February 6, 2012
Okay, okay.. Get your fill of cuteness first:
A Play-by-Play of the Events of the Morning
At around 8 am I expressed to Ruben how anxious I felt each morning before feeding the ewes, because I knew that before going down to the barn I had to be ready for anything. We knew Luna had been showing signs of being ready to birth, and so I was anticipating something happening any day now. Fortunately I ate a solid breakfast this morning and bundled up properly for the cold.
Lilly's right up there at the gate, waiting for me as usual. I hop into the barn to feed the ladies, and no matter how many times I count them, there are only four. Four sheep. One two three four. The fifth, Luna, is somewhere out there! I call for her, and she baa's from up the hill. And then I hear... a little baa!
I run up to the kitchen, laughing, to tell Ruben the news. I can't help but laugh -- new life just appeared on the earth in a very real way!
I also ask for some help. Although we'd already set up a clean, dry lambing pen for Luna in the haybarn a few weeks prior, we need to get her and the lambs in there for the next few days. This way, the lambs will stay clean, dry, and warm. The lambs and the mother will have several days to bond strongly and learn each others' ways before rejoining the flock.
Lindsay goes to get the Lambing Kit and lay down some clean straw in the pen. Ruben helps convince Luna to follow the lamb with which I'm leading her. After some haggling, we get Luna into the pen. The odd thing was that she kept going back uphill, though, away from her lamb, and that worried me, but didn't make a light bulb go off...
I get Luna some alfalfa and some water so she can begin the recovery. Soon enough she starts licking the little guy, too, and a bit of my anxiety melts away. Walt takes some pictures to commemorate the occasion. Opalyn and Lindsay make sure everything is set before leaving me to go on the Morning Walk. I stay with Luna and observe her, hoping her little ram lamb will start to suckle.
No matter how hard Luna tries to convince him, he doesn't quite seem to figure out where to put his little mouth! I stay there until about 10, watching and waiting. I watch Luna. I watch crows caw and circle. I listen to the other ewes' hooves crunch on the snow. And sure enough, I hear another little baa, far far away.
I go up the hill to investigate where I had encountered Luna this morning. It's a snowy spot, which surprises me, since no ewe in her right mind would birth in the snow, and certainly not Luna. Looking under the nearest snow-free tree-underside, I find the source of the baa! Another ram lamb, bigger and stronger than the one I'd brought down to the barn, is placidly standing in the leaves, no big deal. I look around for a possible third, and since I see no such signs, I whisk away the strapping young fella to his mama, who is quite pleased to see him!
Close to noon, Lindsay and I decide it was best to try and feed the both of them some colostrum to get them going. Colostrum is a form of milk rich in nutrients and antibodies which is essential for the health of a lamb, kid or calf. It is crucial to get some colostrum in the belly of the young one within the first 4 to 6 hours after birth, since the antibodies they need (which are large proteins) cannot be absorbed easily after that period of time.
At 2 pm they are both suckling with vigor, well on their way to being healthy young rams. The night will be cold, but if the dry pen and Luna's caring attention have anything to do with it, the rams will indeed see the next foggy day.
The Next Day
The two ram lambs, Lefty and Lion, are doing fabulously. Luna is eating all she wants and getting attention all day from various human visitors. I wonder if she feels precisely like the queen that she is. She certainly looks content to me.
Reflecting on the Process
So here I am, not having been around sheep for two years now, and with the thin experience of a year with them beforehand. I am still very much learning how to take care of the sheep and goats so that they are healthy and productive. I feel like I pour a lot of energy into noting details that might matter, such as watching them walk, making sure they can access water even if they seem to prefer eating snow, noting how much they eat each day, and learning their hierarchical structure. When it comes to birthing, I can only very vaguely draw on having seen ewes give birth three years ago. Instead I rely on information I have gleaned from sheep raiser's handbooks and the experience of those around me.
Even though Opalyn and Lindsay don't spend daily time with the ungulates (that is, sheep and goats) to the extent that Andrew does or that I do when I am here, they both have strong instincts about what's going on come birthing time. They have been gracious enough to let me call the shots to a certain extent in the event with Luna, while still offering their experience. I am glad I was able to take their suggestions and advice so that Luna's boys remain the strapping young lads as they started out.
To me, this birth event is a testament to the strength of community. I see a strong parallel between the components of community and a bird in flight. One person holds the vision for what should happen, but may not have the hands-on experience to do everything well. This is the head of the hypothetical bird, guiding the rest of the bird with vision and oversight. The wings feel the vision too, but focus on looking out for the details, using experience to guide the bird in its flight.
In other situations, other entities in the community temporarily take the lead. In this case, Luna was, in fact, calling the shots. It just shows that however we like to think of ourselves as "in control of a shining world in which everything fits" as Annie Dillard noted, we are fundamentally a part of nature.