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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Rambi and the Ladies

Our one-year-old ram was placed in a holding pen for his own safety a couple of weeks ago, because he had been found in a rather violent tête-à-tête with the senior ram. I asked Farmer Fisher how long “Rambi” had to stay in purgatory.
“You can let him out if you like. We’ll see if he has cooled off at all.”
In the time that it took us to feed the ewes and walk out of the barn, Jr. and Sr. Ram found each other and took up the fight again. Farmer Fisher divided the battling sheep with a long cane, then grabbed Rambi by his curly horns and dragged him off to the barn again. The older, larger and wearier “Rambo” gave his head a shake, announcing his triumph with the ringing of his halter bell. I wondered what might have happened were we not there to break it up. Rams will continue to fight, in their deadly head-on collisions, until one of them bows out or is unable to continue.
I didn’t see how locking Rambi up was teaching him anything, and the farmer agreed. Apparently that was only stage one of the plan. The next day, Rambo was led into the 4” x 6” pen with Rambi.
In that limited space, the two prisoners didn’t have room to ram each other. They held staring contests, danced each other around and around in a holding pattern, or pinned each other up against the wall. But they didn’t smash their skulls together.
“There,” said the farmer. “Now you have to work it out together and learn to get along.”
The two rams had been sharing barnyard space for over ten months with no incident. Why they decided they needed to battle for territory now was a mystery. Perhaps the young one was just coming of age and beginning to feel his oats. Or his corn.
Whatever the reason, he felt compelled to challenge the senior ram-in-residence at every opportunity.
Once locked together in the pen, however, Rambo’s girth gave him the advantage. He would corner Rambi and body-check him against the boards, holding him for up to a minute until he baa’d “uncle”.
After a few more days in their shared cell, Rambi seemed to have gained some respect for his superior. Which was a good thing, because the ewes were beginning to show signs that they were nearing the end of the gestation period, and we needed the pen.
We spent most of last Saturday preparing our eight smaller and two larger lambing pens for the impending birthing season. My daughter’s boyfriend Pat volunteered to help us for the day. My job was to clear the heavy lace of cobwebs from the ceiling. It’s amazing what barn spiders can create in the off-season, with no one around to bother them. The dust from the corn-sprayer had settled on some of the larger webs, creating these incredible works of art that looked like huge icy snowflakes. I swept them all down from the beams with a broom, and filling the air with dust.
By the time the men and the sheepdog had corralled all of the lumpy ladies into the barn, my eyes were puffy, red and itchy, and I had mascara running down my face. I went back to the house and found a face mask leftover from the SARS era in Taiwan. That did the trick, and I was back in business.
The sheep were gathered at the end of the lambing room, and the farmer flipped them onto their bottoms one by one so that he could assess their udder development. Then he would tip them back up onto their feet, and call out “big pen”, “small pen”, or “let ‘er go”. Pat and I would try to steer the sheep into the correct pen as it ran at us, which was tricky because a sheep never wants to go toward a person. You sort of have to eliminate all of their other options in order to get them to go the way you want.
As the sheep were released and directed toward their pens, they each gave out a strange garble that could only be translated as obscenity directed at the farmer and his helpers. We decided not to take it personally.
Once the ewes were all safely sorted and penned, we had to fill their buckets from the hose and pitch hay into all of the feeders. While we were busy doing that, one of the sheep demonstrated that if she stood on her hind legs, braced herself on the edge of the pen railing with her front legs and stretched her neck out, she could just reach the edge of the corn bin with the tip of her tongue. It’s a good thing we saw that before we left the barn, or she would have bloated up like a puffer fish from too much grain. The farmer made a barrier to keep the sheep out of the corn, and we took one last look around the now steamy lambing room. Forty-five pairs of sheep eyes looked back at us, expectantly. Once in the pens, sheep that would normally bolt away at your approach will actually put their noses right up to your face, to nervously smell your breath. It’s as if they know they will need our help in days to come, and they have decided to trust us.
The farmer and his two rookie helpers trudged back to the house along paths that Annie had mercifully cleared for us with the snow blower. We ate a bit of lasagne, drank a glass of wine to toast the ewes, and crashed on the couch. We were in bed by nine, wiped out from our busy day. I can’t believe the farmer used to do all of this by himself.
I sincerely hope that the weather for the rest of February and the beginning of March is kind to us. The lambs can come any time now. We’re ready for them.

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