Lamb Lessons

January 15, 2011
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For some winter means skiing, sledding, and snowmen. For me winter means icy-freeze-your-nose-off-winds, extra chores, stress, limited sleep, and miracles. The first time I realized this came six years after I bought my first lamb. That winter we decided not to buy our lambs but to breed them. The stress and anxiety struck me to the core. I’m not sure I slept more than three consecutive hours the entire winter. But at some point I calmed down, and things fell into place.

Snug and warm under a pile of quilts, like a bear nestled into his wintery den, I heard a shuffle. My heart sped up. The sound came from the lap top strategically placed at the foot of my bed. I slowly sat up, not sure what the screen held in store. I struggled to see as my eyes adjusted to the darkness of the room and the bright light of the screen. Sure enough, the grainy real-time video stream showed a ewe, or mom sheep, and as I expected a small dark blob lying next to her. I sprang off the bed and into my heavy, burnt-orange jacket and coal black snow pants. Banging on my parents door to let them know, I snatched up the phone.

“428-630-9072,” I breathed heavily as I dialed. My neighbor who doubles as a sheep breeder and veterinarian picked up on the first ring.

“One down,” I whispered. A mix of nervousness and excitement permeated my voice.
“Be right over,” she mumbled groggily.

With my golden retriever hot on my tail, I dashed down to the barn. As its ancient frame loomed out of the darkness, I ducked through the bottom half of the split barn door. My heart thundered in my chest as I took in my surroundings.

Searching for the intruder interrupting her and her new born, Charmer’s black eyes stared up at me calmly. Somehow she didn’t share my anxiety. Considering this numbered her tenth or eleventh time giving birth, she had nothing new to worry about. I on the other hand had no experience and her age only added to my worries. What if she was too old? What if she couldn’t be a good mother anymore? What if the birth wiped her out beyond recovery?

Turning toward the other stall I recognized some who shared my feelings. The other two ewes bleated nervously. Outside, the dog paced back and forth, dying to know why she followed me outside at 2:00 am in the middle of January.

Glancing into the lambing stall I froze, not sure of what to do. Did I dry off this foreign looking black object or let his mother do it? When did I check his temperature? Did those cracks in the thin wooden wall create a draft?

Before I became dizzy from running my mind in circles Dr. Molly sprinted in. Her small frame looked almost laughable bundled up in heavy khaki Carhartt material from head to toe. She slipped on some latex gloves and instructed me to do the same. Once in the stall my anxiety only worsened. What if I did something wrong? What if the mom gets angry? What if he freezes? I couldn’t shake these doubting ideas. My eyebrows must have been threaded together from frowning when Dr. Molly looked up and reassured me, “Molly, we found him in time. It’s all going to be OK.”

I’m not sure I agreed with her at the time, but her confidence helped me relax.
“Now start toweling him off.”

The fuzzy texture felt unfamiliar beneath the latex gloves as I began to dry his head. The warm red goo covering his body clung to his skin and didn’t come off easily. I awkwardly tried to wipe of the rest of his body, making slow progress. I felt like a newcomer in a foreign country who didn’t understand the customs of the area.

“We gotta move a little quicker. Try it like this,” she suggested, taking the lamb into her arms. After a minute or so of vigorous rubbing she handed him back. I copied her technique and relaxed a little more.

After taking his temperature and setting him gently under a heat lamp, we trekked back to the house knowing we had a healthy newborn lamb. My mom surprised us with a tray of hot cocoa and marshmallows. Warming up after three long hours in a below freezing barn, we rehashed the experience.

“Good job Molly. See how you quit freaking out and things still worked out,” chided Dr. Molly.
If she only knew how strongly her words resonated with me. I still believe that and try to act on it as often as possible.

So as winter approaches it’s not the skiing, sledding, or snowmen, and it’s certainly not the biting cold, extra chores, or extreme stress I look forward to, but the miracles and the lessons learned.





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