While thankfully not always typical of our days around here, there was a real humdinger recently….
It all started innocuously enough the night before….a ewe in labor. Normal enough right? Well this ewe, (by the name of Miriam) was apparently not convinced that her pregnancy was drawing to a close in the most typical way possible for a sheep–udder swollen with rich colostrum, contractions to push the lambs out and lots of gooey stuff. Not that all of these things were not present, because they most definitely were. But for whatever reason that got stuck in her sheepish head she decided that she must proceed with all possible volume!
I really had other plans for that day, but they had already been rearranged by a little lamb that needed some extra attention. The main goal for the day was supposed to be planting some 100 raspberry canes that were still languishing in their shipping packaging now three weeks after their arrival…still patiently waiting for the time and weather conditions ideal for their planting. Late in the afternoon I finally got around to digging the holes intended for the canes. I made it up to 84 holes before it was past time to feed the lambs and get in the house to supper.
That night after dinner, I was just going over to the tractor to get a scoop of dirt so that I could start planting my raspberry plants ahead of the predicted morning rain the next day. But when I arrived at the farm and the
crazy critter poor dear started in with such a bawling I figured I’d better have a look. Typically when a ewe goes into hard labor she will find a quiet(er) spot in a corner, or the like, and with much pawing, some lip curling and a few soft grunts…. That would have been far too inconspicuous for Miriam! Initially I wondered if she had already had a lamb that another ewe had stolen away (which had already happened once this year with another ewe) and Miriam was making all that racket trying to locate it.
But there she stood by the hay feeder–stomping the ground and making enough noise to be heard clear down in Tennessee! If y’all didn’t hear her we’ll be very surprised ;-) It may have been fainter and a bit muddled by the time the sound passed through the wind generators at the Ohio border and bounced around a bit in the mountains, but if you think back I’ll bet you’d be able to remember a confused bellowing coming from the North several nights ago!
We got her in a pen in the barn since it became obvious that she had not lambed at all yet, and hoped that she would quiet down at least a little…”the neighbors might want to sleep tonight!” we thought. It was almost as if she was trying to call the lambs out from inside of her–an approach that I’ve neither researched nor witnessed before, but it didn’t really seem to work all that well; so I can’t say as I’d recommend it to any prospective mothers. Mostly it created a lot of tension in the attending staff….some of whom were even wearing hearing protection. :-) Thankfully that hoop barn doesn’t echo!
Well it took a couple of hours of bawling, straining, strenuously crying, pushing, loud callings, some ground pawing, sonorous exclamations, wire chewing (I’ve never seen that before either!), baritone bellowing, generally an awfully lot of noise before she finally got the first little guy out. Whew! After that things quieted down enough to at least being measurable on the decibel scale–it’s harder to keep the volume up when your tongue is going a hundred miles an hour licking a lamb off!
With the hardest part over with, the substitute for the stand-in for the acting assistant to the head shepherd (that’d be yours truly–there’s a real shortage of true Head Shepherds physically on earth these days….) came back to the house to get the bottles warmed up for a last feeding of the little orphan lambs. When I got back to the barn about a quarter after eleven, lamb number two had popped out (I know, I know… it’s a misnomer :) and was wobbling around on shaky legs. By the time I’d fed the little ones and fetched Miriam a bucket of water she had another water bag. I’m still in training to be absolutely accurate in determining whether those bags (which seem to come either before or after the lambs is born and sometimes both) are indicative of another lamb or of afterbirth. Thus I decided to go back to the house and catch a couple of quick Z’s before trudging back over to check her again.
One twenty minute nap later and I was back in the barn. With no more lambs and no other progress proceeding from the ewe’s rear regions I figured that she must be done and moved on to making sure the lambs were nursing well and getting sufficient nourishment. It turned out that Miriam’s bag and teats were so swollen that the lambs were unable to get their little mouths around them! The solution, of course was to strip some of the milk out until they returned to a more normal size that the lambs could afford themselves the use of. Because it was the rich colostrum, filled with nutrients, anti-bodies and extra vitamins, I was sure to save every drop I could to have it on hand for later emergencies or occasions when a mother ewe had little or no milk at the time the lambs were born.
So by the time that poor tired under-shepherd made it to bed it was a quarter to one in the morning and I’d still not gotten the raspberries planted!
With all the trouble in the previous few day that had arisen from my tardy arrival at the sheep quarters (from stolen lambs to one that was abandoned by his mother and left out in the rain) I determined that I’d better be over there early the next morning to make sure that the newborns were still doing OK and to encourage all the lambs to go in the barn when the rain, which was predicted for the next morning, arrived. Plus I’d still not planted the raspberries!
