This week we had a spring blizzard resulting in ice and snow. The kiddos and myself had a snow day so that meant the entire family worked to keep everyone fed and warm. The heifers also started calving this week so be prepared for an overshare of calf pictures coming your way.
Things have been busy to say the least…though I still have my camera by my side.
The winter storm warnings started days ago… rain, ice, inches of snow. Warnings to be prepared, especially when newborn livestock lives are at stake. Warnings like this have come before, some living up to their hype and other just enticing worry for nothing. The lambing boom we have had over the last 48 hours suggest something is in the air.
The ewe lambs (yearlings and first time mothers) have started lambing and there is no “What to Expect When You Are Expecting” manuals for sheep so they require a bit of extra TLC and guidance from us humans to figure out this new motherhood role. It is important for the ewe and lambs to bond and ensure they are nursing well in the smaller jug pens before moving out amongst the other ewes and lambs. But when lambs keep coming the inn fills up quickly.
So the morning was spent processing lambs, ensuring the couple of lambs that had become chilled and hungry thru the night were back on track. One little lamb born a twin to a yearling ewe mother, was adopted to a more mature mother after he became weak and cold (twins seemed just too much for his young mother).
My little guy and I had gone out to check lambs this afternoon and found two new mothers. He ran to me with elation at his findings and we quickly scrambled to figure out who would move out of the lambing room to make room. I called my father-in-law as back-up (my hubby was sleeping after a exhaustive shepherding night and for the sake of his cognitive ability was taking a much needed nap).
It became apparent that one of the yearlings had another lamb yet to deliver and hadn’t yet done so successfully, signaling trouble. I slipped my hands into the ewe to investigate the origin of the single leg that was emerging from the warm and cozy womb. My little guy came running with his exam gloves on ready to help. We worked together to reposition the little lamb, turning his neck back around and freeing his other leg. My son and I pulled the little legs and held our breaths waiting for lamb to become free of the womb he had known for the past five months.
We waited for that sign of life, a gasp of air, a shake of the head but found none. I asked my little guy to grab a towel to wipe him, as if I might rub the life back into him. Perhaps he was really still alive but I had just missed the signs. As he ran back, my mind raced with all the “what-ifs”, “if-only”, and regrets.
He was declared dead, perfectly formed and ready for the world, only to be taken too soon. The big tears fell down my little guy’s chubby cheeks and he wailed for this dead lamb. My little guy took the lamb wrapped in the towel and cried over him while our attentions turned to the living lambs.
My little guy cried all the way to the house and ran inside to tell his Dad. He hugged his Dad and told the story of the lamb that came dead and his sadness. He said “I even prayed over him.” The decision was made to return the barn as a family to say our good-byes and have a little “service” for the lamb that died when he came out, the saddest way to die according to our 5 year old.
So the limp, cold lambs still wet with “birth” was laid on the rectangular burlap bale filled with wool, as if a lamb on the alter. My little guy stood over the lamb with his hands gently placed on his lifeless body as our family looked on. With sadness in his voice, he prayed…
“Bless us our Lord, and these thy gifts. For which we are about to receive, from thy bounty, through Christ, our Lord. Amen”
Turns out there aren’t really any known prayers for the departed lambs, no funeral rites prepared for lambs who never drew a breath. He said the best prayer he knew after his earlier prayers for the lamb to come alive and breath had failed.
The tears dried and the little lamb that died when he was coming out was remembered amongst the others we have lost. Our little guys cheeks were stained with salty tears and barn dirt, as he climbed the wire panel and set off to catch a lamb among the living.
Lambing is in full swing… the winters are undeniably long but with each lamb brings a promise of warmer, spring days soon to come. This time of year is second only to Christmas… each little lamb is a personal happy pill for me.
After I was gifted some ewes a few years back, our numbers and sheepy accommodations have grown. My hubby was lukewarm to the idea but has found he doesn’t mind the sheep and I love that lambing is really a family affair. The ewes are gentle and tolerant allowing more hands on from myself and the boys. Most lambs are born about the weight of a newborn human baby (with some longer appendages) making them the perfect size for cuddling by a mother missing her kiddos’ baby moments.
