Notes from Windward: #62

Windward, we have Lambs!

At long last, the first birth of the season

     This morning we awoke to the one call we didnít expect for at least another week. Roy answered the phone and Heather called out "we have a baby!" At once there was a flurry of activity as we raced to get dressed and get down to the new mother. Venus, our pet duck had to be put in her pen for the day and we were on our way down from Alpha to find out who had given us our first lamb of the season.

lambs outfited with jackets
and orange rain coats
the latest gear from "Lambs End" :-)
     Coffee was forgotten, clothing simply thrown on in the hopes of getting down there just that little bit faster. As we approached the dinning hall Gaia and Shadow were coming out and I asked if Tara knew as well. Gaia let us know that Tara was going for Joseph so that he could experience his first new lamb. Roy continued on down the hill to reach Joyce, watching the new mother, and see if his assistance was needed there.

     Meanwhile I raced to Heatherís to get the lambing kit and entered to see Heather drawing the first shot that the baby will receive. Going over the procedures and making sure that everything was in readily available that we talked about who it might have been. Heather knew it that the mom had a fluorescent orange collar. To me that meant only one thing, the first mother of the season had to be my girl, Mattie.

     By the time I got to Mattie all the tough work had been done. The baby appeared healthy approximately seven pounds and a beautiful pure white baby boy. Now personally I always rooted for the babies to be girls since it is so much harder on the baby boys that first day. (Explanation to come) I nuzzled Mattie and petted her face telling her what a wonderful job she had done. The baby was already mostly dry which said that she knew exactly what she to do.

     Gathering the baby in my arms we lead Mattie over to one of the small jugs (small pen) where she could be with her baby in peace to bond. I checked the baby over visually first and then went to test out Mattie to be certain she was producing milk that could be gotten by the baby. It was all good, she was fine. Roy by this time had gotten her some alfalfa and I was able to turn my attention to the baby.

Terri supplementing one of the
little ones while momma looks on
     Tara gathered it in her arms while I got the shot out and all the other paraphernalia that it takes to do all the postnatal things to a baby. I gave it the shot that includes vitamins to give the lamb a boost. The next step was to get the lamb a baby aspirin. The first year I was here for lambing we didnít do that, but over time I think Heather decided that the aspirin was a good idea from the babyís point of view.

     The next step while the baby aspirin begins its job is to cut the umbilical cord and to coat it with iodine to keep out infections. The excess bit of cord is then tossed over the fence to attract the ravens away from the area where mothers are having their babies. The placenta is also found and tossed over the fence. No one likes the idea of feeding the ravens since they arenít our favorite birds, but no one wants to take a chance on a raven getting any big ideas about the newborn lambs.

     [Walt offers an alternate perspective on the ravens.]

     Once the aspirin had melted I took a band and banded the babyís tail. This is a process most know as docking. You put a very tight rubber band around the tail at the point you want it to fall off and by the act of cutting off the circulation so early the end of the tail simply stops growing and eventually falls off. Male babies also have to have their testicles banded (yes itís the same idea as the tail). Usually by this time the baby drops like a rock when you put them down.

     This little guy then was put into a lambing coat (actually a converted arm or leg from an old sweatshirt or sweatpants) and finally this year the baby was given an orange raincoat. The raincoat perfectly matched Mattieís collar, which was kind of nice.

     Once all the work is accomplished its time to sit back and enjoy the little lamb. This one was the typical little white lamb with little curly-Qs of fleece, just a touch of pink showing at ears and nose, and the cutest little face you could ever want to see. He is beautiful and so gentle and sweet just like his mother. Although my first year here Mattie led the teenage rebellion when the flock went out. She was the ringleader and a royal pain; it is nice to see what a lovely young lady she turned into.

     Lamb arrival day is truly a wonderful thing here at Windward. You can see the smiles on peopleís faces and it just lights up everyoneís heart. It is the harbinger of spring here, the sign that there is life and miracles around us just waiting to happen. Tara is going around with a beautiful smile, Roy just wanted to get to his cup of coffee but the secret smile shone though his gruff exterior. This was the first newborn lamb for Shadow and Gaia and both were suitably impressed with Mattieís offering.

     And me? Well Iím a believer in the miracle of life in all its myriad variations. It is the proof that at least something I do here matters. Naturally Iím pleased as punch that the first mother of the season just happened to be one of my very special "girls." My four best girls include Buffy, Kayla, Picaboo, and of course Mattie.

     Lambing season might be a lot of work, but it also carries some of the greatest rewards for all of us. I know that whatever the next weeks bring it will be filled with tears, smiles, hard work, lack of sleep, worry, and the miracle of newborn life.

Mattie in an open jug
looking for her lamb
     NOTE: Sadly Mattie lost her baby. None of us are certain what happened, but we all feel the loss and a sense of guilt wondering what we missed, or what we took for granted. It has been over two weeks since this event and while I wrote the article right after the birth I just felt odd about turning it in with the babyís death.

      Walt finally convinced me to go ahead and share this since it is a perfect example of the highs and lows of dealing with animals. First we all soared the heights of exhilaration and then plummeted to the depths of despair. No matter what happened we all took it as a reason to be ever more vigilant so that we wouldnít lose any more lambs for the season. And our Mattie went on to save Zdoraís twins with her milk. At least a lot of good came from our loss.


Walt comments:

     This is my fifteenth winter here, and I've come to see the ravens, as well as the two other predators we have to factor into our plans, the owl and the coyote, as forces which are part of the balance lying at the heart of life here in the woods. They were here long before we came, and I have no doubt, will be here long after we're gone.

     Terri wrote about using the afterbirth to attract the ravens. My observation is that they're at hand and waiting well before we even know that the hour of birthing has arrived. I've long since gotten used to the roosters to such a degree that their homey calls in the early morning don't even touch my awakening mind, but the raven's cry is something very different, and very ancient. When ravens are awing, something old within us knows that death is nearby.

     In Norse mythology, the raven is the carrion bird, the symbol of war's desolation and havoc, ever ready to prey on both the living and the dead. Every year, we pay a "nature tax" in chicks and ducklings to the ravens, and while lambs are larger, they too are either quick or they're raven bait.

     Tossing the afterbirth to the side doesn't so much attract the ravens, as it serves to distract them. They clearly do not care whether their tithe is living or dead, so by satisfying the ravens' hunger in this way, the mother and lamb gain time to recover from the birth stress. Once ewe and lamb are on their feet, the ravens have to content themselves with mice and carrion until another opportunity presents.

     It's probably just my imagination, but this spring I'm hearing more raven cries than usual, but perhaps that's just the mind's way given the war clouds on the horizon. Or perhaps it's just because I'm currently focused on preparing for the Norse event we'll be holding here in May.


Battle in the Age of the Gods