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Ian & Raven raveian@wolston.com 541-971-0372


The Education of a New Farmer: Part II

by Raven OKeefe

If there's anything funnier than a grown man and a grown dog trying with all their might to herd a field full of new baby lambs, I can't imagine what it could be.

Our lambies started showing up early this year (guess they prefer the warmer Oregon climate) so here we are in mid-March with over 30 little fluffballs capering about the lamb pasture with their mamas. This morning I looked out the window and saw a sea of mamas and babies milling in the driveway between the barn and the house, some munching on my daffodils, others drinking from the ever-present mud puddles, most just wandering aimlessly around waiting for something to happen. Well, something was trying to happen... Ian and Hope were out there valiantly directing them toward the nice fat grass of the nursery pasture. But the mamas weren't going to stray far from their young'uns, and the lambies were frolicking all over the place completely oblivious of man and dog.

They looked so serious, the two herder-types! Ian waving his arms and issuing earnest commands to Hopey, she doing all the sheepdog tricks in her repertoire to get the woolies to go where they were supposed to go, all to no avail. Lambies would bounce over to Hope, who was in her most no-nonsense Border Collie crouch-and-glare, and sniff her nose! Poor Hope, I could just hear her thoughts: "My lord, the indignity of it! The mortification! These creatures show no respect!!" The harder they tried, the more the lambs ignored them and went about their business of lamb races and boinging straight up in the air for no reason and wriggling under fences. I laughed 'til tears ran down my cheeks!

We've had wonderful luck with the lambs so far, only one born dead, no complicated deliveries, and only one little "bummer" who had to be bottle fed for awhile. That one was so tiny when she was born, not much bigger than a kitten, so I named her "Minnie" because she looked like a little mini-lamb. Her mom is a first-time mother who wasn't particularly interested in this little wriggling bleating thing butting against her, but we hoped her maternal instincts would kick in, and left mom and lambie in the barn that first night.

The one-o'clock lamb check fell to me, so I bundled up and trudged out into the very chilly night to see how she was doing. Not well, not well. She was shivering and barely breathing, and what did I know about what to do for her? I'm no farmer! I sat down in the stall with her in my lap, wrapped my jacket around her to warm her tiny body, and felt her start to relax. Then all at once I felt an ominous stillness: she'd stopped breathing. What to do? How do you do CPR on a lamb? Going with my instincts and hoping for the best, I held her little muzzle shut and put my whole mouth around her nose, breathing into her nostrils until I felt her rib cage expand, then pressing the air back out. I have no idea how long I did that. It felt like a long time. Then she took a breath. A tiny breath, but a breath, all on her own. And she started breathing again, and snuggled into my arms in the jacket.

We did that twice during that long night, and finally we both fell asleep sitting there in the straw all cuddled together. The next thing I was aware of was Ian shaking my shoulder, asking if we were all right. It was just getting daylight, the other sheep were beginning to wake up and baa for food, and little Minnie was breathing like a champ and trying to nurse on my chin.

We took her in the house, to the dogs' great consternation and dismay, and she spent the next few days wandering around the living room and library, being fed lamb milk replacer from a bottle, watching the Animal Planet on cable TV, appalling the cats, getting into everything she shouldn't, and deciding then and forever that I am her real mom.

See my proud-mama beam of delight?

-- Raven OKeefe

Scio OR, March 2002