The hubby built a lambing room with jugs (smaller pens ewes and lambs will stay in for a few days after delivery) with an upstairs “apartment”. This has worked amazingly well for our marriage…instead of a sleepy and grumpy hubby trudging back and forth thru the biting winter air in the middle of the night this allows him to wake, look out the windows and do a quick assessment of the ewes to lamb.
The ewes are quite good at getting their jobs done but with the cold temperatures the lambs can become chilled quickly so do best in the warmer jugs with some monitoring to ensure they are nursing well after birth. I never loose that amazement in nature and the growing and bringing to life of another living creature. Admittedly, when delivering my own first borne human child when fear and uncertainty fought to take hold, it was images of cows and sheep quietly laying down and allowing nature to guide their knowing bodies that became the visualizations that comforted me.
“Joy is finding the holy in the small and the sacred in the everyday.” Mary Davis
We have been not so patiently waiting for lambing to start! The official start date was February 7 and I can assure you if we hadn’t been ready they would have started February 4. So we sat and waited and waited.
I soon decided perhaps nature was smarter than us to wait until the subzero temperatures subsided and unseasonable warmth came. We have been checking often when the weather is cold like this to ensure mom and baby are moved to a jug (think warm, cozy straw filled maternity suite) and out of the cold. Every year the plan is to lamb before the heifers and cows start delivering later in the spring but in doing so we deal with cold.
The lambs are actually very cold tolerant as long as they stay dry and have full tummies. The wet and muddy spring weather can actually be harder on our lambs and calves than the cold of winter.
Within a few hours of birth, it is critical for the lamb to nurse the literally life-saving colostrum from its mother. Colostrum not only provides much needed energy and calories but also contains very important antibodies. Without these antibodies delivered to the lamb’s waiting gastrointestinal tract in that first day of life, the lamb will be at much greater risk of developing serious and potentially fatal disease due to pathogens.
Nature and all of its inner workings and complexities amazes me. Nature has a plan in place to help ensure lamb survival in addition to a doting mother with colostrum waiting. Lambs are born with brown fat (adipose) tissue. Brown fat is nature’s little miracle to assist survival of these newborn ruminants. This specialized fat, when burned shortly after birth, not only provides energy but heat.
We have been rolling right along with lambing. Most are delivering mid-day attended with waves of a few moms delivering than a lull. My hubby and I are awaiting the big wave…which often occurs with a change in weather. So stay tuned for plenty of adorable baby lamb photos coming your way!
We are moving out of the “No” phase and into the “I do it!” or “Me Too!” When you are two years old, there is nothing in the world to fear and everything to explore and discovery. Nothing is too heavy, too hard, too much… If I could bottle a toddler’s tenacity and will and take a swig at 3pm when the day is just getting too long I too may confidently say “I do it!”
I love that I have photos of both of my boys side-by-side with their dad feeding, learning, observing. The biggest lessons and memories they remember are often from the smallest events whether graining sheep, feeding hay to the cows, or picking eggs from the coop.
Where there is independence there is frustration when our little 2 year old just isn’t strong enough, big enough, fast enough, or coordinated enough. But he tries and that is a great lesson from his 2 year old self to this grown up.
“Practicing his ranching skills on the living room floor.”
The promise of spring is upon us and we are eagerly and anxiously awaiting the start of lambing next week. I mentioned to my Hubby that he seems more excited and anxious for the delivery of these babies than our own human babies. His response, “I didn’t have to build the hospital before their arrival.” There is much to do and prepare before lambs arrive…the barn is ready with fresh straw. The lambing jugs where the newborns will spend their first few days are warm and cozy. Medications and supplies are stocked. The ewes will get sheared in anticipation for a cleaner lambing experience.
It is all hands on deck for this family to ready for what I think is second only to Christmas as the “best time of the year”.
It is always with deep consideration what I decide to share outside the walls of the exam room. I fully realize I am invited into an often very personal relationship with sensitive topics, emotions, and sharing. If you see yourself in my stories or writing, please know that you, your pet, and/or our experience together affected me such that I desired to reflect and share. So it was with hesitation that I share this, but I was so touched, so taken and found such tragic beauty in this experience I felt it was worth sharing.
