|This lamb looked great yesterday morning. |
This morning he was dead.
As I made the rest of my rounds through the flock this morning, I found brand new set of twins, which brightened my day immensely. I watched them for about 5 minutes - the ewe was attentive and both lambs nursed vigorously. Although I was still troubled by the dead lamb, I felt better as I headed into my "real" job.
|A nice set of twins.|
During lambing season, I usually spend my lunch hour checking the ewes again. As I drove up to the pasture today, I noticed a ewe that appeared to have afterbirth hanging from her vulva - but who had no lamb in sight. Worried that she may have aborted her lamb, I caught her and checked inside. She had a lamb, but it was breach - all I could feel were its hocks (properly presented lambs are born front-feet-and-nose-first). A breach lamb with hind legs tucked underneath it is difficult for the ewe to deliver on her own.
|An enormous lamb - who came into the world backwards!|
As I drove off, I was startled to see the ewe had delivered a second lamb! She had twins after all - and big ones at that! By the time I finally left (perhaps 30 minutes after pulling the first lamb), both were standing and trying to nurse.
|A sight welcomed by any shepherd!|
People who don't raise livestock may be surprised to learn that ranchers are bothered by the death of an animal. I'm certainly clear-eyed about the fact that we raise animals for meat - and yet I have continued to raise sheep through the drought because I love the new life that arrives every spring. I love the cyclical nature of my work - from preparing the ewes for breeding, to turning in the rams, to watching the ewes grow in their pregnancies. I love lambing season most of all - but I also love watching the lambs grow. I love shearing day and weaning day and sale day - and I love the final product of my efforts, too.
I've been fortunate to learn from a number of fine ranchers and shepherds throughout my life, and I've had the opportunity to share my experiences with new shepherds. I've come to realize that each of us has to gain direct experience - somebody could tell me how to pull a breach lamb, but I didn't know how to do it until the first time it happened to one of my ewes. What I have learned from other ranchers - and what I hope I convey - is an attitude of respect and reverence for my animals and for the land. Last year, a friend who also raises sheep told me, "When the death of a lamb doesn't bother us, we should quit being shepherds." During the drought, another friend who also went through the anguish of selling animals to keep the farm said, "Our animals are like our body of work - we spend a lifetime making decisions about breeding and management that ultimately results in a flock that fits our farm."
Like any vocation, I suppose, ranching has its high points and low points. Some days are deeply satisfying - others are intensely frustrating. Some days, I experience both emotions in the space of half a day!