A Lambs Story
The little ewe adored her little lamb. It was her first. A tiny thing. All noise and no substance. It staggered and tripped over its feet and stumbled, all the while being licked, cleaned and dried by her young mother. I had come upon them minutes after the birth. I went about the business of feeding the bottle lambs, with a sideward glance at the new arrival. There was a turquoise braid in my pocket, designated for a different pair. An older ewe had dropped a young giant of a lamb that morning as well. I try to put a collar or braided yarn around the dams' necks and a matching one on their lambs when each ewe freshens, the better to know who belongs to whom, however, there have been too many lambs born in rapid succession this winter and some remain unidentified.
When the bottle lambs had settled down, bellies full, all seventeen of them, I picked up the newborn, tied the turquoise braid around her neck and, carrying her low to the ground, led her mother into a clean pen, and shut the gate. I gave the lamb a head start with a half bottle of milk and left.
I checked them throughout the day, feeling under the mother to see if her milk had come in. It hadn't. I guided the lamb to begin to nurse to help her get going, and when, even then, her tummy didn't feel full, gave her a couple of ounces of bottled milk. In the morning I found the pen empty. At least, empty of the mother. The baby lamb was hungry. Creating a big racket from a little mouth. I fed her and took her to look for her mother. Her mother rushed to claim her. Reunited at last! And didn't allow that lamb to stray more than a foot or two away from her. A perfect little mother.
By nightfall, I decided to check the ewe more carefully. I picked her up, put her on her rump to best see what condition her udder was in and if her belly fleece needed trimming to give the lamb a clear access to nurse. To my astonishment, she had only one teat and that was cut and bleeding. I've not sold a ewe who couldn't breed or nurse in fifteen years. But the thought flashed through my mind. The prospect of feeding a sheep for the next ten years who will cost me $32.00 each lamb, is, even to me, appalling. An argument raged. When are you going to become practical? But she is a perfect mother. But she can't nurse a lamb. Any ointment I might put on the cuts would only prove distasteful to the lamb. In effect training her to not nurse.
I returned to the house, nearly midnight, a resigned feeling in my heart. The ewe will stay. And I shall spend $55.00 a year feeding her and $32.00 for each lamb for the rest of her life. Eighty-seven dollars a year echoed through the corners of my mind. Eighty-seven dollars a year. My steps were heavy. She shall stay because, in part she is such a loving mother. And, in part, because my own heart would break to send her down the road.
I went to the barn this morning with a bottle of my emergency lamb saver mixture in my pocket, fully expecting to have to revive a lamb and bring her back to the house. My bottle lambs rushed me, nearly knocking me down. I looked for a little body with a turquoise braid on its neck requiring desperate emergency measures to save its life, when my eye caught the sight of a big lamb getting smashed by a ewe and fly through the air. It was the new mother. In action. And beside her, belly full and alert, her little lamb. The ewe was beating off, one at a time, some large lambs who decided their mothers weren't near enough by to take their breakfast from her. I hustled them both into the pen once more, resolving to make the gate too high, when I returned to the barn, for her to jump out. She looked up at me, in seeming relief from the onslaught of other sheep's lambs. I'll make this pen worth you staying in, I promised her. Second cutting hay. Sweet water. She had yet to be named. Until this moment, that is. She has just become Patience Greenleaf. And her pretty little baby is Hope Greenleaf. They shall stay. Forever.
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