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Thursday, March 7, 2013

The blessing of four seasons

It’s Canadian to talk about the weather. And it’s Canadian to complain. We don’t even realize we are doing it. It’s just our go-to for conversation topics, to comment or complain about amount of precipitation, beyond-average temperatures, wind levels and intensity of sunshine. Well I guess we should be grateful for our four distinct seasons, as we are never without something to talk about.

Ten years ago this month, I left Canada for Asia. It was already ‘springtime’ there, if you can call it that. Immediately I noticed something was missing. Yes, the patches of grass in the park were greening up, and the trees were budding. But that springtime smell was missing.

In Taiwan, the damp chill of winter, at times dropping to 5 degrees, is quite uncomfortable as most homes do not have central heating. You huddle around a portable heater at home, and plug in another one under your desk at work. Spring comes and goes quietly, and one morning you wake up to a blinding sunrise and sweltering 50 degrees of humid heat. Summer arrives with fanfare and cymbal clash in Taiwan.

Canada’s seasons have rhythm. One fades gracefully into the next, with perfect timing. If you live in the same part of Canada for a period of time, your body will learn the rhythm. You will learn to expect the next season—to anticipate its arrival. Can’t you just feel spring waiting around the corner?

Springtime on the farm means lambing.The first of our sheep is starting to grow an udder. She is “bagging up”, as the expression goes. By the end of the month we will have a lambing room full of ewes—ten to a pen, forty in all. There they will fatten up on hay, sweet feed and mineral, and wait out the impending arrival of eighty to ninety little ones.

I love lambing season, but it is probably our most exhausting season of the year. It’s the only real ‘work’ we have to do on the farm. When the animals are outside, coming and going and seeking food and shelter when they need it, it’s very simple to put a big round bale up every few days. The only daily task is refilling the water troughs.

During spring lambing we attend and often assist births, we feed and water and clean and attend more births. For a solid month the lambs are born, and for a few more weeks they find their corners and bond into their little family units. Sometimes we get mothers who have no maternal instincts. As nature would have it, however, there is always another mother willing to take on surrogates. We just have to find them. Lambing is about watching and waiting, experimenting and monitoring progress. Last year we had a few to bottle feed – lambs whose mothers for one reason or another were unable to feed them. Some of the smart lambs learn to steal from other ewes who are more than willing to feed someone else’s young.

Then comes the day when everyone is old enough and secure enough to be released outside. When we are confident the lambs know their mothers, and will not lose them in the great outdoors when they are hungry or thirsty, we slide the big barn door and slowly open the pen gates.

The ewes are usually the first ones out, but they are reluctant to leave their young so they often come running back in. The most efficient way to encourage an exodus is to grab an armload of lambs and step out into the sun. The ewes will come screaming after you, looking for their young.

Once outside, the lambs and ewes blink at the sunshine, and sniff the air. Ahhh. Fresh, green grass. That first day is one discovery after another. Sweet new grass, salty mineral soil and rocks, sun and shade, hills and valleys. The oldest lambs start springing across the field, joyful and exuberant.

The ewes breathe grateful sighs of relief, and seem to walk proudly as they lead their young to pasture. We still need to monitor, just a quick sweep late afternoon, to ensure no one is left behind in coyote territory when the herd comes back up to the barn for the night.

It’s a busy time of year, but I love it. One tiny miracle after another, for weeks on end.

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