Robin, who helps manage the office, says I smell like lanolin. I also have manure on my jeans. It takes all of my weight and strength to hold a ewe while I position a lamb to nurse. I am clumsy when I milk and I can’t do it alone, not like my husband can. I have a gash along my forearm where wire lacerated flesh when I lost the wrestling match with one ewe. In April I am careful not to wear my favorite jeans, and to change my shoes between barnyard and office.
April is lambing season. This year we have 17 ewes. For most of them this is their first time being moms. Raising livestock is a learned lifestyle for me; I did not grow up a ranch girl. I appreciate the rhythms and responsibilities, but I also get overwhelmed by them. This time of year is a mixed bag of joy and strain. When my husband is around, the true ranch man, I am relieved. He knows when to intervene, how to doctor and is not phased by 2am issues. But he isn’t always home.
This year we also have 3 puppies, born in February to our Border Collie, Violet. My energy is divided, not evenly and not always in order, between Sheep, Children, Puppies, Household, Exercise and Office. I ask myself, am I doing any of them well?
One of the first ewes to lamb this spring lambed during the day. Without cause I began to worry that she was struggling with a second lamb and she was in need of help. Knowing my husband was in town, I called him and leaned on him to drive home. As we walked to assess the scene I immediately realized all was well and the first and only lamb was simply large. She was a single and that there was no second lamb. The ewe was fine. I was overreacting and a nervous wreck. My husband was kind and he withheld comment. Every year I have to re-learn and re-trust my abilities to assist in lambing season. It is not second nature.
Without exception we have a lamb or two that are rejected by their moms or fall ill. “Bum”lambs need supplemental milk. They are the “joy and strain” of my life in flesh. A baby lamb is pure cuteness. There is nothing more precious than when they take a bottle you are holding and their tails wag and their eyes glaze over. You become their mother. They follow you and love you. Joy. But you can’t go anywhere because your life is fragmented into 3-4 hour segments. You wake to their need and you time your rest to their need. I get weird stares when I am holding beer bottles at 10am, the nipple attached to the lip, not recognizable to the untrained eye. I am not an alcoholic, I am just a sleep deprived mother of a few 4 legged creatures. Strain.
I wouldn’t trade it. Every year when I am worn out and stretched too thin, I reevaluate. Would we rather go on Spring Break? And then I see the pack of lambs frolicking through the barnyard, share the guests enthusiasm for new life, and I know it is all worth it. It is grounding and real.