On the Farm
Blue sky, green grass, lambs at play
Picture this: a blue sky streaked by white cirrus clouds, a green field, and twenty-two lambs frolicking in small groups, or sunbathing under their mothers' watchful eyes. Their coloring is striking and unique. We have a brown male with chaotic white patches, another male who is mocha with white patches around his eyes, and a black female with one white foot and an asymmetrical white stripe across her face, to name a few. Each lamb is exuberant, adorable, and infused with new life. It is a good thing that a few piles of compost, wood chips, and our twin grain silos obstruct my view of them for most of the day. Otherwise, I am certain that I would constantly find myself marveling at their games, their random races across the fields, and other circus-like behaviors, and many farm tasks would be left undone.
If you take the time to notice each lamb's characteristics and idiosyncrasies, it might seem impossible and even wrong to choose favorites from this delightful crew. Yet, one cool spring day last week, a particular pair of twins managed to win me over.
Their mother-to-be, Peg, our friendly farm-born Icelandic X Navaho-Churro ewe, was in distress. Her water had broken earlier in the day, and she had become increasingly stressed. She had begun to obsess over her mother Mitsy's newborn twins, who had been born a couple of days before, on Easter Sunday. When separated from them, Peg would "bah" loudly and then attempt to reach them through the fence. The only solution was to bring Mitsy and her two lambs into the same area of the barn where Peg could be near them. Though calmer with her mother and new brothers nearby, she continued to pace and pant, which led our farm and education director, Matthew Goldfarb, to assist in her delivery.
Dominic and I stood by with hot water and a Betadine solution as Matthew examined Peg and determined that the lamb was lying on its side in the birth canal. The best position for birthing is feet first with the head following closely behind in an upright position. In other words, normally, a lamb seems to pounce feet first into the world. But, this particular lamb had opted for a "side-stroke" birth in place of the "pounce," and that decision made Peg's delivery challenging.
As this was Peg's first-born, Matthew decided that helping Peg was a good idea. He was able to locate the little lamb's head and front feet and then time his gentle pulls with Peg's labored contractions. Matthew could not tell if the lamb was moving or whether he was just feeling Peg's contractions, so tension deepened as we waited to learn if the lamb was still alive. After agonizingly long minutes the little hooves and the head came into view. The combination of Peg's labor and Matthew's steady assistance was successful and yielded a healthy male lamb. Within seconds Peg was at work licking him clean and dry, welcoming him into his new, much colder, New England home environment.
I was relieved that he seemed healthy, but continued to watch him for any signs of trouble and almost did not notice the two little hooves of the second lamb quietly and quickly making its way into the world. The second birth was unassisted and went so smoothly that it was only a matter of minutes before a twin sister pounced into life at the farm. We spent the next half-hour or so breathing sighs of awe and relief and watching to see that the normal routine of standing, stumbling, and nursing followed without a hitch their somewhat arduous delivery.
Today, after I finished sweeping out and reorganizing the garden shed (a thankless task, because I am sure the "order" I created will be unrecognizable in a few short weeks, but it feels good for now) I rewarded myself with a trip to the sheep paddock to check in on Peg's twins and the rest of the flock.
As I approached the sheep, I almost laughed out loud as the black, brown, and white heads of lambs appeared and then dropped out of view behind the chicken tractors. These structures, which house our Cornish-rock chickens, are turning out to be interesting jungle gyms for our most mischievous lambs. It is a useful size for games such as tag, hide and seek, but most important, it provides a solid structure useful in rounds of head butting and wrestling. At first, these lambs eyed me cautiously, but as I pretended to ignore them they eventually stopped worrying about the human among them and went back to their fun. I scanned the rest of the flock and noticed 10 lambs to my left playing a version of "king of the mountain" on a pile of hay, and the remaining eight hovering near their grazing mothers. Over the next 10 minutes I watched them prance, hop, and dash across the field, bleating and bahhing for their friends, siblings or mothers from time to time. Any tension or worries that I had accumulated over the course of the day faded as I watched.
I am reminded again and again at the farm of the joy that animals bring to my life. These are the first lambs that I have spent significant time with, and I am hooked.