Well, it’s that time of year again. That time between the busy holidays of Christmas and the spring activities of Maple festival and Easter. In other words, the dead of winter and the lambing season.
Lambing: icy winds whistling thru the barn cracks, buckets freezing, and all the extra work of filling hay racks and pushing through the flocks with feed while they try to run you down and grab mouthfuls from the bucket before you even get a chance to dump it in the feeders.
I maintain that most if not all people get involved with sheep before they know what they are getting into. It’s a learn by experience curve, and old shepherds only tell you what you can think to ask and in the beginning, that’s not very much because you don’t even know enough to know what questions TO ask. By the time you see what it is all about, you are hooked on these stupid, irritating, satisfying and peaceful animals.
You know what old timers say about sheep? “They are born looking for a place to die.” That is never more true then at lambing time. When the temperatures fall below freezing, especially if it’s a lot below freezing, that’s when the ewes will pick to lamb. It may be forty degrees for a week, and they will wait until the first night it gets below twenty. They will pick the coldest, darkest part of the barn to give birth, and if they have twins, sometimes will get up and move to a different location to have the second, leaving the poor first one to fend for itself and try to relocate mom.
So sometime after midnight-gee I think that could sound like a country song- I bundle up and head for a lamb check. On a good night it’s a quick peek and back to bed before I think my body has even realized it’s been awake. But on the coldest night as I near the barn I will hear the unmistakable crooning of a mom to its baby and the high pitched bleat of the newborn. Then the adrenaline kicks in, and I move into high gear, no longer sleep walking.
I check everything: who has lambed, how many, are they up, have they nursed? I move mom and babies to a lambing jug, a small pen arranged with heat lamp and water bucket. I towel babies and check teats to make sure milk is flowing. Sometimes I struggle to get the lamb on the nipple. Once they are cold they lose the instinct to suckle. There are all kinds of complications that can occur, but the best feeling is to see lambs butt the udder to let down the milk, wiggling their little tails as the warm fluid hits their tummies.
No matter how late it is, I stand and watch with satisfaction. Because they can so easily give up the struggle to survive, I will take a few moments to relax against the jug wall and think of future plans. For the next 2 months, this is my life.