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