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Thursday, October 30, 2008

On the necessity of stubbornness

I have learned that, in addition to an unsinkable sense of optimism, one must also possess the stubbornness of a ram in order to be a sheep farmer. Luckily, I was born under the sign of the ram, I am a stubborn Aries, and I truly believe that because of that predestination, I am going to get the hang of this sheep farming thing yet.
When we had multiple lambs born to one mother, several times over, I asked the Farmer if we could feed baby bottles to supplement the mothers’ supply of milk. He said I could and so I have been in that barn every night with a canvas bag from the liquor store loaded with warm formula in lamb-feeding bottles. The lambs know me so well now, they swarm me and nibble at my boots or my hair or my knuckles – whatever they can reach – until I hand over the milk. I would like to think that I had something to do with so many of our lambs thriving this year. I’m quite proud of our little herd.
I realize that stubbornness and optimism must be balanced, however, with rational common sense. Lambs, if they survive gestation and birth, come into the world hoping that their mother has enough milk, that she accepts her obligation to feed them, and that conditions are favourable (i.e. not minus-30 in the barn). Even if warm and well-fed, the lambs might contract one of myriad diseases that sheep carry around with them, or they might just be born with a genetic “will to die” as a result of a lack of vitality passed on from their mother. Sometimes, no amount of bottle feeding will help, and you lose one. But occasionally, the extra effort put into caring for a weak one pays off.
Last week, I noticed that one of our newborns (probably about a month old) was walking in a rather stiff-legged fashion. The lamb looked alert and well-fed, and he didn’t have the wrinkled skin of dehydration or the hunched-over stance of starvation. He just walked like Charlie Chaplin.
The next day, he could hardly move at all. On the third day, he could no longer stand. His little legs would just collapse beneath him. Realizing that he couldn’t catch up to his mother to nurse, I tried to feed him a bottle. He couldn’t swallow, and choked on the milk. I must have had a rather distressed look on my face, as I rubbed his little back while he coughed. The Farmer had an idea. “We can feed him with a tube. Then he will either get better, or he won’t.” But at least he will have a full tummy, I thought. Stiff legs are a symptom of more than one disease known to lambs. In some cases, it’s caused by an overfeeding of grain, or bacteria growth in the intestines. This little piggy must have had more than his fair share at the feed trough.
We gave him about 75 mls of milk replacer once a day through a tube that he swallowed. It didn’t seem to be very much, but it was all he could handle in the time that we had to feed him. This routine carried on over the weekend. The Farmer gave him a shot of penicillin, and we hoped for the best.
On my 40th birthday (this was a big week for me), I went out to the barn to find the paralyzed lamb. Normally he is just a few feet from where I had placed him, having dragged himself over to a fresh patch of nibbling hay. But on this night, he wasn’t where I had left him. He was on the other side of the 20-foot “kindergarten” pen, looking at me and blinking. And he was standing up.
“Oh! My lamb is getting better!” I squealed. The Farmer came over to take a closer look. I tried to give him a bottle, but he choked on the milk. We fed him with a tube again, and I put him on the barn floor to see what would happen. Stiffly but surely, he walked away in search of his mother. I think he’s going to be okay.
That was a good birthday present. Almost as good as the diamond earrings that I got from Farmer Fisher. I’m going to be one well-dressed farmwife.The Accidental Farmwife doesn’t really know what she’s talking about, so if you would like to fill her in on some of the facts of farming, feel free to send her an email at: Diana.fisher@yahoo.ca

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