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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Beezus and Ramona

Rats. Darn it. Curses. Against my better judgment, I have done it again. I have named a farm animal. This is not a good thing, because eventually the farm animal will either die or be sent to market and my heart will be broken – again.
Naming the creature in some way acknowledges that it has a spirit and a personality – and you can’t help but be endeared to it.
I felt it was safe to name Betty and Ginger, the cows, because they are really our pets, the foundation of our fledgling herd, and they will likely be around for the next ten years or so. Unfortunately they will occasionally give birth to bull calves, and I will have to say goodbye, as I did with young Tyson.
I prefer baby girls. Those I get to keep for awhile.
Anyhow, last Wednesday, I came home from the new job in the city and wandered into the barn. There was the Farmer, cleaning up after assisting a ewe lamb in a multiple birth.
“You have twins,” he said, but I could only see one.
“The other one is around here somewhere. It couldn’t have got very far.”
Oh but it could. I saw sunlight beaming through a gap in the back door, and suspected that if I were a newborn lamb, I would probably want to investigate. I peeked out the door. Sure enough, there was the new lamb, still covered in birth mess, poking about in the horses’ hay. Our two Belgian mares had just discovered her.
“That would make a good shot,” the Farmer reported, after seeing the massive horse sniffing at the tiny lamb. I ran back to the house to fetch my camera.
The horses were used to dogs bounding around under foot, and they had become accustomed to stealth-like sheep, sneaking in to steal their hay. But I was worried that they might feel threatened by this wobbly-legged character, as it likely smelled funny and they had never seen a newborn lamb before.
I snapped a few quick shots and scooped up the lamb from under Ashley’s huge snout. The horse followed close behind me, putting her nose over my shoulder and sniffing at the bundle in my arms.
The Farmer corralled the new mother and her twins in one of the vacant lambing pens. The ewe was little more than a lamb herself, and didn’t have much of an udder from which to feed her rambunctious babies. We fed the twins powdered colostrum every four hours for the first twenty-four hours, and despite their size, they managed to drink the full recommended amount from the baby bottle.
But I realized, as I held them and watched them feed, this wouldn’t work. I was working fulltime and, despite being given the flexibility to work from home once or twice a week, I wouldn’t be around to give feedings every 3 or 4 hours. Lambing season, for the most part, was over. There were no other lactating moms to foster these two. And to top it off, both the Farmer and I had business trips coming up. We had a dilemma.
Then I had an epiphany. I would train these two alert, aggressive lambs to self-feed. I strapped a bottle into a brace and hung it on the side of the pen. Because the lambs had imprinted on me a bit, I let my shirtsleeve hang over the bottle, and placed my finger beside the nipple. Within a few moments, the first lamb found the milk. She drank over 100 mls and wandered away with a full tummy to have a nap.
The second lamb took a bit more coaxing, but eventually she too found the bottle and had a feed.
The next day I went out to the barn to check on my lambs. They were full-bellied and happy, climbing on top of their mother and bouncing off of her. Suddenly the names of two of my favourite characters from a childhood book came to mind: Beezus and Ramona. I have not verified their sex or named them individually. To maintain my emotional distance, they have been named collectively. I refilled the self-feeding bottles and went back to the house, quite pleased with myself.
Now the lambs are on the self-feeders, with refills every twelve hours. It looks like we have a success! I’m quite proud of myself. Well chuffed, as my British friends would say. Maybe next year I will find a way to train all of the new lambs to self feed. Then I won’t have to be up in the middle of the night, warming baby bottles. Of course, they all need a cuddle once in a while. It’s good for the soul.


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