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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Gloria and her flair for the dramatic

“You’ve got another lamb,” the Farmer announced on New Year’s Day. That makes five: two on Christmas Day, two a few days later (one needed a few bottle feedings of milk replacer to get him going but he made it) and this one. I guess that fluffy little Dorset wasn’t just fat; she was pregnant.
“Where?” I asked, heading to pull on my snow pants and boots.
“Ah relax. They’re fine. I put them in the horse stall. Come watch the rest of the movie.” We were in the middle of a Jimmy Stewart movie marathon. And I was undressing the Christmas tree. I like to multitask so I don’t feel guilty loafing in front of the TV.
For the next hour I kept thinking of the lamb and her young mother (I’ll call her Gloria for the purpose of storytelling) in the horse stall. I wondered if it was warm enough in there. I tried to enjoy my pre-dinner cocktail and movie. For the record, Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey is no substitute for Rye in a Manhattan. I abandoned my drink for a glass of red wine, and was just about to rinse the booze down the sink when the Farmer claimed it for his dinner recipe. I think we are calling it Pork Manhattan. I’ll let you know how it turns out.
I fried some green onions in butter and turned them into the rice that I had cooked in beef broth. Rinsing the romaine leaves and rolling them in a tea towel, I placed them in the crisper…to crisp. Then I turned to look at my husband. He was already in his snow pants.
“Well come on, then. We might as well move those sheep. Girls want their stable back.”
The girls, our two Belgian mares, were becoming quite territorial of late. We feed them grain, water and our best hay when they come into their tie stalls at night, and again every morning. But still when we turn them out to the barnyard they head straight for the hay feeders, knocking sheep left and right with their snouts and scaring the cows out to pasture to search for greens poking through the snow.
The horses spend the next few hours circling the hay bales as they eat, and the sheep have to become quite crafty. I figure Gloria was probably burrowed cozy beneath the feeder, nibbling on the underside of the bale when she (much to her surprise) gave birth. That’s where the Farmer found them. He decided to put Gloria and her babe in the vacant horse stall temporarily, knowing they would be safe and warm until he could organize another sheep pen.
When we arrived, the lamb was safe in the corner of the stall, tucked in behind her mother, who was just a year old herself. Lack of experience didn’t hinder Gloria’s maternal instincts however, and she protectively stomped her foot at my approach.
“Get her,” the Farmer instructed.
“Oh yes, you’re a good mama,” I cooed, as I swooped down and scooped her lamb up into my arms.
“I meant the ewe! That lamb isn’t going anywhere. Put him down.”
Without releasing my hold on the newborn I pinned Gloria’s head to the side of the pen with my knees and when she tried to wriggle free I gently sat on her neck, flattening her to the ground.
“Ok, or do that,” the Farmer sighed. Well, I was proud of myself.
Again he directed me to put the lamb down, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. The horses had their heads in the stable, and were trying to squeeze past the ATV that stood in the doorway to see what was going on in their stall.
Ideally, we already have the expecting ewes in the lambing room when they give birth. This one caught us by surprise and we needed to move the little family so we had to be creative.
Holding the lamb to my chest with one hand, I helped the Farmer to lift Gloria onto the front of the ATV with my free hand. He hog-tied her while she complained audibly and the lamb responded. The horses found all of this activity very interesting.
The ewe firmly lashed to the top of the ATV, we made our way out to the barnyard. The horses followed close behind. Very close behind. Suddenly, Ashley darted in front of me, blocking my path. She snorted and pushed her nose onto the lamb in my arms, as if to knock it from my grasp. I spun around and scolded her. Again she circled me and aggressively stopped me in my tracks. Gloria continued to call her lamb and he bleated a blue streak in response.
“What the hell is wrong with this horse?” I called, my adrenalin pumping. All 1800 lbs of Belgian mare kept blocking my path, and I had to dance to stay out from under her dinner-plate hooves.
Suddenly the Farmer appeared in front of me. “Ashley. No!” and she snapped out of it, backing away.
The horses thought the noisy newcomer was a threat. When the Farmer discovered the birth under the hay feeder a few hours earlier, Misty tried to stomp on it. Are we going to have to segregate our animals again? I thought they had learned to get along over the last year but apparently when snow covers the ground and food is scarce, all bets are off and no one feels like playing nice.
Finally we were able to tuck Gloria and her newborn into their own pen in the maternity room. The other ewes and lambs baaed a greeting. Gloria backed her lamb into a corner again, and stomped her foot at me as she nickered to her young.
“Good mama,” I repeated, and headed out to the barnyard to check for more ripe udders.
I can just imagine the conversation after we left. The other sheep craned their necks to peer into the newcomers’ pen. Gloria said, “phew. That was rough. I hate that part where they hog-tie you and strap you to the ATV.” And the other sheep would have laughed, shaking their heads before going back to their sweet feed and hay.

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