Winter?s End has arrived and she?s the cutest thing you have ever seen. Weighing in at a mere five pounds she is covered in curly spots of brown and white wool. No-one could watch her wobble about on her four tiny legs without saying, ?Awww!? at least once.
Winter?s End, as you may have guessed, is a lamb. The Canadian Livestock Records Corporation has designated 2009 with the letter W making it a bit of a challenge for those of us who like to name our registered livestock with the letter of the year. In the case of Winter?s End her name was a no brainer since she was born the first day of the year I could take off my coat outside. I even got a bit of sunburn! And nothing says winter?s end like a baby lamb.
Just like her name, Winter?s End didn?t come easily into the Peace Country. Lamb?s are supposed to come into the world like a diver, their front legs stretched forward on either side of their heads. After watching her mother strain to no avail, I wrestled the ewe gently to the ground and discovered that her lamb had one leg pointing forward and the other pointing back.
After a bit of careful manoeuvring and pulling, out came our first lamb, alive and well. I quickly cleaned off its nose and mouth, and then stepped back to let the new mother do her thing, feeling disproportionately pleased with my small role in producing this miracle of a new life. I had forgotten how wonderful that felt. As I watched the ewe bond with her lamb I couldn?t help wondering why I had been so long without sheep.
Two hours later I remembered. The ewe still hadn?t shed her placenta and was acting as if there might be another lamb inside, but with no sign of progress I got my supplies together and wrestled her down again to do a quick check. No second lamb inside. As the mother was still in full fleece, which for Icelandic?s is a whole lot of wool indeed, I gave her sides a quick trim to make things a bit more accessible for the lamb while I was at it.
A cool thing about Icelandic sheep is they self shed the wool around their tails and udders prior to lambing, but this still leaves the lengthy side wool. The lambs soon learn to duck under it like a tent and disappear beneath their mothers to get to the milk. Still, I couldn?t resist shortening the hem of the tent, so to speak.
After my stint as mid-wife, hair stylist, food server, maid and vet I was surprised to wake up the next day feeling like I had been run over by a truck. To think I used to do this 75 times every spring! But still, I?ve missed it.
Two days later lamb number two was born ? a glacier white ram lamb who practically hit the ground running, much to my delight. The day after that came a set of twins who needed help nursing and basically failed to thrive. One of them got better; however the other finally failed to breathe and died. Another set of twins born between barn checks resulted in one lively lamb and one dead lamb.
Thankfully, after that the barnyard fairly erupted with happy, healthy lambs and trouble free births. Despite all the healthy lambs, the two dead lambs bothered me. You can?t help but wonder if there was something you could have done. It makes you feel helpless, sad and guilty all at the same time.
Marsha Boulton, author of ?Letters from the Country? wrote that nothing can prepare you for farming. She recalls being filled with visions of flowers and trees, newborn foals on wobbly legs, lambs gambolling in the fields and the smell of freshly mown hay. Reality, she discovers, is red ink and rabies and the one little lamb that doesn?t make it. She describes it as the difference between Garrison Keillor and Stephen King or Lassie and Straw Dogs. Somewhere in-between she writes is the opportunity to find a balance and sanity.
I couldn?t put it better myself; which is why I didn?t.
Shannon McKinnon is a humour columnist from the Peace River country. You can visit her online at www.shannonmckinnon.com