THIS ( SHEEP­ISH) LIFE

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Viewpoints - CATE ARNOLD

IT was a crisp, frosty Satur­day morn­ing. We were walk­ing the bound­ary fence of our prop­erty — my hus­band, our two dogs and — when we no­ticed a new­born lamb in our neigh­bour’s pad­dock. As we ap­proached, all the sheep and lambs ran away from us, ex­cept for one lit­tle lamb. It just lay there. Was it alive? It was, but only just.

Aban­doned by its mother, this lamb was dealt a cruel hand. One of a set of twins, she had been born ear­lier that morn­ing and left to fend for her­self. A quick phone call to our neigh­bour­ing farmer alerted him — lamb down!

Ef­forts to re­unite mother and lamb proved fruit­less, and we knew the farmer wouldn’t want to be both­ered hand- rear­ing it. Know­ing what the al­ter­na­tive would be, my hus­band said, We’ll look af­ter it.’’ The farmer replied, You’ll be sorry. It will drive you mad.’’ Ini­tial bot­tle feed­ings proved dif­fi­cult. This tiny new­born was too weak to latch on to a teat. Per­se­vere, my hus­band said, so we did. Al­ter­na­tive teats were tried, big­ger holes pierced, and fi­nally on Sun­day morn­ing she be­gan to drink. She had sur­vived her first night, much to the farmer’s sur­prise. We made a bed for her in our shed, lin­ing a pick­ing bin with pea straw. The nights had been par­tic­u­larly cold, with heavy frosts, and we be­gan to take no­tice of the sheep gra­ziers alerts on the news. Our two golden retriev­ers took a lik­ing to this baby lamb and ac­cepted her as one of the fam­ily. They would ven­ture out to the shed with me late at night for Lam­bie’s bed­time feed, lick­ing her and vy­ing for at­ten­tion. Lam­bie quickly came to love her bot­tle and would bleat when­ever we ap­proached. Our days be­gan to be ruled by the feed­ing rou­tines, and the milk was con­sumed in record time.

My morn­ing walks with the dogs now in­cluded Lam­bie, and she would run along be­hind the dogs, kick­ing her back legs and stamp­ing her hooves. As the dogs played to­gether, Lam­bie grad­u­ally joined in and, as she got big­ger, be­gan to as­sert her author­ity, learn­ing to head­butt them to stand her ground. This be­mused the dogs, who weren’t too sure about this new tac­tic.

I’m sure she con­sid­ered her­self to be a dog and thought was her mother, fol­low­ing me ev­ery­where. When­ever I called the dogs she would re­ply and be­come in­dig­nant if she wasn’t in­cluded. She took a lik­ing to the dogs’ beds, too, and when given the op­por­tu­nity would settle her­self down for a rest.

Con­fin­ing her to a pad­dock in our back yard wasn’t work­ing; she needed com­pany. Af­ter much angst, we ap­proached an­other neigh­bour who breeds sheep. Would he like to take our Lam­bie? He agreed.

On a sunny Sun­day af­ter­noon we walked Lam­bie across the ad­join­ing pad­dock — my hus­band, the two dogs and I — to her new home among other sheep. Af­ter a few words of thanks to our neigh­bour and one last pat of Lam­bie’s soft ears, we said our good­byes.

As we walked away, my hus­band’s words were ring­ing in my ears: she needs to be with other sheep in a more nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment, and I know that he is right. But when we got home I could still hear her bleat­ing, even over my hus­band’s lawn­mow­ing. And the dogs seemed sad. I will miss her on our morn­ing walks, her hooves click- clack­ing on the hard­ened ground as she tried to keep up with the dogs.

this­life@ theaus­tralian. com. au

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