The Close of March
mystifies me about what makes me choose to keep one lamb rather than
another as a flock replacement. Logic and reason rarely come into play
here. Emotional and aesthetic choices sometimes rule, and one has to
give a nod to instinct. But were I to be asked I’d not be able to
decide which of these things or a combination of which governs my
One scrawny miserable looking creature came into the house a few days ago, new. Unappealing in all ways. But with a brain. Smart as a whip, whatever that means. Figured out in about ten minutes that I am her mama and hasn’t let up since. She had a mother somewhere in the barn that either ignored her or didn’t have enough milk and she, therefore, became an unattractive, yelling, hunched up lamb, dashing wildly all over the place. I had noticed her the day before I brought her up. The next day I simply scooped her into my arms, scrambled up the ladder and in the area with the littlest lambs she went. Within a few days, not only had she filled out but her coat developed into one of the thick curly ones that have captured my fancy this year. She wears an aqua braid on her neck for a collar, and dances, leaping into the air. She has discovered that the little ram lamb that has trouble sucking is fed first, in the middle, and again, last among that group of lambs and doesn’t bother me except in between his feedings. She huddles with the two youngest doelings, her half brother, and a failure-to-thrive who shall cost me $50-95 to feed and doesn’t grow. And he is an aggressive eater at that. I determined that his dam threw that kind of unthrifty lamb each year, and, quite contrary to my customary practice, sent her on her way for the price of his milk replacer.
There is another bottle ewe lamb who also has a brain and who also wasn’t pretty to start with. “What am I to do with you”, I thought each time I bottled her. She, too, transformed herself into a swan with one of the prettiest fleeces in the flock. One very large ewe lamb was chosen despite her aggressive habits as a replacement. She is the “impossible” sheep, and that is her temporary name. “You are Impossible”, I say to her as she leaps the gate to the lambing pen and barrels her way to the attack. She smashes her head against the hand in which I hold her bottle. A distinctly unpleasant experience as the horns of her Horned Dorset ancestry are beginning to emerge. She shall be a fine sheep. I’m not certain, however, that I will ever love her. Another, she-shall-stay, bottle lamb has a beautiful Friesany face and one of the longest thickest fleece of the new lambs. She is less aggressive, but is still somewhat of an energetic lamb. Not the bully, however, that the Impossible lamb is. Another bottle ewe lamb is shaping up to be a classic Dorsety sheep. Square, sturdy, boxy. A good eater and most certainly clever at getting more out of one than the others. She is going to a friend’s starter flock, around April 15th. None of my ewe lambs go for meat, but some will have to go. I’ll keep twenty this year to make up for last year’s tragedy, and to replace the three ancient ewes that didn’t survive the winter.
Another lamb born yesterday has also been chosen to stay. She is large. Perfectly formed. Nursed beautifully. When I found her she was calm, subdued, and had a full belly. She let me pick her up without a peep and was relaxed as I tied a multicolored braid around her neck and a solid one which will match her mother if I can catch her.
Both replacement ram lambs have been chosen. One is a Horned Dorset from a Horned Dorset clan. He is huge. Six weeks old and at least forty pounds. The second is out of a Fresian-cross. He, too, is horned, however, he has the thick curly fleece that has been attracting me of late. Neither of them have been named as yet, although the list of names in my notebook is lengthening.
One more ewe looks to be near term. She is bagging and very wide. She may have a full udder because she is the dam of a lamb I have sold. However, I don’t really mind. If she does drop some lambs even if it is late. Therefore, several ewe lambs, including my black Finn’s twins, are going to be in other people’s flocks. A nice thought for me.
Some of the whey and goat’s milk from last fall’s milkers, is now going into the milk replacer mix that I’m feeding bottle kids and lambs. The biggest lambs and kids are eating balage and I’m going to gradually reduce the amount of milk replacer in their diet.
Nunzio and Rebecca Penhaligan are about to become parents. She is broadening these days and beginning to bag up. More to bottle. I milk the goats and feed their milk to their young. Finding names for the Penhaligan family shall be interesting. Here is a list of the most immediate choices. Both first and last names can be for sheep as well as kids.
Hickory Buckingham Pell
Arnith de Maubray
Both Portchester Compton and Hickory Buckingham Pell are names of very fancy, prize winning bulls out of a Nero Wolf mystery. While I don’t fancy Compton as the last name of a line of sheep, Portchester may stick onto the Horned Dorset ram lamb as a first name. Fion seems to want to attach itself to the curly fleeced looking ram lamb. We’ll see.
The issue with names is a challenge to me. Sometimes they just don’t stick. Other times, such as if an animal dies, it becomes too identified in my heart with sadness and becomes impossible to use it again no matter how appealing it is. I have been known to reuse a name adding a Too after it. Ophelia Too comes to mind. The original Ophelia was a huge black sheep of an unidentified breed, who came here twenty three years ago. A black Finn ewe has become Ophelia Too. Who has, by the way, never thrown a black lamb.
Oh, there is a very pretty set of twins in the lamb pen downstairs. One was weaker than the other, sat quietly rather than run as did her sister upon seeking a bottle in my hand. I held her longer in my arms when bottling her. I may have mentioned her before. She’s the one who liked to sit next to the runner on the rocking chair I sometimes sat in in the kitchen. Therefore, six bottle lambs have been chosen and two barnyard bottle lambs, twins, as well, out of an old Chatham Fresian, one yesterday’s born, therefore nine to date, and I haven’t gone through them yet. Oh yes, one more fine fuzzy ewe outside as well with a mother. Ten.
I knew this winter past had no hope for improvement. And none was forthcoming. The best I could do was shut down and live it out. There were a few weeks in early January when a part of my heart began to feel alive again and I became more of myself than I have been in a long time. I allowed a dream or two to invade my thoughts and even came up with some ideas for possibilities here that captured my imagination. It seems this would be a good year. Better, in fact, than the past year. But it didn’t last.
I have often been asked how I “come up with” the names for the livestock here. Usually they are found in books and periodicals. And most often in English books and periodicals. One exception is the name of championship bulls in Rex Stout’s New Wolf series. The English have both a history of names that have endured over centuries, the Pooles are an example as well as a kind of knick-name given to one another, usually early in their lives, and the name sticks. Chuffy is one such example, while Nunzo, to our ears sounds like a knick-name, is, I’ve been lead to believe, an old Scottish name and has been bestowed on the child of a school mate of my daughter, who is married to a Scot. Button is an American first name. I haven’t used it yet. It sounds as if it would be suitable to a particularly appealing rooster. We’ll see.
Until the next time.
P.S. The latest bottle lamb whom I find enchanting has just become Felicity McGuire.
There are more postings in the Farm Stories Archive