THIS ( SHEEPISH) LIFE
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