Up before dawn to step out into the pouring rain. Still happy to be able to say RAIN and not snow! 😉 Got to feed and water the critters in my favourite poultry barns and had a chance to say hello to my favourite farmer – okay – my favourite lady farmer – who is married to my other favourite farmer. You know who you are! 😉
Later on I was back out in our paddock tucking the jennies into the hay barn while I cleaned out the regular rainy day haunts. I enjoy rainy days. The sound of the rain on the barn roofs is relaxing. Having good rainwear means I don’t get wet. A nice morning!
At noon I headed back down to the maternity ward at the farm. I was certain yesterday I was going to have my first opportunity to fill in as ward nurse. There was one of my favourite sheep panting and grunting – not keen to get off the floor. Hmmm … Soon along came Senior Farmer – over to clean out the cow’s paddock – get a start on the mud before the big rains came in. As I explained a lamb was imminent he kindly came along and asked me what I had noticed – what indications had tipped me off. As he gently rubbed my favourite’s head he moved along and pointed out some other ewes with engorged udders and low bellies that were signs they were soon to lamb as well. He talked about how he had noticed a rope of mucus or a sac of blood were good indications too. Hours later it was clear that he had figured my prediction was not likely but had just kindly pointed me in other directions. Love a kind and patient man!
Today though – as I stepped through the gate and noted the long strand of mucus and the fidgeting ewe – I knew – yep – today was going to be the day – ready or not. So I decided to play it cool. I pulled one of the buckets over the feed wall (which caused a major stampede in my direction), turned it over and sat on it (which caused confused looks all ’round). I leaned back against a post and settled in. It is easy to empty your mind when you are sitting in the middle of a flock of sheep chewing their cud and softly talking to their lambs. I wasn’t going to be fooled like yesterday – I was thinking this was going to be a process.
My favourite sheep came through the throng to lay her head on my lap. Note – she wasn’t the one on the ‘ready-set-go’ list even for today. She was determined though to let me know she did need my attentions. Apparently she was bottle fed and knows her way around people. Whenever I stopped stroking her head to take a picture of the soon to be momma she would paw at the ground with her hoof – a language I know well from Bella!
Within an hour it was evident that new lambs were coming soon. So I wound my way up to the main level of the barn to find a spot with cell phone service. It turns out that if you stick your hand through the hole in the door to the cattle paddock and hold it ‘just so’ you can get four bars. Then you press your ear as far out the hole as you can … and there was Cari on the other end of the line. (By this point I’m thinking ‘Dang! I should have gone for the smart phone with some kind of video feed’… imagining a high tech guided birthing with Cari at work and me in the barn.) But no – seriously – I knew … “You’ve got this.”
Confirming my plans with Cari regarding moving the previous mother of twins out of the private ewe-lamb stall I was headed back with confidence. We figured it would be good to move them out first – rather than having to bring in the newborns and then encourage the other ewe out. I learned being there with Cari last weekend that those sheep mommas love the taste of newborns. (Vicki Clemment was right … babies smell so good mommas just want to lick them.)
I was soooooooooooooooooooooo pleased with myself when I had engineered a full flock press to sweep up the ewe and her twins to the main room. (Truth be told the whole flock got into the hallway when I was putting the first of the twins into the main room! Acck! As they hit the barrier I’d put up just in case and turned I could see there was possibility there. Phew!) The ewe-lamb stall was now empty ready for the … new … mom …. hmmmm… which one was she?
Yikes! I didn’t want her to have to drop her lamb in the middle of the ruckus that was the welcoming back party for ewe #1. Or the melee that was the ‘find your own mother’ game for the now five tiny lambs. Quick – butt check!
When I did find her I gently walked behind her moving her toward the gate – while moving the others back behind me. I wasn’t relishing the thought of another full flock press … Somehow we managed to dipsy doodle past the gate and right into the new stall. She was impressed with the hay and set to work nibbling and munching as much as she could while she circled and circled wondering when her new lamb was going to show up. I could see the beginning of two hooves protruding from her rear.
That’s when Cari’s advice was whispering in my head … ‘usually they come head first …’ Did that mean you wouldn’t see hooves first? ‘I once had to reach in and pull one out – even though ‘they’ say you shouldn’t do that – because I could see he was backwards.’ Oy oy! How would you know the hooves were the front hooves? Oh … they’d be oriented down … right? Oooooooorrrrrrrr … could they come out on their back?
I was ever so thankful to see that little white face slide out behind those hooves! And just like that out she swished and plopped onto the hay bed. The ewe set to work licking her off and I grabbed the towels Cari had showed me – hanging just above our heads – to help dry her and warm her up. A squiggly leggy little thing that was set to take on the world. I knew to help her find her mom’s teat and to help her get the idea of sucking. She had a good hold on my finger and her tongue knew what to do. She was doing great. Wow! “We” did it! I’m sure the ewe would find that pronoun amusing. When I could see they were okay I headed back upstairs to call Cari back.
There I was. Smiling ear to ear. SOOOOOOO relieved to be able to tell her that the lamb was born, alive and suckling. “Were there two?” she asked.
?@#?$%@?^?%6%?5^? Crikey! There could be another one! I hustled down just in time to note two more hooves making their entrance. Not any time to wonder which hooves before a long sleek black body joined us. I was feeling a little more confident now – rubbing and helping the ewe when the little gaffer just went weak…. AAAAAAAAAhhhh! The mom nudged her and then walked away to the other end of the stall with the little white girl and I stared in mute horror at this limp little one … what happened?! I rubbed her little belly and scooped out her mouth – wiped her nose – rubbed her belly again – and then she suddenly flailed and mewed. “Come on back Momma! This one needs you!”
I was very glad to hear Cari come in the barn door shortly after that. The second little one does seem to have some problems. Or, to my practiced eye (please note the sarcasm), was certainly different from all the others I’ve seen born (that being one). She didn’t have the leg strength her sister had to get right up. Nor did she have the sucking reflex. But I left her in good hands. Cari is a nurse and an excellent farmer. I’m not sure what the outcome will be for that second lamb – and I didn’t want Cari to have the pressure of me floating about if she had to make a tough decision about it.
I drove home feeling excited (I’d managed and hopefully helped) and wonderstruck at how life cycles on. Knowing the tentative line our Little Grey walks every day. Knowing that the farm faces losses of life and the newness of life day in and day out. Knowing a little more closely the places our food comes from. And knowing that again, my respect for the work Cari and Owen do – had doubled.
PS A little update. I just received a photo from Cari and her family. The little lamb is inside with them tonight but she is standing up and making progress. Phew!