The lambs came in. Seven of ’em so far, all gambling along. All four hooves and two ears intact.
There was one lamb who had to be bottle fed. The lamb is ram, a black ram. He came out long and lanky from a short and stout ewe. The ewe is part Icelandic, which has a lot to do with her build. Being short means that the large bag that she has from the excess amount of milk is only about four inches off the ground. Now let me explain a bit about the things I have come to learn about lambs and how they are as firstborns. Lambs, like all mammals
I know of, are driven by the need to eat. They instinctively know to look for their mothers tit (when you talk like a farmer you are supposed to be able to say – and type – that word without giggling, or so I’ve been told). Knowing this they usually manage to eat within mere hours of being outside of the womb. The time varies based on the conditions of the environment. I saw one lamb that got separated from her mother in the morning before Grandpa and I got out to let out the rest of the sheep. The lamb started on a search for her mom, she needed to be fed. The lamb started out by nuzzling at the grown ewe’s udders around her. The ewes knew it wasn’t their baby and so didn’t feel any maternal instinct towards it. Their reaction to the obtrusive lamb was to head butt her away from them. Grandpa Larry and I walked in on the sounds of a crying lamb and baahing ewes. Our eyes were met by a scene that looked much like a basketball game, with the lamb playing the part of the ball being bouncec around. This would be an example of the wrong conditions. That lamb was lost and had we not walked in, and had the lamb’s mother continued to be remiss in finding – and protecting – her young, the lamb may not have survived. As it was Grandpa got a hold of the lamb by the front legs and carried it slowly into the front barn, luring the real mother to come forward. She followed him into the new pen. A seperate pen is made for each new mother and lamb to avoid that unhealthy attention from the other ewes that I just wrote about. Being in a seperate pen also seems to help the mom feel comfortable, and when she feels comfortable she is better able to give attention to her lamb. That brings me back to my other story, the bottlefed ram.
The bottlefed ram is tall and his mother is short and her tits were just a little bit off the ground when she gave birth. This wouldn’t be a problem usually, because the lamb, no matter what size, would know to kneel down to feed, but this ram doesn’t seem to have figured that out. We didn’t know this at first. What alerted Grandpa and I to this conundrum was the crying of the lamb. He was unhappy and after some observation we noticed that her bag was very, very, full. More observation led us to conclude this was due to the lamb not milking her. Well maybe he didn’t know what to do, maybe we just had to show him. Some energy was put into leading him to his mothers tit where we observed that he wouldn’t get his head dow to feed. Grandpa thought we could show him by helping to kneel, so that was attempted. The lamb didn’t go for that. He didn’t want to kneel. We figured we had shown him so maybe he would try on his own soon enough. We let him be and went about the day. Later, when we checked on the sheep again, we saw the Icelandic’s bag was more swelled, he was still balling, and when he stood to feed he still wasn’t kneeling down. We decided to show him how again, to no avail. I was put in charge of leading his head to the tit while Grandpa held the, now, very tender, ewe. We knew her udder was tender before, but the fuller it got the worse it felt. The longer the lamb didn’t feed the more the mama wouldn’t want him to because it hurt too much. Anyway, Grandpa held her and I led his mouth to her tit, and he didn’t take. I wondered if his mouth wasn’t opening so I gave him my finger and he sucked on that just fine, so I led him back to his mama but his little mouth wouldn’t latch. I told Grandpa and asked if maybe her tit was to big for his mouth because it was so swelled. That appeared to be the problem. The next solution was to milk her. Maybe she had an infection that had plugged her up, something called mastitis, and that’s why he wasn’t feeding, or maybe that wasn’t it and he just couldn’t latch on. That’s what we would find out by milking her.
The milking implements were gathered; a harness, bottle and container for catching the sustaining liquid. Dad came to hrlp and we gathered around to help Grandpa milk. The harness was put on the unhappy ewe and the milking was to commence. I was given the job of standing back and holding the lamb. We all agreed this was the best job and I was in no hurry to exchange it with anyone else. The little lamb reacted by crying, but soon he grew accustomed to me and switched to sniffing me in a vain search for milk. He snuffled and snorted and then he found my hand and latched onto a finger. Having a baby lamb suck on one’s finger is simultaneously charming and disturbing. The lamb was happy though, so I figured that was all that mattered.
Quick interruption, in the time I have been typing this there have been two new lambs born. That puts the count up to nine
Anyway, I sat with the little black ram. Meanwhile, back on the other side of the pen, not a foot away, kneeled my grandfather. He had tied up the ewe and backed her into the corner inorder to get her still enough to milk. This sounded oh-so-simple when he first told me the plan, but I realized exactly how difficult a task it was once he started. That sheep did not want to give milk, and she most certainly did not want to give it to a grown, human, male that was putting it in a jar. The ewe was kicking like crazy. Grandpa was struggling with Icelandic while I was holding her sweet son. Dad came over to aid the process and eventually the two boys were able to get enough milk to start on feeding the lamb. Grandpa took hold of the lamb and handed me the bottle.
Bottle feeding a lamb isn’t my idea of a good time. But it is a good time anyway. Welll, sort of.
