Rebecca Hayter swaps city life for 10 acres in Golden Bay.
Rebecca Hayter feels sheepish on the beach in Golden Bay.
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.