Piglet is my newest bummer lamb. I didn’t name him Piglet because he likes to eat, but rather because when he was born I could hold him in my cupped hands. He was so very tiny. He weighed 3 pounds by the fish scale, my method for weighing baby lambs. I put them in a cloth grocery bag and hang the bag on the scale hook to get a reading. 3-ish pounds was about right. It’s not an exact science
We had almost missed him in the field when he was first born. We saw his tall white brother, but the small pile of brown lying on the dry grass could have been a mole hill, and we weren’t exactly expecting lambs that day anyway. We were, however, expecting about 75 people for our annual barn party. All eyes were on preparations, not livestock in states of delivery.
I was on time for once and figured I’d be ready before the first guests arrived. On a quick trip to the Mercantile, our daughter had seen a ewe down in the lower pasture with what she thought looked like a lamb. We trotted out for a quick look and discovered the mother had two lambs. Best to leave her alone while she bonded with her babies. Best to focus on the party.
Greg came in and mentioned the two new lambs.
I said, “Yup, we’ve already checked them…the black one and the white one.”
He looked at me quizzically. “No, the two white ones.”
“In the lower field just past the barn field?”
“No,” he said, “In the hay pasture.”
I looked at him with a feeling the farm was once again interrupting my best laid plans, then went out to check the other set of twins at the opposite end of the farm. They looked okay, but there had been coyote sightings up our valley and the lambs might not be safe at night. Greg grabbed one and I grabbed the other. It was a long walk back to the chicken yard, the only place on the farm with a tall woven-wire fence on all sides. The ewe was confused and ran circles around us until we put her lambs on the ground. The geese squawked in protest. I hurried back to my preparations. Now I was running late.
The next thing I know, Greg and his friend, Arfa, who had arrived early for the party, are walking towards me carrying a small bundle. In Arfa’s arms, cradled like he would cradle his daughter, is a tiny, weak Piglet. Arfa had seen him lying in the field, the ewe standing some distance away with her other lamb, a clear sign she was rejecting him. I took Piglet from Arfa and enlisted Greg’s help to go back out into the field to retrieve the ewe and her white lamb. We needed to do some quick triage for Piglet or he would die before the party was over.
The two things I like about new lambs: you can catch them pretty easily, and their mothers will follow you anywhere if you carry the lambs at nose level. Even so, my plan to also put this mother and her babies in the chicken yard was a half hour procedure because of the distance and the cajoling. Just because the mother will follow doesn’t mean it’s not problematic when she loses sight or decides to run back the way she came in case her baby is behind her. It also always amazes me how lambs of any weight can feel heavy after only a little while. My arms were getting tired. I smelled like sheep.
Once in the chicken yard, I did a quick milking and tubed Piglet, which means I stuck a tube down his throat into his stomach and then poured the milk into the tube. This way I knew he had a belly full of colostrom and would be okay for a while, at least until the guests had gone home. I raced back to the house to try to salvage my party preparations and change my clothes.
I would have left it at that, except arriving guests asked to see the new lambs. I mean, who wouldn’t? Gisela wanted to do more than look. She had years of experience birthing lambs and she wanted to see Piglet nurse to make sure he was all right. He was almost too little to reach the teat and his mother was bothered by his attempts. The next thing I know, Gisela, in her nice white skirt, is showing me, in my nice tan pants and white top, how to drop the ewe on her side so the teat is at a better height for Piglet. We placed Piglet on his mother and held her down while we tried to fit the nipple in his mouth. He didn’t really have the hang of sucking yet, but he got a little milk.
And, that is how Piglet’s life began. I ended up bringing him inside the next several nights because of the cold, just to get him over the hump of survival. I had straw in a box and a heating pad. In the mornings I taught him to drink from a baby bottle and took him back out to the chicken yard and his mom. Pretty soon, I was his mom. Pretty soon, there were more sheep with new lambs in the chicken yard.
