It’s the time of year again when I dream about sheep and I smell like sheep. Sometimes the dreams are good and sometimes the dreams are interrupted by the bleating of the lamb downstairs in the box. It’s 2 a.m. and someone wants a bottle. As I heat the milk in the microwave, barefoot and chilled in the night kitchen, I am transported back 25 years ago to my own babies. Thing is: now I’m holding in my lap a woolly, white ball with four gangly legs and poop on its butt, tipping its head back and trying to convince my little friend that this is almost as good as mother’s milk.
I have played nursemaid to two lambs this spring. I’m not really into tramping out to the barn in the middle of the night, so they stayed in the house until things were back to rights. The first, Teddy, almost died and I fashioned a card board box into a holding pen. I placed it in front of the antique grandfather clock in our front room not far from the wood stove. With a layer of straw for bedding, I positioned a desk lamp over Teddy for added warmth, balanced on a hand-painted foot stool my mother gave me as a present before we moved to the farm.
Teddy was rejected by his mom when she discovered she had three babies and not two. Rejected lambs are known as “bummers”, as in “What a bummer, your mom doesn’t want you,” or something like that. Hard as I tried to convince the ewe to keep him on, my tricks didn’t work. Hard as I tried to convince Teddy a bottle was easier anyway, he resisted.
I’ve never had a hungry lamb not figure out how to suck on a bottle and, as things went from bad to worse and he became dehydrated, I asked for help from Liz the vet. She had me pick up a subcutaneous drip from her office. What?! Heck, it seems I could have asked most of my friends with cats or dogs about this as they all had stories of the intravenous drip that saved their pet. Only difference: they missed the “hands-on” experience of sitting on the rug in the house, inserting the needle between the shoulder blades, holding a wiggly lamb with one hand, holding the bag at shoulder height with the other. I managed this on my own when I had to, but luckily we had visitors interested in helping. If you help, you are entitled to name the lamb and so “Teddy” appeared out of the front room and into the sun one day, named by our visitors’ kids.
Cute Tulip (also named by a child) should have become my second bottle fed baby. I worried about him to the point of bringing him into the house too, but was unsuccessful with the bottle…and keeping him in the box at night. He only stayed in the house for two days because he had the bad habit of waking up and baa-ing loudly. As I tripped downstairs in the dark to quiet him, I realized the baa-ing was coming from the living room one time and the dining room another. Sharp little hooves slid across the hardwood floors, down steps, crashing into tables and chairs. This was not the restful night any of us needed.
With Teddy in recovery and Cute Tulip refusing to take a bottle, I returned both lambs to the barn to see if they could scam some milk from Tulip’s mom when she wasn’t looking. It worked well enough to keep them alive and I kicked the ewe and four lambs back out into the flock. Sunlight, fresh air, and a chance to sneak milk from more than one ewe put the odds more squarely in the lambs’ favor.
These days, Teddy meets me at the back barn door for breakfast and dinner. Cute Tulip hangs on to his mom’s teat through her back legs even when she is walking away from him. His white wool has turned a permanent shade of beige from being pee-ed on. I will grab him from time to time and force feed a couple ounces of milk. But Tulip is a scrappy fighter and, while he will probably always remain small, I think I have found a home for him that will be better than most. His job will be to keep the grass down at the home of an elderly couple. I guess having a sheep is easier than getting out the lawn mower.
Unlike many of the farm’s lambs that will experience one very bad day amongst many good ones, being small will save these two bottle babies, for a while at least. Teddy and Cute Tulip will grow out of their ‘lambness’ and become sheep and I will likely forget their names in time. What I think I will always remember is the small face looking up at me from the edge of the card board box. “You don’t look like my mommy…so why do you smell like a sheep?”
Top photo: Cute Tulip dressed in Safeway bag so no accidents in house; Bottom photo: Cute Tulip thinking Patches might be his mom…Patches looking nervous.
All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2008 Scottie Jones
Last Sunday morning, standing on the edge of the hayfield, our boots damp from the wet spring grass, my mother spoke up. “I bet you didn’t imagine five years ago you would be doing something like this.” I looked up from the dead deer, its legs stiff with rigor mortis. I was carefully trying to maneuver it into the bucket of the tractor without rupturing its exposed guts. She had a point.
