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.