15 April 2007

Bad Shepherd/Good Shepherd

I committed the cardinal sin of shepherding this weekend: I left town during lambing season. It was our last opportunity to visit my wife's family in Michigan before gardening starts up, and I figured there couldn't be that many lambs born in just a few days. After all, our lambing usually stretches well into May or even June. We left Friday morning after chores, and planned to return by Monday early afternoon.

Thankfully, we left the farm in good hands. A sixteen year old home schooled neighbor, Matthew, who has the maturity of a 32 year old, agreed to handle the chores and keep an eye on the sheep. He has extensive experience managing his own family's farm and livestock, and plans to attend veterinary school some day.

This weekend, he got lots of material to use on his application.

He called Friday afternoon to let us know that Bianca had delivered twin lambs in the pasture shelter. This was a big surprise, as Bianca had just lambed in August; I hadn't been expecting her to lamb again so soon. It must have happened right after we'd left that morning, because they were dry and getting around nicely. Last year, she rejected one of her lambs. Matthew still remembered helping me hold Bianca so the rejected lamb could nurse, and said he'd keep close tabs on the situation this weekend.

Saturday morning, he called to tell us about two more new arrivals: Nera twinned out in the pasture. They looked okay, and Bianca's lambs seemed to be doing alright, and the weather seemed fine, so we didn't think any intervention was necessary. But by Saturday evening, Matthew was very concerned: the weather had turned miserable, and only one of Bianca's lambs was following her around. The other was huddling weakly in the shelter. Together, he and I talked it through and improvised a strategy (thank God for cell phones):

1) Move the the goat buck in with the two does and the kids in the barn.
2) Move Conundrum and her two well-established lambs from the super-enclosed barn stall out to the goat buck's good, but only semi-sheltered, fenced area.
3) Move Dot, who hasn't yet lambed but who "looks like she's swallowed a washtub," into the buck's area with Conundrum.
4) Move Bianca and her two lambs, and Nera and her two lambs, into the super-enclosed barn stall. Try to get Bianca's other lamb to nurse again. Let us know what happens. I told Matthew that if Bianca was rejecting this lamb, he and his little brothers could have the lamb for free if they wanted to bottle-feed her.

Some time later, I checked back. All the moves had been made, but Bianca's lamb seemed too weak and cold to really get nursing well. Matthew had taken her home, bedded her in a warm place, and managed to get some of our goat milk into her. He wasn't optimistic, but hoped she'd survive the night. Meanwhile, I was climbing the walls with frustration that all this was happening back home and there wasn't a thing I could do about it. If I was there, I'd have put the lamb under a heat lamp and spent hours in the stall getting her to nurse. Wouldn't have mattered how much or how little sleep I got. I should be there, and I wasn't. And couldn't be. Because I'd made a stupid choice about traveling during lambing season.

I was already well aware of Matthew's maturity, but this incident brought it out in spades. All of our conversations seemed like they were taking place between two adults. He suggested possible courses of action without hesitation. When I apologized for all the extra and unexpected work, he immediately interjected with "It's no problem. I told you I'd take care of everything while you were gone, and this is what we've got." I can't imagine another sixteen year old who would've stepped up to the plate and taken the kind of adult, personal responsibility for our farm that he did this weekend. Anyone curious as to the results of growing up in a large homeschooled family should sit down and talk with him and his siblings.

Bianca (so-named because she has a solid white fleece), had one white lamb and one black lamb. Interestingly, she neglected/rejected the black one. The white one was doing great. Even more interestingly, she'd done exactly the same thing last year: nurtured the white lamb, and rejected the black one. My wife and I joked that we should re-name her "BianKKKa."

Joking aside, we'd already agreed that we needed to cull at least one ewe this year. Bianca's second lamb rejection in as many years pretty much sealed her fate, regardless of the color of the rejected lamb.

That brings us to tonight. Matthew called again with an update: the rejected lamb is still holding her own with bottle feedings. The ewes/lambs in confinement are doing great. Dot hasn't delivered yet, but Licorice had twins out in the pasture shelter. That leaves only Dot who hasn't yet lambed. What should we do?

We agreed to move Conundrum and her lambs out to pasture, put Bianca and her white lamb in the goat buck area, and put Licorice in the nice barn stall with her sister Nera.

And that's where things stand as of now. I don't have any pictures yet, because there are six lambs I haven't even seen. Come to think of it, we have more lambs I haven't seen than lambs I have seen. And if Dot delivers tonight, lambing season will be all over before we even arrive home.

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