Lambing is not what you would call back breaking work but it is pretty constant and I’m stiff and sore from all the bending, lifting, and dragging…Checking for newborns, picking the drop and jugging them with their mothers. Packing water, grain and hay to the ewes for the day they are inside bonding with their lambs learning to recognize their sounds and smells. All part of the lambing tradition.
The ewes find a secluded spot and for the most part they birth two lambs and within 10 minutes they have their lambs up on wobbly legs and sucking. Occasionally there are triplets and the mother can’t raise three so one becomes a bum lamb or is used as a graft for a ewe that may have lost her lamb. And then there are those darn white face lambs that need snacks to keep up with stronger black faced siblings. I’ve bottle fed a few of them so many times that they blat when they see me walk in the pen and their little tails start wiggling in anticipation of warm milk.
Branding is my favorite time of the day. It is more than the pride of ownership …it is the significance of the act of branding. It is a seal of approval when we paint-brand the ewe and her lambs. It is a sign that they are OK. We would not brand them and turn them out if there was a question about whether they could survive on their own. The numbers are sequential in the order they are born and each lamb wears the number of its mother. Singles are branded on the right and twins on the left. If you find a lost lamb, you know at a glance how old he is and whether he is a twin or single.
We take a well-deserved break leaning up against the corral fence and Grandpa explains how it was when his father lambed out 2000 sheep as compared to the 200 we have today. They would start the morning by going over to the sheep wagon for a cup of coffee out of a tin cup. Norwegians drink coffee year round…no ice tea or orange juice for sheepherders…that stuff “rusts your pipes!” It was coffee boiled on the stove with a dash of cold spring water to settle the grounds. Water right from the spring next to the sheep shed. It never bothered any one that the spring was not fenced off in those days…that’s how you got a cast iron stomach… by drinking that kind of water.
But there is little time for reflection: We are lambing like crazy and as our Norwegian cousin would say, “we are two-turds done!” Days are long and nights are short and we are not as young as we once were. However should I have trouble falling asleep tonight …the tried and true method of “counting sheep” will not work for me… the last thing I want to do when I’m lambing is count sheep at bedtime!
Springtime is a pretty magical time of year. It is the perfect combination of nature and nurture. It is a rewarding time--something vital fills each hour. Now with temps in the 50’s, it has been a glorious time for lambing and we take heart in what we call perfect lambing weather.