It Doesn’t Get Much Better Than This

This never gets old.

We say it every year.

Because every spring-ish March we watch the miraculous take its first deep breath.

Though the snow sometimes lingers and the sky still casts a pale silver, new life is emerging in the straw-bedded safety of the barn.

It’s lambing time at Bethlehem Farm.

Glory and exhaustion compete for preeminence in our bodies as we make an around-the-clock surveillance of the barn, scanning the pens for signs of labor and making ourselves available for whatever assistance might be required.

It starts with the tell-tale body language: a posture of discomfort, a pawing at the ground, a look behind, lying down and standing up and lying back down again.

We stash our supply kit close at hand and watch and wait.

The last shall be first

Sometimes we wait a long time  peeking at the progress in the midst of other work that needs to be done. Andy keeps an eye on things while he’s grinding and mixing feed, but when he’s gone at work, I’m running back and forth from house to barn in between video meetings on my laptop.

Our final ewe to deliver last year gave us our first lamb this year. Susie’s lambs are consistently the cream of the crop on our farm so I eagerly stood by with my phone camera and a clean dry towel as she labored with the maturity of a seasoned mom.

I couldn’t wait to tell Andy the day one news: two beautiful ewe lambs to keep and grow our flock. We couldn’t have asked for a better start.

Fear not

We all suffer from FOMO in a big way this time of year (that’s “fear of missing out” for the older folks). Because oftentimes, it’s over before we get there.

I walked into the barn the afternoon of day one, a couple of hours after escorting Susie and her lambs into a pen of their own, and found that Martha had another set of twins perfectly under control. Martha is a professional at this by now she had one lamb completely cleaned up and nursing while licking the second lamb who had just made his entrance. Two rams for Martha.

Daisy has twins!  That’s what Noah yelled from the back door on day five before he ran back to the barn to watch. Andy abruptly ended his phone call while I impatiently finished washing the eggs.

We all arrived to find two ram lambs on the ground, getting cleaned up by first-time mom Daisy. It’s always remarkable how quickly the lambs are up on their feet and nosing around for their first meal. No one taught Daisy how to care for newborns. No one taught the lambs to stand up and look for nourishment.

It’s in them by design.

What makes the heart sick

But not all sheep have equal mothering skills. Three days after Daisy gave birth, Andy walked into the barn at chore time to find that only one of the twins was still alive. Daisy had lain on top of one of the lambs and smothered him.

It was a horrible discovery, and none of us had much to say the rest of the evening. That was actually the first lamb we had ever lost in four years of raising sheep. You work all year for these lambs, so to lose one to something like this feels wasteful and wrong.

And it is.

Two are better than one

One of the highlights of lambing season is the surprise of the gender reveal. No, we don’t invite all of our friends over to release pink balloons or light up blue fireworks. A quick lift of the leg and a cheerful announcement will elicit plenty of oohs and aahs from the small audience.

The daily lamb count is another piece of news that the kids love to hear about after school. This has been a record year for Bethlehem Farm we’ve already surpassed last year’s lamb count and we’re not even halfway done. That’s largely due to the unusually high number of twins.

Andy had read about a breeding practice that seems to have paid off. He put the ewes out on lush pasture right after breeding to increase the likelihood of multiple egg implantations in the weeks following. It seems to be working.

We’re currently at an 85% twin rate compared to a 38% twin rate last year. One ewe who had only ever given us singles in past years gave us twins last weekend for the first time.

I think we’re on to something here.

But regardless of the quantity, the beauty of a single life coming forth into the world is what makes this season so incredibly precious. 

The perfect little hooves that appear first. The wide, wet nose that comes next. A tiny red head with big ears pinned back. Narrow shoulders, followed by a slippery slide of a long, slender form onto the straw. Then a snuff and a shake of floppy ears, the first sniff and lick from a much bigger version of the one lying down, a nicker from mom and a high pitched baaa from baby.

The lamb, content to be mothered, and the mother, content to provide.

It’s truly miraculous. Every time.

It doesn’t get much better than this.

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