Rebecca Hayter swaps city life for 10 acres in Golden Bay.

Rebecca Hayter feels sheep­ish on the beach in Golden Bay.

North & South - - Contents -

I LEANED ON the gate in my Red Bands, count­ing my grow­ing flock and con­tem­plat­ing that, af­ter two years of sheep own­er­ship, I was still a low-scor­ing stu­dent.

All ex­pert advisers had told me to sep­a­rate Snowy the ram from the ewes by Christ­mas. Through the drought last year, Snowy had lob­bied me on his ewes’ be­half for grass on the other side of the fence and, when that grass had gone, to avoid re­struc­tur­ing. Come Christ­mas, Snowy’s girls were get­ting flirty, but I had hard­ened my heart. I’d sell Snowy and buy a new ram, so Snowy wouldn’t end up fa­ther­ing his own grand­chil­dren.

How­ever, I am an Olympic- class pro­cras­ti­na­tor and Snowy took mat­ters into his own glans. His first twins ar­rived 9 June, one sheep ges­ta­tion af­ter New Year’s Eve. Triplets fol­lowed a week later. Their mother licked their bright-yel­low birth fluid un­til they were snowy white and set up a rotary sys­tem to feed three lambs on two teats.

So when a big fat ewe birthed just a sin­gle lamb, some­thing seemed amiss. I found an­other new­born lamb be­neath a tree, in­no­cent as sun­shine, eyes as big as night. It seemed the big fat ewe had birthed her, bathed her, birthed the sec­ond and for­got­ten her first.

I tried to bond this lamb with big fat ewe and all the oth­ers. Each one sniffed to check the tiny lamb and then pushed her timid hope away from their ud­ders. She went to the next and the next. Fi­nally, her only ewe was me.

It was a tough first day. She sucked weakly from a bot­tle, start­ing on 150ml of Mil­li­gans milk re­placer for­mula, six times a day. The cat de­fined the fire­side bound­aries with her claw. By day three, Lam­bie could barely stand be­cause I had for­got­ten to give her any ex­er­cise. We went out­side to play. “C’mon. C’mon.”

She looked at me. “You are, like, so un­cool,” I could see her think­ing. “Maa’aaa?” I tried. “Maa’aaa.” “Maaa’aaa?” she bleated back. “Maaa’aaa!” She was so ex­cited that I had learned to talk. She walked and ran; she danced; she sprang.

By the time Lam­bie was on 250ml, four times a day, her twin had also been aban­doned. She sat alone and when I of­fered my fin­ger to suck, her tongue was cold. I cud­dled her in front of the fire but her eyes wore de­feat. She died the next evening, warm and with com­pany, at least, in­stead of cold and alone.

When Lam­bie was on 350ml, three times a day, I en­rolled her in Pad­dock Day­care so she could learn so­cial skills with the other lambs and how to shel­ter un­der trees. I hoped the syl­labus might in­clude not pee­ing on my favourite rug.

Walk­ing to day­care be­came a pro­ces­sion: lamb, cat, ducks. Ev­ery­one was quite talk­a­tive, so I be­came trilin­gual: “Maa’aaa, miaow, quack- quack, maa’aaa.”

As I swung the gate, there was a thin me­mory of a time when I wore makeup ev­ery day, rang clients on speak­er­phone as I queued in traf­fic, and at­tended meet­ings with sta­tis­tics that made me sleepier than count­ing sheep. In the an­te­na­tal pad­dock of ewes yet to lamb, the frost was white on the black sheep’s back.

The first time I col­lected Lam­bie from day­care, I couldn’t tell her apart from the other lambs, but she knew my “maa’aaa” from the other mums’ calls. She bunted me hard and I fed her be­fore walk­ing her along the beach, so she would be too tired to chew on power cords.

Other peo­ple were walk­ing bor­der col­lies, labradors and jack rus­sells. I hoped Lam­bie might pass for a white fluffy dog. But there was a ru­mour at din­ner par­ties of a mad woman walk­ing a lamb on the beach, with a cat slink­ing be­hind. Yes, I had seen her too, I said, when I was walk­ing my poo­dle. +

Lam­bie off to Pad­dock Day­care.

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