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Thursday, April 11, 2013

The danger of falling in love

I fell in love with a lamb once. She was one of the first to ‘imprint’ on me, following close at my heel, because I had been bottle feeding her since birth. She thought I was her mama. Her cry was a little different than the other lambs, probably because mine sounded pretty weird compared to a sheep and I wasn’t able to teach her very well. I named her Lily, because she was a lot whiter than the others. Out of 80 lambs, she was the only one I named.

We had winter lambed that year and the lambs were big enough to go outside at the end of March. That made it easier on the girls, who were taking care of the farm so we could go away for a ski weekend in Montreal. In hindsight, I wish we had stayed home. Anastasia had to deliver a lamb, with my mom’s help. It was stuck and she had to help it along. Not a very nice experience for the uninitiated but Annie is a natural with animals and didn’t seem at all bothered.

With new lambs running and springing all over the barnyard, Donkey and Misty, the horse, were very entertained. They stood and watched the lambs for hours, approaching slowly to sniff them and moving their feet carefully so as not to trample them. Donkey and the horse had seen the lambs the year before but they have a short memory. After a few days the huge Belgian horse and the donkey grew tired of just watching the lambs, which were more quiet and settled now, bonded to their mothers and comfortable outside. Donkey wanted to make the lambs bleat again. He liked that noise. So he picked out the loudest, funniest-sounding lamb, and chased her to make her cry. That lamb was Lily.

When I came home from skiing I asked how everything went and Annie told me about the lamb that she helped to deliver. My mother had taken photos of Anastasia helping the ewe, and we looked at them for a while. Then I pulled on my barn coat and boots and went out in search of Lily, my favourite lamb.

I found her, lying on her side just outside the barn. She didn’t have a mark on her. She hadn’t been trampled or kicked or bitten. She had just died. I don’t know for sure what happened, because no one saw it and the other sheep can’t tell me. But by the way Donkey was acting, all skitterish and guilty, I think he chased her around the barnyard, enjoying the sound of her funny bleat, until her little heart gave out. I had a good cry, then decided I wouldn’t get attached to another lamb.

So I got attached to a ewe instead.

It’s normal for expectant ewes to be a little friendlier than usual once they are in the confines of the lambing room. After all, they are dependent on you for their food and water. But Gracie was different. My sister first noticed that if you patted Gracie on the head, she just seemed to lap up the attention like a dog. If you rested your arms on the pen railing, she would come over and nudge your hand with her nose. She loves to be petted. Breaking my own rule, I gave her a name.

Once the ewes have had their lambs and bonded with them for a few weeks, we turn them out to the barnyard. That’s when they usually go back to being quite nervous around humans. Not Gracie. She still comes over to me every time I call. She is so tame, I even brought her along with me when I walked in the Christmas parade. Gracie rode in the back of the truck, posed for photos and knickered at people when they called to her, like a good little fleecy celebrity.

Gracie is in the lambing room again. I have lost track of how old she is; I suppose I could look up her ear tag number to find out. It’s probably her third lambing season. I hope she has an easy birth and I don’t lose her anytime soon. I love my Gracie girl.

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