four (or five or six) hours of  hideous labour is not necessarily a bad thing, however.  There is a rhythm to monotonous, difficult work that I believe has been largely forgotten by the mechanized farmer.  There is a joy in movement, a delight in the heavy use of muscle and sinew that must be experienced to be believed.  It is the kind of physical effort that, in the old days, was shared by family and community and brought people together under the common banner of food independence.  Granted,  no family usually appears at  my sheep barn.  Luckily, the work can also be a time for reflection and observation.  If I had a tractor, for example, would I have noticed how the moment I turn the first piles of bedding back, honeybees immediately come to investigate the pungent scent?  How they land and extract something or other from the urine-soaked straw?   Would I appreciate how my hens carefully size up each cart-load that is dropped for their scratching and spreading services?   How the entire flocks runs frantically to each new pile in case they miss any getaway grubs?   And how often does one have the opportunity to bask in the relative quiet and simply listen to what’s happening on the farm?   These small occurrences are the soul of the land, and I, for one, am glad to experience them.  As for the reward of the scraped-down barn–that speaks for itself.   A fresh, empty floor.  A hay bunker once again apparent along the wall.  Fresh straw for the sheep, and weeks and weeks of easy husbandry ahead.

Time will push on, I suppose.  Soon I will once again be able to reach the rafters, or perhaps step out of the barn window with minimal effort.  But by then the season will be changing and there’ll be new things to see and hear when the pitchfork makes its appearance.  Unless anyone has a tractor to donate?

When you’re a suburban farmer and you’ve never had lambs before, it might be tempting to build your temporary lamb pen within steps of your house.  You’ll want to keep an eye on your new arrivals, no doubt, and be able to get there fast, should the need arise.   But make no mistake:  there  are cons to having  sheep  just outside the back door.   Many, noisy cons.   Retrospectively, in fact, having five pregnant ewes back in the converted garage at the end of the driveway wasn’t bad at all.  Although their  hungry yells penetrated the solid wood doors every morning when they finally heard my footsteps crunching on the gravel, I knew that with the touch of the latch, the noise would switch off and five woolly, fecund balloons would come catapulting  out in a headlong rush towards their paddock, and breakfast.  But lambing time changed all that.

Silence is golden.

The wonder of free stuff on Craigslist got the lambing pen off the drawing board and into action.  Winter wind storms can be brutal here on the west coast, and a great many Costco tarpaulin car shelters love to go tumbling through the suburbs, up streets and down alleys, until they rest in little piles against the local telecommunications compound.  Others simply get flattened when the occasional heavy snowfall turns to rain, and their owners aren’t inclined to leap out of bed at 3am to brush off the 40000 pounds of snow mush.  After such weather extremities, Craigslist comes alive with offers of tangled metallic wrecks, and the messes often end up at Horse Drawn Farms.  Many an animal shelter here has been constructed  fitting undamaged portions together, with good success.   The lamb pen was more elaborate in that it required a full floor, (delicate young lambs must be protected from moisture),  but Craigslist provides all needs.  Ten sturdy pallets were procured, as were some discarded plywood sheets once used for forming concrete.  At last, with the overhead tarp securely fastened and a deep bed of clean straw, all was ready.

A week later, when the  pen was occupied by its first mother, Daisy, with her twin ram lambs, I began to notice how she watched the back entrance to the house.  It would happen in the morning, just after putting on my boots and hat and gathering the dog and cats for their dawn egress.  With impeccable timing, as the door opened a crack, Daisy would unleash a bellow that could raise the dead.  And would repeat it,  constantly, until her breakfast was  served.  Since this involved a walk to hay shed to retrieve the goods, a considerable three or four minutes could pass. And all the while her volume increased, utterly drowning out not only the pleasant cheeps of the morning songbirds, but the nearby traffic,  Tintin the rooster, and even the din of the still-pregnant prisoners of the sheep garage.   I had been used to stopping at the chickens first– a simple tip of ration into their feeder took only seconds–  but no longer.  Daisy’s gratification was now the priority.

