In the pasture south of our farmhouse, a group of about 40 yearlings and a couple of older rams have been spending the winter. About a month ago, the first yearling lambed.
Sometimes yearling mothers aren't the best. Being the first time they have a baby, they aren't quite sure what to do. Although their natural instincts usually kick in, it is not unusual for a yearling to just up and leave her baby.
I can't imagine what a ewe must think when they first birth a lamb. It's not like they have a midwife or a doctor standing by, telling them to breathe and push. Somehow they just figure it out. Out comes the little lamb (yearlings usually have small lambs) and with any bit of luck, they turn around to see what happened and immediately start licking all the fluids from the little, relatively lifeless, still lamb. Then in a couple of seconds, the baby will shake its little head with its ears flapping producing the oddest sound - sort of like wet clothes flapping in the breeze. The mama will continue cleaning her baby. In about 15 minutes the baby will be up on its spindly little legs and they will be off on their natural mama and lamb adventure.
On Monday, one ewe did have a uterine prolapse which we couldn't fix ourselves. (Vaginal prolapses with sheep are easily fixed with a plastic device called a bearing retainer.) We called the vet who just happened to be coming this way. This was good news because we could split the travel fee with another farm. We led the ewe up the hill and put her in the back of my SUV so that she would be ready when the vet arrived.
It was a 3 person job although I think if I wasn't there, all would have been fine. The ewe was balanced over a plastic trash can that was serving as a makeshift O.R. I helped to hold the ewe steady, holding the ewe's tail and wool up so the vet could see what she was doing. Amy was able to get the uterus back in, slowly twisting and turning the mass of red tissue back into the ewe's body. Her hands were small which in her line of work, must be helpful, especially with sheep. In a week, we will remove the stitches.
As I was standing there, I couldn't help but think back to the James Herriot books that I read so many years ago. I'm sure a vet's life serving farmers on hill farms here in the Pioneer Valley is very similar to the scenes that can be watched via the BBC series. Although times have changed and medicines have improved, a country vet's life is still full of the same occurrences. Farming too has changed but there are still so many constants - feeding, grazing, birth, death, and all the other things that go along with it. I feel fortunate to be part of this life. I have learned so much living here -- it is such a different life than my childhood growing up in New Jersey. Watching the animals care for their babies is some kind of miracle. And watching my husband Mark continue on a tradition of working the land and producing food for our neighbors is really something special. It certainly isn't all wine and roses but there are so many parts of our life that just can't be bought with money.
Enjoy the photos of the new little lambs.