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


When it Rains it Pours

by Ian Caldicott

Now as anyone that has ever raised sheep will tell you Spring is a time of wonder, joy and damned hard work.  Ewes have a preference for lambing during bad weather and in the early hours of the morning.  It has been proposed that there is a survival advantage to this behavior in that predators don't tend to be particularly active under those conditions.  The scientist in me likes that theory but the farmer in me has another theory, sheep have a sadistic sense of humor. Of course this being our first year in a new place and the lack of suitable facilities lambing was always destined to be a bit chaotic but there is chaos and then there is chaos.

Lambing was supposed to start on March 20.  I knew there was the chance of a few early ones because a few of the ewes had managed to get in with the ram early so I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised when the morning of March 6 found a set of twins waiting for me.  I had been suffering with a bad back for a week so of course I hadn't built any of the lambing jugs yet but a couple of panels tied in strategic places and we were all set.  Of course that was also the day my back took a significant turn for the worse with me ending up in the hospital for an evening so when more lambs came on the 7th,  8th,  and 9th Raven had to deal with them on her own.  Now this would not have been that big of a deal were it not for the fact that Raven's total experience to this point had been a few days last year on a visit out to see me.  The phrase "baptism by fire" comes to mind but given the weather I think "thrown in at the deep end" is a better fit.

Raven handled it great but by the time I was partially up on my feet again there were still more coming.  Lambs on the 11th and 12th meant we were already beyond all those that could possibly be lambing early and I had a sneaking suspicion that the dam was about to burst (it's hard to avoid flood analogies when you're knee deep in water every other week).  I frantically built the lambing jugs.  Shearing was just a couple of days away so all the sheep were in the barn to stay dry, the sense of impending disaster was palpable.

Fortunately the weather was decent for the day and a half of shearing, sure six or seven sheep gave birth during the process, but hey I was back on my feet, there were four of us including the shearer the first day and so what if it was just me and the shearer for the last dozen sheep, the worst was over, no disaster had fallen, right?

Well we almost made it.  Due to the lack of decent fencing anywhere on the farm (more on that later) once the sheep were shorn they could basically go anywhere when they were turned out of the barn.  Still I had a good dog with me (Moss) and plenty of time, it was only lunch time after all.  But as the shearer packed up it started to rain.  this put a sense of urgency in getting all the sheep back as they are quite vulnerable to the cold for a couple of days after shearing, particularly when they could lamb at any time.  So there was me in a shirt, no hat, rubber boots with a split in one and Moss heading out to round up the sheep as the rain started to come down harder.  Then it got ugly, the rain turned to hail and sleet, lots of heavy driving sleet, the kind that feels like your are being pelted with frozen shards of glass.  There were sheep in the neighbor's field to the west, in fact in two of his fields, there were sheep across the irrigation ditch in the big pasture, there were sheep in the front yard, there were sheep in both the west and east pastures and a few in the driveway.  An hour plus later we had them all in, amazingly efficient work considering the circumstances actually and as the two of us trudged, soaked, frozen and numb toward the house the clouds parted and the sun came out.  Ain't mother nature wonderful!