The call came, a very sick young Chameleon needed medical attention. My experience with Chameleons is limited but thankfully though true exotic veterinarians are more rare than plentiful, most are very helpful in sharing their knowledge.
I found a frail, faded young Chameleon with a young boy and his mother behind the exam room door. The Chameleon was young, a faded tan with stripes of muted green with hints of gray. Chameleons are well know for “changing” their skin color but in fact have four layers of skin with different pigmentations. It is the blending of these layers that create their color. Her entire body fit in the palm of a hand. She was so small and light, the wash cloth she was wrapped in provided the only real substance registered when she was held. Their concern for this little creature was great but she was clearly very sick.
After diagnostics and discussions of treatment options and prognosis. The prognosis looked so poor and so the boy stoically agreed with his mother by his side and tears streaming down his cheeks to say goodbye to his little friend.
Admittedly, I have never euthanized a Chameleon before. I gave the sedation to make her sleep with the smallest gauge needle into her tiny muscle. The green and tan were replaced by a deep muddy brown, as if a flower wilted and died so suddenly before my eyes in such a profound transformation. While this is known to occur, I was so taken by this transformation I had to fight the tears. I finished her goodbye and handed this frail, wilted dead flower of a creature back to her grieving boy.
It was such a profound change, so beautiful yet so tragic. That outward bodily change to physically darken was so encompassing of the grief in that moment. When our hearts feel the darkness of grief and sadness, how awe-inspiring is nature to allow this little Chameleon to transform, for Nature to choose her color of death. Where once there was vibrance, now lie the physical picture of darkness in death and grief.
“The dance between darkness and light will always remain— the stars and the moon will always need the darkness to be seen, the darkness will just not be worth having without the moon and the stars.”
― C. JoyBell C.
The holidays have come and gone… a time of rich blessings and memories. My boys are at an age where they are understanding, excited, and believe in the magic of it all. We enjoyed all our favorites, baking cookies, our visiting Elf on the Shelf, time with family and friends.
While the holidays are ushered out, we have ushered in subzero frigid temperatures. The northern Plains are no stranger to cold, wind, and snow but days of subzero temperatures are sobering and tiring. My kiddos and pets are stir crazy, corraled in the house because just 10 minutes in -21 degree weather freezes paws and delicate cheeks. It is a time to enjoy the warmth of cuddles and heavy blankets, movies and books by dim lights, and warm comfort food in our bellies.
When we couldn’t stand being indoors any longer we ventured out to help feed. The tractor cab is a little cozy for all of us to fit, but a good time for family bonding and guarantees warmth. Since my childhood, a loud engine, warm cab, and bumpy ride are equivalent to instant sleep for this gal so yesterday’s chores proved a great time for a nap.
We do tractor cab selfies!
Though the temperatures were frigid, the wind has been calm and the sun bright these last few days. This latest cold is the type that makes your face hurt, like needles. The crisp dry air hits the lungs like a knife. Fogs of expired air surround all those brave enough to venture out. My hubby will be in full-on Jeremiah Johnson beard mode until the warmer days of spring. His red bear is usually sporting actual frost highlights this time of year.
When I think about our lives here on the Northern Plains, we are surrounded by a beauty. Not the beauty that awes you and smacks you in the face like a Rocky Mountain vista or ocean. There is a subtly to its beauty, a quietness in its presentation. It is easy to look out and see nothing but blades of dry grass amongst a canvas of white. Maybe the beauty is in the somber nothingness of the view, a sort of quiet reflection. There is beauty in the details…the glitter of the snow on the ground, the strong skeletons of trees and bushes, ready to support life in just a few more months.
There are reminders of those that have come to these Prairies before us, an outhouse sits in our yard reminding us to be grateful for indoor working plumbing and running water.
Tomorrow is back to official reality. Welcome 2018. This weather is expected to warm, making life a whole lot easier for ranchers and the animals they care for. We have a winter of sledding, snow balls, and ice skating left to enjoy so shape up weather.