Earth Day Lambing

The preparations have been underway in the barn for weeks, cleaning and building jug pens, double checking and replenishing all the supplies, and mounting the heat lamps. Spring lambing season was on its way!

We are grateful that we lamb later in the spring than most farms, with the first due date for the little ones being April 19th. March acted like a lion all month, and even still there is snow on the ground with flurries in the air. Earth Day morning looked more like Christmas than late April, with a fresh dusting of snow coating every branch and twig. Shall we bake a batch of cookies?

33 ewes (momma sheep) were cozy in the center part of our historic Gambrel barn, and the cameras were rolling. We watched from our smart phones at the dinner table, in the kitchen, from the bedside. Sheep can be rather sneaky as they go into labor, their natural instincts being to hide their distress so as not to catch the attention of predators. This means that if they know we are watching them, they will do their best to act normal. With the cameras, however, they feel safer to express the early signs of their labor, so we know when to arrive in the barn to assist.

In the past, sometimes the other pregnant sheep become distressed when one goes into labor or become spooked as Mom and my sister Kara enter the pen to help. They rush around, and the fear is that a newborn might get trampled in the chaos.

“We have to find a better way this year,” Mom urged as Kara was prepping the barn. After much brainstorming and weighing pros and cons, they settled on setting up two new gates in the barn that could be pivoted around a central pillar to cordon off corners for the imminent deliveries and prevent the sheep from being able to run round and round like a rodeo. Each year we seek to refine the process to make lambing as manageable and low stress as possible for the sheep, and this addition has definitely helped!

“Look!” Kara exclaimed as she was positioning all the cameras. “Having those new gates there means the sheep can’t hide behind the pole anymore!”

Having all these systems in place—gates for sorting out the ones in labor, cameras to watch to know when to head for the barn, private jug pens for the new family to settle and warm themselves—all are part of our stewardship model for tending the animals in our care. All of these came in handy this week as lambing season began in earnest.

The first ewe kicked things off with a bang—triplets! It was good that Kara and Mom were there to assist, as the first lamb had his foot back and needed repositioning in order to come out. Then came the second, and another one after that! The healthy two boys and a girl were moved to the warmed jug pen, with momma in tow.

Yesterday, the crew delivered six ewes, three of which were right in a row during the day, and the other three were through the night. No sleep for the lambing midwives! One of the favorite ewes Mocha just had one lamb, so they were able to have her adopt one of the triplets. It’s difficult for a ewe to feed three babies, and having two works out much better for the health of the lambs and the health of the udders. Otherwise, the stronger two can out compete the littler one, which then suffers. Mocha’s baby will also now have a little friend. After a few minutes of confusion, the new family settled into their new routines of love and care.

In an age where factory farms treat animals as numbers, we see them as meaningful individuals, with relationships and emotions. Instead of being motivated by fear, our sheep come to understand that we are there to help. Yesterday, one of the ewes had burst her water bag, then looked anxiously at Mom and Kara for help as her labor did not progress. While the first twin was presenting close to appropriately, it turned out that the second one had abrupted (placenta detaches from the uterus, meaning the lamb no longer has a supply of oxygen). They assisted with the delivery and were able to naturally birth both lambs healthy and alive. If left by herself, the second lamb would have died. The ewe knew she needed help, and looked to her human caretakers, knowing that’s why they were there.

We can all be such midwives of stewardship to the pieces of the world we tend. Whether this is our care for wild or domestic animals and spaces. It can be as simple as waiting to clean up the flower beds until temperatures have warmed enough for the pollinators to hatch and crawl free from the stems and leaves from last year’s growth or as purposeful as planting habitats and plant species that encourage and shelter pollinators, all the way to re-wilding our lawns and refusing to use sprays and fogs that decimate both beneficial and pesky insects.

Earth Day reminds us to think on how our actions impact the beauty, diversity, and vitality of where we live and the greater, precious ball floating in space that we call home. Lambing season reminds us that life renews, when tended with attentive and insightful care. How might such tending impact where you live? See you down on the farm sometime.