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Monday, April 19, 2010

How to entertain houseguests on the farm

I was just leaving the house for work when I heard the patio door slide open. The Farmer stuck his head in and quietly said, “You’ve got two lambs on the ground. But no mother.”
The Farmer was due to hit the road for a business trip. I quickly mixed up a bottle of milk replacer, grabbed my Farmwife hat and headed out to the barn.
I glanced at the sheep grazing in the field. Most of them were ewe lambs, just a year old themselves. One of them had just given birth to twins. And apparently she had wandered out to pasture shortly thereafter, leaving her babies to fend for themselves. How rude.
I found the lambs in the barn, where their mother – or someone – had licked them clean and left them.
I shared the bottle between the two lambs, and put them back where I had found them in case their mother decided to reunite with her new little family. Then I had to go to work.
All day I worried about those lambs. We had had houseguests - Cree clients from James Bay – staying with us all week, and I worried that one of them would try to find the runaway ewe herself. I wondered if I had warned Sarah sufficiently about the Donkey, the sheepdog and the electric fence. By 2pm, I was ready to go home.
Bob, my boss, decided to stop in on his way out of town, so that he could spend some time with our guests before they left for home. He was in for an unexpected evening.
At the farm, I quickly changed into barn clothes. Sarah followed me out to the barn to see what was going on. The lambs were right where I had left them. The sheep were still out in the field. I scooped the twins up into my arms and headed out to pasture. Bob caught up with us, wearing the clothes he had worn to the office and a pair of muddy rubber boots. I figured he might as well get the full effect of the farm experience. I handed him a lamb.
“Will you find the mother?” Sarah asked, worriedly.
“I hope so,” I responded.
I had seen young ewes disown their newborns before. But they are normally in lambing pens when this happens so it is easier to make the identification.
We tried placing the lambs in the middle of the herd, in the hope that their cries would attract their mother. All they attracted was the horse. I was afraid she would try to stomp the noisy little creatures, as she had last year. But she just sniffed them so hard, one little lamb ear went right up her nose and made her sneeze. I guess the novelty has worn off.
Never one to trust a horse, Bob scooped up his lamb and turned back toward the barn.
I decided to give the lambs another bottle of milk and put them in a lambing pen with the door open. Hopefully their bleating would eventually attract their mother.
As the sun began to slip down below the tree line, the herd wandered back to shelter. The lambs bleated and just one ewe replied with her own knickering. I snuck up behind her, straddled her fluffly little body and checked under her tail. Sure enough, she was a mess. Reaching below, I found her tiny udder in the midst of muddy wool tags. Milk flowed easily from the teats. I had found her.
The little ewe lamb was so small, I could easily lift her up and over the gate. I put her in the pen with her lambs. I also put a self-feeding bottle in there, just in case.
By then all 5 of our Cree guests were in the barn, watching the proceedings. I finished feeding the other ewes-in-waiting, and noticed that one of them had her head stuck in the feeder. We tried to pull her out but eventually Bob had to get the hacksaw and cut the feeder wire. A few minutes later, another sheep got stuck and Bob had to turn her over and pull her out. It was quite an eventful evening.
I was kind of proud of myself, but I was especially proud of Bob. When I had asked him to come and help me entertain our Cree houseguests, I didn’t expect him to pitch in and play farmer.

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