These days, Piglet and I are good buddies. He is almost 10 weeks old and I am trying to wean him from the expensive formula he adores. He fits his name better now with a round belly and short little bow legs. He’ll stay with us on the farm and be a companion for the ram from April through October, when the ewes are attending their new crop of lambs and don’t need the attentions of a randy male in their midst. It’s not a bad life for a wether (a neutered male sheep). The dogs treat Piglet as their own and clean his face and lick the water from his back when he lets them.
From time to time, Arfa asks about Piglet too. I am thinking as the lamb gets bigger, he will outgrow the reason for his name and we should find him a new name. I am thinking we might call him Arfa.
(Because Piglet is a chocolate brown, he does not photograph well. He is covered with hay in this photo because he always stands under me while I am putting hay in the feeders. Patches, one of his “guardians” is observing.)
All rights reserved. Copyright Scottie Jones 2006
They are mostly dead now, lying pink in the shallow waters or caught in a snag on the Honey Grove. A few shadows still loom beneath the surface, flip sideways in the current, struggle in their fight for life, dying a lttle bit more with every extra effort to swim higher upstream. The Chinook are back.
It’s our good fortune we live on a spawning creek for Chinook and Coho salmon because we get to see an incredible act of inherited memory. There is nothing more mesmerizing than standing on the creek bank looking (listening really) for the telltale fins and churning water, signs the fish have returned. I feel like I am in the middle of a National Geographic special. Greg says it is their sense of smell that leads these fish back to where they were born. Janet says to watch as they swim upsteam in pairs or more, several males fighting for the right to fertilize the eggs laid in the sandy shoals just before the adults die*.
On the Honey Grove it seemed we had more salmon coming upstream this year than past seasons. Maybe the deluge last winter gave the stream beds a good cleaning. The locals say it is nothing like thirty years ago. “There were so many fish we could almost walk across their backs.” Fish so thick they filled the streams to the banks? Of course we had our own fish stories this year. “You can’t believe it! These fish are three, four feet long…or maybe two and a half.” I think it was the magnification in the water. Maybe that is how all fish stories begin.
I have one other fish story to tell, in the event it helps someone down the line. It is local to the Northwest, about the darker history of dead and dying salmon. At least for people who have dogs. Dead salmon poisons dogs. We learned this our first year living on the Honey Grove because we have Cisco, a dog with a small brain when it comes to food; one who will eat sheep poop, and horse poop, and geese poop, and apparently dead stinky fish. I had been forewarned by a farm neighbor and was almost ready with the medicine I needed. I had meant to buy it, but decayed fish wasn’t yet top of mind in those early days.
I ended up having to make a special trip to town for Terramaycin since the Alsea Mercantile, that has almost anything one could need, did not have this particular antibiotic, and my dog was dying. You have about three days to catch the symptoms and then you either lose the dog or have an extremely expensive vet bill and a dog with liver damage. I think I caught it at day two, plus the hours it took to drive 40 miles to and from town. I haven’t seen Cisco interested in eating fish since that summer, but they say the dogs that survive gain a natural immunity. He still eats poop, so fish is not a stretch.
Which leads me to this conclusion. If you ever come to our farm in the fall you may get the chance to see the salmon fighting up the creek and be part of your own National Geographic special. Just remember. You really don’t want to let Cisco give you kisses.
(You have to look hard at this photo, but, I promise, there is a very large salmon fighting its way upstream)
* Actually, Janet and her husband became so fascinated with the returning salmon, they have started hosting a salmon festival here in Alsea every November with speakers and walks along the restored salmon habitat creeks on their property. Of course, after all this exercise, there is a feast of home-cooked, locally sourced food with salmon staked around an open fire the way the Native Americans used to cook them. It’s worth checking out the Thyme Garden website for recipes and other things they do: www.thymegarden.com.
All rights reserved. Copyright Scottie Jones 2006
We never did find our calves on our own. Then again, I never knew I was supposed to be looking for a cow nest in the woods. I thought the coyotes had hauled off both the baby and the mom the first time. What kind of a bad farmer was I to have allowed this to happen?! We had hiked out at 3 AM to the far field near the forest to find out what kind of trouble our cows were in. There had been bellowing going on for an hour. We figured it was something bad. What we saw in the light of our failing flashlight was a dark figure on the ground at the feet of one of our heifers. Did it move or was it just a cow pattie in the moonlight?