Then Spotty Legs had her twins, and the ante was upped.  Either hungrier than Daisy or just with sharper vision, her peculiarly deep rumble preceded the door opening, for she saw me well in advance through the picture window, reaching for my jacket.  Cowering under two ewes giving full voice only steps from the door, I started trotting to the hay shed, rather than my usual sleepy stroll. When Lucy, known for her persistence in shouting even when her mouth is stuffed full,  joined the group with her single lamb, I began to leave the hay ration next to the stairs instead, ready to pop it straight into the pen.  The cacophony was added to daily by high-pitched little baas, ever increasing in number and confidence.  I tried skulking into the back room.  But it was no good keeping the curtains closed, because sharp-eyed Spotty saw the movement of my silhouette and let loose.  Then Emily had her twin lambs and moved in.   The smartest ewe of the bunch, she learned by association and began to bawl when she heard my alarm clock ringing upstairs.  And Charlotte, last of the ewes to join the congregation with her twins, simply didn’t want to miss out on any potential activity and baaed at random, sometimes at 3am.

A moment of quiet. It won't last.

 

I was beginning to feel hunted.  Both ewes and lambs now shouted at every sight of me, their hapless caregiver.  Oh, the morning hay kept them quiet for a few minutes.  But I could no longer move through the yard, at any time, without being bombarded by baas.  The appearance of the muck cart set them off.  Me leading a horse set them off.  Heading out in the truck for supplies set them off.  Me slinking away to hide behind the horse stall walls with my hands over my ears only seemed to spur them on.   In the morning, I  worried, and watched the windows of the neighbours, lest a shotgun should appear.  By the afternoon, I was considering the shotgun myself.

Luckily however, time marches on, and the lambs are now old enough to spend all day turned out in a paddock with their mothers.  This morning was their first time out, and the relief in the home yard is palpable.  Tintin, the birds and the traffic have the place to themselves, and I have plans already hatching for next year…to build that lamb pen as far away as possible.

Ok, so we’re into week two of lambing here at Horse Drawn Farms. The bags under my eyes are as large as saucers.  The footstool that allows me to peek over the wall is now a fixture in front of the sheep barn.  And I have seven lambs.  Yes, one and two were easy.  As were three and four.  And really, I didn’t have to do anything about five either, except wonder how only one lamb could come from such an impossibly huge ewe.  But six and seven–arrival time nine a.m. this morning– are killing me.

It could be the lack of sleep making me paranoid, but after 452  sheep barn checks, I could have sworn that neither of these two large, fine looking lambs were getting anything to drink.  Emily, their mother, is my smartest ewe.  The thinker.  The one who leads everyone away from frightening predators, such as Pete, poised for candid sheep photos with his tripod.  She’s friendly too.  At least, she was.  Until I decided to interfere and make absolutely sure her lambs were getting colostrum.  I’d tried waiting.  I’d tried spying.  I’d pretty much tried everything to find out if her lambs were suckling, including lying nonchalantly on my belly outside her lambing pen, shining my headlight on her teats through the wooden slats.  But the minute I was anywhere near her, her large dark body moved between her lambs and me.  Oh, I saw them go under her, into the right place.  But after biffing her in the udder with their heads a few times, they always came back out again, no tails waggling, no time spent.  It was hour four: time for action.

I don't know. I just don't know.

Thus commenced the Amateur Lamb Feeding Marathon, an arduous method  for lamb stomach-filling.  First there is Lamb Placement.  This is when the helpful amateur farmer places the lamb in the correct position for feeding.  And then the lamb walks away.  Or the ewe walks away.  And then the farmer places the lamb back in the correct position for feeding. And the lamb walks away.  Lamb placement is repeated for at least an hour.   Following this, is Lamb Assisting.  Here the helpful farmer prevents (with difficulty) the ewe from walking away and lifts a teat towards the lamb’s mouth.  And the lamb walks away. Or the ewe tries her best to walk away, lifting a foot and struggling mightily.  Lamb Assisting has given me a sore toe (being stepped on) and a wet heel (being suckled on by confused lamb.)  The final step is Lamb Splattering.    An exceeding difficult chore for those farmers with only two hands, in which a ewe must be restrained and her colostrum milked into a waiting pan, amidst kicks, struggles, curses and worried bleats from ovine onlookers.  The precious yellow liquid is then poured into an appropriately clean vessel and carefully fed to the lamb, which doesn’t act in the least interested or grateful, and, in fact,  makes it clear that it does not appreciate colostrum dripping from its chin by throwing its head from left to right, sending colostrum over its back, down its leg and into my ear.

  But I, at least, can sleep for an hour.

Did I do any good?  Did I need to interfere?  Until the morning, I just can’t say.

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