Coun­try Life

A lit­tle lamb born at the wrong time is a heart-breaker.

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Contents - Words & im­ages Julie Hay­ward

Lamb love lessons

He ar­rived dur­ing an au­tumn

storm. I took the fran­tic early morn­ing call from my neigh­bour Julie.

“What do I do, there is a lamb in the pad­dock!”

Lambs are not meant to be born in April. Lambs are nor­mally born in late win­ter and early spring, when they can lie in the sweet grass with the sun on their backs, and frolic with their friends.

But there he was, drenched in the teem­ing rain.

Julie had turned to me as the lo­cal sheep ex­pert. But in the mo­ment, I for­got a ba­sic rule of shep­herd­ing. I told her to pick up the lamb and take him to shel­ter, as­sum­ing his mum would fol­low.

She didn’t. She high­tailed it to the other end of the pad­dock and didn’t come back. It’s cru­cial not to in­ter­fere with the bond­ing process, as ewes can re­ject their lambs in those early hours, and that’s what she did.

I felt es­pe­cially re­spon­si­ble. There was the strin­gent bot­tle regime Julie and her daugh­ter Kate would be sub­ject to, the ex­pense, the dis­rup­tion. The poor ewe out there in the rain, with­out her lamb, ud­der burst­ing with milk.

I had al­ready warned Julie that sheep were trou­ble. The trou­bles in­cluded: • they need to be shorn; • they have a tal­ent for get­ting stuck in things; • there are of­ten prob­lems with their feet; • they NEVER go the way you want them to.

She did it any­way, buy­ing a flock of 10 Ara­pawa ewes, adding to her col­lec­tion of al­pacas and goats.

I un­der­stood. It is a beau­ti­ful thing to see sheep hap­pily chew­ing out in the back pad­dock.

How­ever, Julie never wanted to rear lambs. This flock were bought to be grass mow­ers, and I sus­pect she har­boured misty dreams of mak­ing some woolly friends. This strict veg­e­tar­ian and an­i­mal lover had no in­ten­tion of breed­ing an an­i­mal that could end up on some­one’s din­ner ta­ble. The un­ex­pected ar­rival of a lit­tle lamb was a bap­tism of fire, and not what was in­tended (or wanted) at all.

But Storm the lamb was here and now it was just a mat­ter of rear­ing him. He cer­tainly taught her a lot about shep­herd­ing, and he cer­tainly taught me a lot about my­self (and shep­herd­ing).

Julie and Kate kept him warm by the

fire for the first week or so. I later learned that Julie slept on the couch, with the lamb pros­trate upon her chest for those first few nights.

He melted the hearts of every­one who met him. He made friends with Kate’s dogs. Even the res­i­dent tabby cat seemed to like him.

We did won­der if he’d make it through his first few days. But his sturdy lit­tle stance and the spark in his eyes told me he would be ok. He was bot­tle-fed like a baby, cra­dled against your chest. It would take a heart of stone to not feel some­thing when he trust­ingly looked into your eyes.

By the time he was three weeks of age, I was struck at how com­pletely bonded he had be­come to Julie, fol­low­ing her around like a puppy.

“I can’t be­lieve I am in love with a sheep,” she con­fessed. I didn’t tell her that I felt my­self fall­ing too.

I used to live on a small stud sheep farm in Eng­land. The sheep and I were for­tu­nate to have some­thing of an en­chanted ex­pe­ri­ence. My part­ner knew ev­ery dis­tinct per­son­al­ity of his 60 ewes. There were strong fam­ily bonds within the flock, with moth­ers, daugh­ters and sis­ters form­ing their own groups. Fe­male lambs would stay with the flock and the males would be sold as stud rams.

Lamb­ing was a well-planned and or­gan­ised time, with each ewe penned in­di­vid­u­ally on a thick blan­ket of straw in our old barn. We would take turns dur­ing the night to get up and wan­der around by torch light, check­ing on the ex­pec­tant moth­ers.

I will never for­get the moth­ers with their new­borns and the mag­ni­tude of their pride. Those dark nights creep­ing out to the barn were some of the most serene I have ever known. I don’t re­mem­ber many lambs dy­ing. I do re­mem­ber we did ev­ery­thing we could to give them all the best chance we could.

De­spite this, I never re­ally at­tached my­self to the sheep in­di­vid­u­ally. There would al­ways be a few who did not make the grade. I would cast my eyes away when they left for their fi­nal trip.

But Storm got me think­ing. I haven’t had the lux­ury of de­tach­ment with him. He con­tin­ues to grow strong and to charm us all. He is start­ing to in­te­grate with the flock, but comes run­ning and leap­ing when called. Chops are off the menu in my house now.

He has changed me be­cause I ap­pre­ci­ate his gift. Not many peo­ple get the op­por­tu­nity to know an au­tumn lamb with a heart shaped birth­mark on his shoul­der.

Yes. Sheep are trou­ble.

He fol­lowed Julie around like a puppy. “I can’t be­lieve I am in love with a sheep,” she con­fessed.

Storm.

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