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Monday, August 10, 2009

Here comes the sun, little darlin'

The Farmer spent the evening sorting the lambs while I was away on a business trip with my day job. He sprayed red paint on the foreheads of the females and put them all together in one pen. Of course, he didn’t warn me about this detail before I went to the lambing area the next morning, so I received quite a shock. I was met at the door by an escapee lamb with something that looked like a gunshot wound on her forehead. Oh, my heart.
“Uh…there’s a lamb loose here,” I said.
“Does she have a red mark?” the Farmer asked. “It’s ok, she’s going out anyway. Let her go.”
But the lamb would have nothing to do with the open door to the field. And could you blame her? In her seven months of life she had never once been outside that room.
I grabbed my camera and headed outside. “You don’t need my help, do you? I want to get a picture of them when they step out the door for the first time,” I announced.
The Farmer muttered something incoherent, then climbed into the pen and started nudging lambs out into the aisle.
They weren’t going willingly. I waited outside for what seemed like a very long time, as the Farmer tried to coax the lambs out the door. “Stay out of sight,” he said. “If they see you, they won’t come out.”
I beg to differ. I bottle fed more than half of those lambs. Chances are if they saw me they would walk out without a fuss, I thought. But I obediently ducked behind the tree. Just then the Farmer growled and the few lambs that had been sniffing the threshold and blinking at the sun bolted forward onto the concrete ramp. That’s all it takes – one lamb goes and the rest follow. A stream of cumulus clouds with legs shuffled, ran and rolled down the ramp to the soft earth of the barnyard.
“Watch your camera case!” the Farmer warned.
“Where is it?” I asked, looking at the spot on the ledge where I had left it.
“It’s right there, on that lamb,” he said, sternly. Honestly, the man has no sense of humour some days.
When I saw the lamb running with my camera bag strapped around her neck and bouncing on her behind, I laughed so hard I nearly cried. It took a few moments to tackle her and retrieve my muddy bag. The sheep ran to the corner where the hay bales were piled. There they stopped. And sniffed. And baahed.
They had never felt or smelled the earth beneath their feet before. They had never had the warmth of the sun on their faces. I watched them as they blinked and bleated, huddled together, moving en masse like a swarm of white fluffy bees from one corner of the yard to the other.
The cows stood and watched from a distance. One brave lamb, one of my bottle babies, touched noses with Mocha, the yearling calf. Hopefully the presence of the cows will save them from predatory coyotes. We lost a sheep last week and I don’t want to lose another.
A few hours later I went back to check on my sheep. They were huddled together on the concrete ramp outside the lambing room.
“Aw, come on girls, you’ve got to go and eat,” I said.
“Oh don’t worry about them – they have eaten,” said the Farmer. As I looked around at where he was pointing, I could see they had leveled the weeds and plants in all corners of the barnyard. But they hadn’t made it out to the pasture yet. Perhaps tomorrow.
It was growing dark, and all the adult sheep were already in the barn. The lambs could hear them in there, talking on the other side of the wall. Soon they too would be looking for shelter.
I went into the hay storage, beside the turkey pen. I turned the light on and tried calling the lambs.
“Here, girls. Come in here. It’s nice in here.”
The Farmer looked at me. “Are you trying to get sheep to do what you want them to do? Are you nuts?”
I turned the light out and went to talk to the lambs. I squatted down and three little ones immediately padded over to touch their noses to mine. I had been their sole source of nourishment with my baby bottles of milk replacer, for the first eight weeks of their lives. They knew me.
“Listen. Girls. You have to go in that room over there. You will be safe there. And tomorrow, you have to go and get a good feed in that field. Ok?”
They looked at me with their glassy eyes. I knew they would sort it out, but still I worried.
And as I walked back to the house, I heard the coyotes calling to the setting sun.

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