Monday, February 18, 2013

Farming Together

Sheep must know about weekends.  They seem to leave all the excitement for days when we can be there, together, to help them out if they need it.  All of our lambs this season were born between Thursdays and Sundays.

 Last Friday, Joey called me about half an hour before I closed the library for the weekend to say another lamb had just been born, this time to Scarlett, and it was another girl.  Scarlett was born on our farm in our first year of lambing, three seasons ago.  This is her second lamb.  Last year, she had a little difficulty and we assisted in pulling out her lamb.  This year, Joey got home from work, checked on the sheep and didn't notice anything amiss, went inside for about 15 minutes and then came back out to find a new lamb.  It really is amazing every time you discover a new life in the barnyard. In 15 births, we've witnessed the very end of two of them.  The rest have just appeared, miraculously, without any need for help.

Scarlett and her lamb were moved to the garage pen to keep warm overnight.  On Saturday morning, Joey and I had plans to go into town to pick up a few things at the hardware store and some groceries.  As I was putting my coat on and grabbing my shopping bags, Joey texted me from outside, "Another girl."  

Molly's daughter, Grace, had given us one more girl, bringing the total up to 5 girl lambs and no boy lambs this year.  This was Grace's first lamb so we moved Scarlett and her lamb out of the garage and back into the barnyard and tried to coax Grace into following her baby to the garage.  After getting all the way to the garage door and then running back to the pasture gate through the yard, we finally got her to follow us carrying the lamb into the garage.  She was a little bewildered with her new surroundings and quite upset at being separated from the other sheep.  We realized this was the first time she had been apart from her own mother, Molly.  She "baa-ed" loudly from inside the garage and the other sheep could be heard from across the yard.  Finally, we calmed her down with some hay and then focused on watching the lamb take her first wobbly steps towards mom's milk.  After we were convinced both were doing o.k. we left to run our errands.

We got back home around 3 pm and were planning on leaving for a dinner party with some of Joey's college friends about 4 pm.  We checked on Grace and her baby and they seemed to be getting along fine.  We looked in on the other four lambs in the barnyard and noticed that one of the twins was still looking kind of small and hunched over.  We decided we would give her a bottle when we returned from the dinner party.  

We returned home that evening around 9 pm and Joey made a bottle and took it outside for the twin lamb.  He came in about 5 minutes later, the lamb limp in his arms, and said, "She's not going to make it."  I cried out, and my mind raced, trying to understand.  How did she get that bad in a few hours?  My stomach sank.  

Joey sat down on the living room floor with her in his arms.  He had already tried to give her some milk but she wouldn't swallow.  I started crying because it was obvious there was nothing we could do for her anymore, and we were helpless to do anything but hold her and watch her die.  We didn't know how long it would take, but we couldn't think of a way to end her misery. Joey told me to go upstairs, that he didn't want me to have to watch.  But I couldn't leave.  If I wanted to raise sheep, and be a good farmer, I couldn't abandon the lamb.  Even though all I could do was sit there in agony, it is my duty as a shepherdess to love and respect my animals, especially in their last minutes of life.  Joey knelt over her in his lap, almost shielding her limp body, trying to protect her from pain and rubbed her side.  And then she was gone.  And I felt relief.  She was not suffering.  Joey closed her eyes and held her a little longer.

The hardest thing is that we cannot know what really happened, or if something else was wrong with her that we couldn't fix.  It's hard not to feel guilt that we didn't do enough for her or anger that her mother did not have enough milk or love for her.  We are planning on selling Margaret this year, not out of disappointment, but because she has given us two sets of twins and both times, only one has survived.  We now have four more ewes for our flock.

On Saturday afternoon, when we were driving to the hardware store, I was telling Joey that I thought it would be hard to be a farmer alone.  This was just after we wrestled a protesting sheep into standing still while the other tried to get her wet lamb under her to find milk.  He told me one person could do all the work.  I said, I guess so, but I wouldn't want to.  Later that night, we were shown that it is easier to shoulder the hardships of farming together.

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