The deer is only one of a number of experiences I think I could have lived without attempting and still died happy! But there was Greg with the bucket tipped, and no way to scoop the deer without my help. We had first driven out in the Gator thinking we would treat this deer like a sheep, tossing it in the bed and driving to the top of the mountain to throw it off the carcass cliff. The missing underbelly sort of ruined that idea.
Next Greg went off for the tractor to bury the poor animal in the field where it lay. After all, we weren’t going to be tilling the hay field any time soon. Problem was, it has been a pretty wet spring, and there was no way to get proper traction for the tractor to dig a hole. Tractors aren’t really designed for digging holes anyway. That left picking up the deer in the tractor bucket, since tractors are designed to scoop. This went more smoothly than it could have and, within an hour, the problem was resolved.
I think I could make a list of “new experiences after 50” and either look at it and be proud or look at it and wonder if I have lost my mind. Then sometimes it takes looking at these things through someone else’s eyes to realize our life now is way beyond the urban-suburban norm!
So, let’s see, I have recounted the torn-off sheep’s ear, releasing the dog’s foot from a leg-hold trap, re-inserting a prolapsed vagina back into a ewe, fashioning waterproof pants for a young lamb to romp around our house, delivering lambs turned the wrong way, delivering too many lambs, delivering dead lambs, bottle feeding bummer lambs (okay, that’s not so bad), raising baby turkeys in the kitchen, priming a water pump (over and over), and giving shots to animals (lots of shots).
There are a few things still on the list. Mostly they have to do with lambs. Tubing comes to mind, as I was doing this today while speaking with a guest who was helping out in the barn. She watched me in disbelief as I slowly worked a long, thin, orange tube down the throat of a small lamb and then proceeded to balance the lamb and the tube as I poured milk into it, and thus into the stomach of the lamb.
This is a drastic measure I take when a lamb isn’t getting enough milk from its mom to become fully hydrated and nourished. It’s a life-threatening situation. Unfortunately for this lamb, he has been unsuccessful learning to drink from a bottle so he has to rely on sneaking drinks when his mom, or any other ewe he can tap, isn’t looking. He’s a bummer lamb (rejected by his mom) with a strong will to live. His name is Cute Tulip, named by a three-year-old. Didn’t seem right to tell her that was a girly name for a boy.
My newest experience had to do with castration, the kind where you use a scalpel, not the rubber band thing I had been doing for the past four years. My vet neighbor, Liz, thought this might be a more effective solution since I missed most of the balls last year (not that this really matters if the lambs are going to market…but I did have to separate the boys from their mothers after about month five!).
On a cool Sunday morning, Liz showed up with her stainless steel pail, disinfectant, a scalpel, a clamp, knock-out shots, and a smile. I had four boy lambs in the barn and for the next hour or so I struggled to get it right. At least the babies were knocked out for all my fumbling and pulling and cutting and, to my credit, I was getting faster by the last one. What I found harder was the recovery of these poor babies for the first 24 hours. After that, they were back to being bouncy, baby lambs and I soon turned everyone out for some fresh air and freedom from the meanies in the barn.
Liz said she would assist with castrating for this season, but reality has struck. My boy lambs outnumber girls 4 to 1 and there aren’t enough farm-fresh chicken eggs in a year to pay Liz back for that kind of duty, much less the cost of the sedatives. I have returned to banding. For our part, the lambs and me, we are a little more content not to be cutting things off with blood and slippery things everywhere. And, I have a better idea of what I’m grabbing for when I band!
I am sure there are lots of things that are escaping me at the moment in the realm of new experiences here on the farm. Being naive at 50 about this undertaking, however, has not escaped me. So much for wisdom and learning! The translation of useful knowledge from city to country is really pretty slim. Oh, well, at least I can now start a fire in the wood stove, understand the dynamics of an irrigation system, can see the Milky Way on a clear night, and appreciate the rugged, small-brained, playfulness of lambs.
Photo: This is Cute Tulip’s brother. Because I kept his mom and siblings in the barn so long trying to keep Cute Tulip from becoming a bummer, he and I had a game we played each night. I would hold out my gloved fist and he would butt his head against it. He still comes up to me from time to time and sucks on my pant leg or jacket. Here, he is just bugging his mom…I think that is Tulip in the background.
All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2008 Scottie Jones