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Friday, November 27, 2009

Turn me loose; I gotta do it my way...

We had planned to keep the boys in the pen-itentiary ‘til Christmas but it was such a nice, mild, fresh-air weekend that the Farmer took pity on them.
“I’m going to turn one of the rams out. Which one do you want me to release?” he asked, as we cruised down Pattersons’ Corners Road in the F150.
“Why don’t we give Rambi a chance?” I suggested.
“Rambi doesn’t know what the hell he’s doin’. I’m letting Rambo out,” he said.
“Hon...why did you even ask me?”
“I’m sittin’ here wonderin’ the same thing, darlin’.”
The Farmer likes to make me feel involved in the farming decisions. But the fact that he had adopted my habit of calling the animals by name was not lost on me.
When we returned to the farm we went our separate ways, doing our favourite weekend things. I took Cody the noble farm dog on a quick hike, and the Farmer sent smoke signals with his burn barrel.
Later I caught up with him in the lambing pen where the rams had been happily ensconced for close to four months. He had just released the senior ram, Rambo, minutes earlier. The ram was already on the job, his nose crinkled in a perma-sniff. The females circled around him, awaiting their turn. Even the ewe lambs seemed to catch on to the routine. Ram sniffs ewe’s tail, ram sidles up and licks ewe behind the ear, and if she stands stock still, he mounts her for about ten seconds. The red chalk box he has strapped to his chest leaves a telltale marking on her rump. If the ewe refuses to stand still, however, the ram stamps his foot in disapproval, grunts at her and moves on to the next candidate.
Watching Rambo in action, I thought, “is that it?” I mean, the women had been waiting for months to see him. I’m sure some feared the worst. They thought he had been given a ticket for the eternal holiday. When he finally emerged from his jail cell / man cave, there must have been rejoicing among the ewes.
After they have been mated, the marked ewes follow closely behind Rambo like his own personal fan club. He sneaks up on unsuspecting females now, growing ever more wily at his game. The ewes stand in a row as they feed on the pasture. Rambo moves along behind them, silently going about his work. After one of the ewes is mounted, she turns to her neighbour and says, “That’s odd. Louise, did you feel something? My goodness. Mosquitoes at this time of year.” Looking behind her, she sees nothing. So she returns to eating, the red mark of truth emblazoned on her backside.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Rambi is panicking. If there is one thing sheep hate, it’s being alone. As the Farmer approaches, the junior ram tries to launch himself out of the window.
“Tell me again the reason behind separating them?” I ask my husband.
“If I don’t, they just might kill each other,” the Farmer explained.
“Well he doesn’t like being alone.”
“I know. That’s why you’re going to bring your ewe lambs in here to keep him company.”
“Ok. But only if he promises to be gentle. It’s their first time.”
That’s when the Farmer gave me his look. The look that lets me know he is growing tired of indulging me.
“I don’t know how you’re going to get them in here,” he said.
I looked at him, amazed at how he underestimates my shepherding abilities. I opened the gate and looked at my 12 lambs, who were gathered around the door in the hopes of getting some hay or corn tossed to them. No matter how “dumb” people say sheep are, they do have a memory.
I knickered and clucked, made kissing noises, and called, “here Chicken, here, chick, chick, chick.” I heard something like a snort behind me. I wheeled around to face my husband as the 12 sheep nervously scuttled into the aisle. We put 5 in with Rambi, and the other 7 were put in a neighbouring pen, with instructions to watch and learn.
Poor Rambi. I think the only way he is going to get lucky is if one of his Sheilas gets her head stuck in the feeder. He spent the rest of the afternoon chasing the girls in circles, I’m sure. We’ll have to watch he doesn’t lose too much weight from all of this exercise.
We let Rambo out on November 22nd, so the lambs are due the 22nd of April. This is my first winter as a farmwife where I will be able to stay inside, curled up by the fire reading a book instead of trudging out in the snow to bottle-feed newborn lambs.
I’m sure I’ll find plenty of other things to keep me busy over the next few months. I’m supposed to be putting a book together from all of these columns, for one thing. It keeps getting pushed aside but in the dead of winter there won’t be many excuses.

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