We weren’t supposed to have calves for another three weeks. I had looked at my chart and figured the end of July. Hank, our borrowed bull, had been in with the cows from November to January. His owner corrected me. The calves were due in August. Yet here we were; it was the end of July and we had a black and white calf up off the ground and swaying on its feet. As we were a fair distance from the barn, it was the middle of the night, and I had my nightgown tucked into my jeans, we decided to wait for the light of day to herd the cows back to the barn field for better security and to control their movement around our 40 acre farm. We were still expecting another calf.
We woke our youngest daughter and visiting nephew to the news of the new calf, but when we went out to find it there was no sign of the mother and baby. I mean, absolutely nothing to prove there had been a new life dropped in the middle of the field other than a slight trace of blood-stained grass. Could coyotes take down a full-grown cow and calf in one go?
Instead of my daily exercise hike up the logging roads behind the farm, I enlisted the kids and Karen, the neighbor who had thought she was just in for a gravel road and a bit of a climb, to tramp through the wet woods and sticky, prickly undergrowth looking for our missing half ton brown and whites. It really was quite amazing that in three hours of searching we couldn’t find anything other than hoof prints to nowhere. It was hot; there were flies buzzing around; I was desperate to know how I could have failed so badly at my cow husbandry.
For two more mornings, I scoured the back woods and every sheep hiding place I could think of. It was only on the third day I admitted to Hank’s owners my horrible faux-pas. Marian laughed out loud. Didn’t I know that cows hid their calves like deer and you could almost be on top of them and never know? She also mentioned, if a predator ever dragged off a calf, unlikely at best, the mother would have carried on bellowing and crashing around and there wouldn’t have been any question where she was hiding. Relieved to know the calf was most likely safe somewhere right under our nose, we stopped looking.
The fifth day out, a couple loggers came on the property to scout some trees. I mentioned the “lost” cows in the woods. It took George and Chris maybe 5 minutes to find them! We hiked off a trail I had ignored for its steepness; bushwacked down into a ravine; and there in a nest of leaves under a fallen tree lay a beautiful, little black and white heifer curled in a ball. The mom stood over her, then tried to lead us away. She was nervous and started to snort.
Not having learned my lesson the first time about grabbing babies when you see them, I ran back to the house to get the kids for their first viewing, finally. Of course, on return, the cows had vanished. My nephew was beginning to think we were imagining things and, as he was leaving in two days, time was running out.
This story has a happy ending. The cow came out of hiding the day Woody was leaving for home, as if nothing had happened. She was hungry and we slammed the gates to the barn field shut so both she, her baby, and the still pregnant heifer could be contained under our watchful eyes. Any thoughts of catching the wee-one to administer a vaccine went immediately out the window. She was fast and she had no intention of coming near us. Then, again, the mom always stood between us and I remembered the warning the loggers had made, “Don’t get between a cow and her calf if you don’t want to get bowled over and stomped in the dirt.” So noted.
I continued to watch our second heifer for signs she was ready to deliver. I could tell she was close. So close she knocked the gate off its hinges and disappeared into the undergrowth for five days. This time we didn’t search. She was too mean and it was too hot. We found a few nests, some with matted grass, others with fallen leaves and moss. Never that far off the path. Never obvious. Her calf was quiet as a fawn. The large heifer reappeared with a tall bull calf about a week later. It was healthy but stupid. Apparently most male calves fall into this category. Something about taking at least six month to get a brain. They must just survive on their brawn until then.
All was good on the farm. And the summer continued, bees droning down near the slow creek, corn stalks growing by inches a day, azure blue skies with never a cloud, and the gentle grunting of the hiefers as their babies suckled milk and fell asleep in the sun.
(Luckily the cows decided to return to their pasture, which didn’t mean we could catch any of them any easier, but at least we knew where they were!)
All rights reserved. Copyright Scottie Jones 2006