So at five AM the next morning I was trying to drag myself out of my nice comfy bed and get over with milk for the little orphans. Then the rain was delaying, so I decided to seize the opportunity and get those raspberries planted!
This time I was able to get the tractor without urgent interruption by any sheep and get my dirt to fill the holes where I’d cut out the sod in order to plant the canes. Now I was in business! Planting raspberries is not a terribly gigantic task since they are only in the ground an average of four inches deep, but still if you get enough of them it still takes awhile…I had 100 plants to set and it took two and a half loader buckets of dirt to refill the holes with fine compost/dirt around the canes.
There were only a couple of glitches during process that morning…. I ran out of gas in the loader twice (!) because I was using the last little bit of gas I had from cans in two different places; and thought that I shouldn’t use much gas when the tractor was basically only sitting at an idle. Shutting the tractor off while I filled the holes between runs for more dirt would have been logical, but I had discovered that the battery was getting weak and didn’t want to have to jump it to restart…(which I ended up having to do anyway after it ran out of gas) Also it seems to burn just a little oil and the smoke helps with those pesky biting insects! The mosquitoes had been rather plentiful around these parts again this year and early in the morning at later at night when the wind is low or has died down, they can be thick enough to make you want to strain the air before you breathe it!
So after a bit of finagling with the tractor, and about two hours of planting, the raspberries were finally in the ground! Thank you Lord!
At this point someone (that only got about four hours of sleep the night before) was starting to get a bit drowsy, but the rain that I’d counted on to make going back to bed easier hadn’t showed up yet. So what do you do? Make hay while the sun shines right? Well the sun wasn’t really shining, just the clouds hadn’t started raining yet–so I stuck to doing the chores and a couple of other little tasks rather than haying.
Thankfully the rain soon came and I retired to the house. The only problem that remained is that there was a whole list of things to do someday when it rained! But sleep was really calling by that point….and the couch held my rapt attention for a little over an hour and a half.
Once the rain started pounding fiercely, I woke up and made sure that it looked like all the ewes and lambs had made it into the barn to stay dry. Cold wet lambs and living lambs just don’t seem to mix–especially at early ages!
After attending to the feeding once again, it was back in the house to do a bit of baking :-) It was truly a bit of an emergency–we’d somehow run out of cookies!!!
I did have a bit of a break in the middle of baking to buzz over to church to be at prayer time, but six or seven dozen cookies, 4 loaves of zucchini bread, and two dishes of rhupple betty bars later it was time to start supper….and since I was already in the kitchen watching over all the things in the oven I took over that as well. A lovely goulash, Mom’s wonderful bread, peas and salad with a dish of the dessert rounded out our dinner for the day.
A little later that evening good ‘ol Baxter’s services were called in to play since the chicks were out wandering the yard…..again. A good herding dog is invaluable, and Baxter does a pretty good job with the chickens.
After one last baby feeding, it was off to bed as quick as I could–to make it before ten thirty…so much for going to bed early! The next morning I woke up a few minutes before six to go check the lambs and feed the orphans.
Whew! Makes me glad that I don’t have that kind of day too often–it could get to be tiring! ;-)
Like all of life, Farming has its seasons–the ebb and flow of different times of the year, but with agriculture there is so many different things that you can fit in, overlap and use to fill the cracks it seems like there is the potential for staying busy most of the time. That is one thing that I love about the lifestyle: there is always something different to do, a different approach to try, something new to learn about. I enjoy having the animals and working with them–though they can be aggravating at times…and I truly savor the changes of pace through out the year and being in tune with the seasons as they come and go.
As the writer of Ecclesiastes stated “there is a time for everything under heaven.” While in this period of busy Spring work I pray that I will remember to enjoy the bustle now, and yet still thankfully accept the slower rainy days and hot Summer days to come because “[the Lord] gives to his beloved sleep.” In all of life there is a balance–and we must be careful not to lose sight of what is really important and the reason we are here in the first place: to bring glory to the only wise and sovereign God.
If what we are doing and what we are living do not accomplish this basic intrinsic purpose, then the sum of our total efforts is zero. While this is a sobering thought, it should inspire us to take a more careful and intentional approach to life. This is not to say that we as Christians must go around looking, as one pastor put it “like the poster face for the book of lamentations!” In fact we are commanded to be joyful. But how, except by faith and daily living in obedience to God, can we really think that we will ever experience all that God has offered to bless us with? We must not presume upon the grace of God!
However as we strive to follow Christ and love the Lord our God with all our hearts, minds and strength, I truly believe that we can confidently expect God to bless us–it is what He want’s to do after all. He has promised to work all thing together for the good of those who trust Him! And that is a reason to be glad and rejoice!
“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into His presence with singing! (Ps 100)