Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Goodbye, Earl

Amongst all the new life springing forth comes a reminder of the fragility of life. We lost our friend, Earl, last week. True, Earl was just a lamb, but Earl had personality. He was born the runt of a set of twins in the spring of 2007. He was a gorgeous little tiny thing with his pure white wool and luminous dark eyes. His little black nose and perky ears added to the cuddly stuffed animal appearance.

Earl's mama, Blue, didn't quite know how to mother two lambs as last year was her first time to be a mom and she eventually rejected Earl completely. So Earl became a 'bummer' lamb, one who learned to sneak up on a ewe who had a happily nursing lamb. Earl would steal several swallows of rich milk before the unsuspecting and unwilling foster mom discovered him and indignantly bunted him out of her family's space. Never did I see Earl look discouraged after being sent away. Instead he was on the lookout for his next opportunity. What I could learn from that attitude!

When the slow-witted shepherdess (me) realized what Earl was up to, I began feeding him on a bottle. Oh, how his little tail would waggle in pure bliss as the creamy milk slid down his throat! Earl followed me everywhere and because he was so small would willingly ride around on my shoulders until he was a couple of months old. Bummers are always friendly to the people who raised them, but after the daily bottle stops coming and they are weaned, they realize they are sheep and hang out with the flock. Not Earl. If he wasn't able to follow me, he preferred to be alone rather than hang out with the other sheep - quite un-sheeplike bahavior. Earl found it difficult to relate to the others. Many times I would watch him try to play with the other lambs, but it seemed he did not know the rules. Earl would body-slam a much larger lamb, often one with horns. When the larger lamb followed through on the challenge Earl presented, the resulting head butt would leave Earl shaking his head and looking quite bewildered. He would glance my way as if to say "Is this not how a lamb plays?"

Visiting kids loved playing with Earl, though, and he loved them in return. Finally, someone to play tag with and scratch all the unreachable itchy places under that soft, fluffy wool. In early summer, Earl moved from his birthplace to Western Trails Therapeutic Riding Center. Here he was able to give love to kids with special needs and the fact there were no other sheep on the place bothered him not in the least. Earl had found his calling. Even though he had to tolerate a bath now and again and live with the two goat brothers, it was worth all the attention.

When riding lessons and animal therapy ended as the school year began, Earl moved back home along with the goat brothers. Although the three were quite bonded by then, Earl did start hanging out with the flock. We let him go at his own pace and allowed him to stay with the goats or sheep, whichever he preferred. Eventually he chose to mostly stay with the sheep and often grazed and slept close to his birth mother who seemed to enjoy snuffling his face. Can sheep say "I'm sorry I was young and made a poor choice?" Maybe that is kind of crazy, but there is no doubt she did remember him. Did her acceptance let Earl return to the flock and learn acceptable sheep behavior? I really don't know, but would like to think so.

We believe Earl died from internal injuries caused by the ram, Jim. Earl was still fairly small and Jim is quite powerful and can be aggressive during this part of the year. We recently had a day where Jim accidently got into the pen with the other sheep after which Earl began acting droopy. We put him in the barn with his goat friends and doctored him as best we could, but just couldn't save him.

Saying goodbye to Earl was heart-wrenching as we had made the decision long ago to keep him as a bellwether instead of a market lamb, meaning he would live out his days as a companion animal for the ewes. As most sheep become very anxious if isolated or left alone, it is good practice to have an animal available to fill that role if needed. Because Earl was too small to be a physical threat to another sheep, was so gentle and easy to work with, halter broke, and had a calming nature, he was perfect for the role. But that apparently was not to be. Instead, we were to say goodbye amidst all the hellos to this year's crop of babies. Parting is often sorrowful, especially when it is not our choice, but we will always carry a bit of our friend with us in memory.

Until next time, let not the sweet sunshine of a memory be darkened by the shadow of sorrow.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

A Mother's Love

Spring is here! Lambs are popping out all over, there are large gangs of calves rumbling through the pastures, the robins are back and meadowlarks are singing. We have even had two sets of triplet lambs so far. This baby is the smallest of the first set of triplets. Her brother and sister were obviously getting the majority of the nutrition before birth. But this little girl is a fighter. She is already catching up with her siblings. Her mama, Ivory, is only a yearling, so this is her first time as a mom, but she loves all three of her babies and is a very good mother. Today was this little family's first time out of the barn and it seems you could see them growing like little weeds in the sunshine. Ivory kept a close eye on all three babies while they were in the barn lot and did not let them stray far from each other.
I have not had a yearling ewe have triplets before. If any of you have first hand knowledge of yearlings having more than twins, I would be curious to hear your story. This ewe, Ivory, was born here in December of 2006 and is out of Jordan's oldest ewe, Becky, who is four now and the matriarch of the flock. Ivory's twin sister, Ebony, should be lambing any day, so we will see what she has been hiding in her large frame.

Umtil next time, may you be warmed by the blessing of a little love in your day!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Snow Babies

The first lambs of the season were born a week ago today. Their mama, Salty, had them cleaned off, dry, and well-cared for by the time we found them, but the little family still went into a warm, dry barn stall for several days in order to make sure Salty got a little extra feed since she is such a heavy milker. This is Salty's second set of lambs, she also had twins last year as a yearling and cared for them just as well. This set are both ewe lambs, so they will be helping to increase the flock. Papa is black, one lamb looks like Dad and one like Mom. We haven't decided on names yet. I was considering something to go along with Mom's name. Cracker, Tater and Chip, Saucy, etc. Peanut and Pretzel . . .??? Any ideas?

Salty was raised on a bottle and worked as a therapy lamb in a center where horseback and animal therapy was given to kids with disabilities, so she is one of the most gentle ewes in the flock. She also loved playing a part in our church's Living Nativity this past Christmas. She absolutely loves to have her head scratched!

Gosh, Mama, what is this cold white stuff? If we stand real still, maybe it will go away!!!

One of the Ladies in Waiting. Seems the calves are popping out fast and furious now and that first lone calf has a whole gang to play with now!

Thanks for stopping by. Until next time, may you be blessed with the sparkle of new beginings.