Thursday, January 13, 2011

Blood, sweat and tears

The day started in just about the crappiest way possible…facing death in the darkness. I just hate that!

We’ve been (okay, I’ve been) eagerly anticipating lambing season since we put the ram in with the ewes back in August. There is something about walking in the barn and hearing the lamb voices that is just so cool! The mamas “talk” to the newborn lambs right as they are born. This is a form of bonding, I suppose. Later in the season, one mother will call and her babies will respond…only her babies.

We are having a cold spell this January, and we’re lambing earlier than in the past. The plan was to get lambs on the ground and growing in early January. This allows them to get some good growth prior to weaning them and turning them out on grass. At least that’s the theory. We didn’t count on the “coldest January since ’85”!

We’ve been doing this long enough so that I think I’m pretty good at predicting the birth times. I feel I’m a pretty good diagnostician and know what to look for to prevent problems, as well.

Generally we use a marker on the ram. This makes timing real easy. The ram jumps the ewe, leaves a mark, and I note it on the calendar. Then I count forward 150 days, and viola! Lamb birthdays! There are also a number of physical signs I look for and know pretty well when things are going to “happen”. This past breeding season, for a number of reasons, we didn’t use our marker. This is making the prediction part of the job much more difficult. To compensate for this, I just check on “everyone” far more often.

The first two lambs arrived fairly easily. I did help the first ewe, as she seemed to be tiring. Her baby was quite large, and Tom dubbed him “Fatso”. We try NOT to name the lambs, but occasionally, something just sticks. It is usually the weird and random…that would explain the lamb named “Rover”! (Rover was quite selenium deficient when born, and “down in his pasterns”. This made his feet splay out like a little dog. Hence, the name, which requires an explanation now that he looks like a normal lamb.)

Back to the story…death in the darkness…

I had checked everyone at 3am. One ewe, an older girl with experience, was looking kinda like she MIGHT do something…sometime. Nothing terribly imminent, so I figured I could to go back to bed. I figured: experienced ewe, no wind, not real cold, no problems…wrong!

When I got back at 6am, things were definitely wrong. She had birthed the lambs, recently it appeared. She was making no move to care for them. One was obviously dead. The other….sorta alive. They were still wet, so I began the drying off job. I was hoping that all the rubbing would bring back circulation, and things would look better. Nothing, not even mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, brought results.
Totally bummed, and really cold, I carried them to the house, still hoping I was wrong. Unfortunately, I was not.

Later, in the daylight, I tried to figure out what happened. Despite my best efforts, I still have no idea how this “natural event” went so tragically wrong. There was a LOT of blood. This is not normal. The ewe was not real concerned. This is not normal. So I was left wondering.

There were other things to do that day, so I didn’t have too long to brood over it. We hauled hay for half the morning, and when we came home for lunch…there were twin lambs! (from a different ewe) These were all cleaned up and vigorously enjoying their lunch when we walked in. Whew!

There are a lot of times when we don’t have the answers. Sometimes that’s very bad. There are times we find ourselves pleasantly surprised, too.

This place has seen a lot of living and its fair share of dying in the time we’ve been farming. I will not lie and say it doesn’t sometimes take a toll. I have cried longer and harder, and worked longer and harder, and found myself doing things I didn’t think I could do, while living and working on this piece of land. I would hope that each of those experiences has made me a little wiser.

There are days when we look at each other and say “WHY? Why do we do this?” We ask the question not to find a way out, but to give each other a new focus. Because the answer to the question is…..”We wouldn’t do anything else! This is our life!”

So, despite the bad start and the unexplained incident, the day went on….and we found some consolation in the new healthy lambs, and the possibility of more. The good times far outweigh the bad, and as a friend pointed out that day….we learn SO much from the tragedies! Despite my retort of “well, I’m content to be stupid for a while!” …she is absolutely correct.

I have heard it said that farmers have the most faith of any one group of people. The hard times, frustrations and life lessons make us better shepherds, better farmers, and just maybe…better people.

Kinda makes me wonder what tomorrow will bring.

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