After that I was given the job of feeding the lamb and helping to calm the ewe as Grandpa milked. She was never pleased by the process, but it was necessary. Not only did we need to milk to feed the little ram, but the ewe also needed the pressure relieved. What started out as charming became a frustrating reality after a couple of days. It was hard to watch the young lamb not catch on to what it had to do to survive while the rest of the lambs were growing and becoming wiser. The mother had become the only mother who wasn’t feeding. It is hard to watch a mother fail to perform her maternal duties. I wondered why instinct and Mother Nature didn’t kick in to help the two four legged creatures figure out life.
After the third day of bottlefeeding Grandma and I left to run errands after chores. Grandpa decided something had to be done so him and Dad came up with the plan to build a stanchion. When Grandma and I got home I got to see this newly built contraption. They had already tested it once and the ewe, boxed in without a place to run, had stood to be milked. This made the stanchion a success, and the boys were quite pleased. We went out to check on the sheep again at 9:30 PM knowing the lamb had to eat again. This time I got to see the stanchion put to work. It was a real strugle to get the ewe into it, but once she was in she was in. Dad had built a platform around the stanchion so it was up off the ground and then made a step up for the Ewe where she stood. The idea was that if the lamb wanted to drink he could climb upon the platform and reach his mama’s udder because she was raised up. Dad thought maybe we should test this theory so he asked if I would put the lamb up to her tit as Grandpa milked the other one. By this time the lamb had grown attached to me, or rather, he had grown attached to my coat. The smell of the coat had become synonymous with milk in his mind. He loved that coat. He had taken to coming up to me and reaching his head to any low hanging bit and giving a suck. It didn’t result in any sustenance but that didn’t seem to bother him much. Well, since I was the human he was the most attached to (literally) I new it was my shivic duty to get that lamb to its mama. The little guy was hesitant at first. He actually ran away from me a couple times which was good because it means he had a self preservation instinct and the energy to act upon it. I finally got a hold of him and carried him over to his mother. I kneeled down beside the stanchion and pointed his head where his mouth had to go. After many minutes of struggling the lamb finally latched where it was supposed to, and after he figured out that he could get milk he started sucking. What a magical sound.
After a good long period of siting holding the lamb I stood to find a suprise that he had left behind from his behind. “Oh shit,” I said. But that’s farming for you.
I have mentioned before that my grandma is a wiz with the fiber. She has been teaching me how to spin.
Hold on, I just have to let you know that in the time that I have been typing this another lamb was born and one of the twins from a different ewe was rejected by its mothr and is now deceased. That leaves the count at nine.
Yes, so Grandma has been teaching me to spin on some of the wool that she got off one of her sheep. She carded it (that means combed it out and cleaned up the crap), and then dyed it. She used sawdust from a tree to color it a light red/ deep pink color, it is sort of like a violet red color. She handed it to me with a drop spindle after tshowing me what to do. After a lot of trial and error I spun a good 100 yards of it. I plyed (meaning I double spun it for strength) it into 50 yards, and now I have to figure out what project to use it in. Right now I’m finishing up a pair of mittens for my cousin. She has been a spinner for along time and we have been talking a bit about my spinning. I have been told by other spinners that she is very talented and that she often spins without even looking at her spinning wheel. I haven’t been around her much while she has been spinning but I don’t doubt it. She is a great little knitter for sure, and it was her yarn that I used in the hat I knit up for Dad, it was definitely good quality. My cousin is a year younger than me so I am coming a little late to the spinning game, but I strive to be as good as her. She was taught by the best, and now I am being taught by them too. My grandma and aunts are all very talented so I am sure that if I catch on I might get good too.
Quick update: there are two more lambs. The count is now up to eleven.
In the last post I wrote I mentioned the new shirt I purchased at Goodwill. The perfectly flowery shirt that I am looking forward to wearing. I have to save it for warmer temps so I have only worn it once in public, but soon that shall change. I booked my flight back to California where the weather is hot. I’m headed back to Little Wing and riding weather. I’m planning on riding the motorcycle to the north. My original plan to go through Texas is suspended for the time being. If I can, I want to go backup through Colorado and maybe hit near the Tetons in Wyoming. I don’t know for sure but it is what I’m looking at. My flight takes off Tuesday afternoon from South Dakota and I should be back in California Wednesday morning. I will give it a good month of tour, from April to May, and check out all the things I haven’t seen. I am coming to understand that I have the rest of my life to check out the world, and for now coming back to check out Minnesota can suit me. I am very excited that I will be riding again. I know Little Wing is probably in need of a good ride too.
But now here’s a picture of me in my new favorite shirt.
I think March came in like a lamb, but I think it is going out like a lamb too, but from what I’m learning lamb’s can come in any which way they want. Sometimes they are sweet, sometimes they are stubborn or fast. They are always soft though. Wooly, warm, and full of shit, just like life.
No, that is a very stretched analogy.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I have loved the hell out of helping with lambing, but I will love riding just as much. March was what it was regardless of the critter it embodied. April will be what it will be and I am going to enjoy the hell out of it. We never know when it will all be gone, or the ride will be over. We never know when the months will continue passing without us. What we do know is what we have now.
I have the presence of three fantastic grandparents and some pretty sweet sheep right now. After March turns into April I will have the gift of riding again . Who knows what will come next? I don’t, and I don’t mind.
I think I should sign off now. I don’t know what comes next, but I do know I should get out to the barn.
It might be another lamb.