Lambing season on a sheep farm is a wonderful and thoroughly exhausting time of year. Seeing new lambs being born is the closest thing I've ever seen to magic and watching one take it's first shaky steps on impossibly long legs ten minutes later is nothing short of a miracle. It makes all the sleepless nights of every-two-hour barn checks, all the waiting and worrying seem like minor inconveniences.
This year's lambing season got off to a great start. The first four ewes to lamb each had a set of twins- 5 girls and three boys -- all healthy and perfect and absolutely adorable.
And then, four days ago, came Tiny, a premature lamb so small and weak that at first I refused to give him a name. Tiny was the smallest lamb I'd ever seen, a third the size of my Chihuahua. I didn't give much for his chance of surviving the hour let alone the night but I was determined to do my best for him.
He was so weak that there was no way he could nurse on his own so I started tubing him -- dropping a tube down his throat into his stomach and pouring the milk in, every two hours, round the clock. At first my efforts seemed futile but the next morning he seemed to beimproving. On day two he stood and even took a few steps. Later he surprised me by nursing from his mama all on his own.
Needless to say, I was elated. I cut back his feedings to every four hours, then every eight. Every time I went out to the barn I marveled at Tiny's will to live.
And then this morning, Tiny took a turn for the worse. His breathing was labored and he seemed weaker than ever. I got some milk into him along with a vitamin treatment but he hasn't responded yet and I'm not sure he will.
And this is the dark side of lambing season. I've done everything I know how to do to save this lamb but in the end, it might not be enough.
When I decided to be a shepherd I made a commitment to protect these animals. In fact, the number one rule at Juniper Moon Farm is that the animals eat first. Most of the time, this means that I don't sit down to breakfast or dinner until the sheep are fed and watered. Sometimes it means that I eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for a week to pay the hay bills.
Farmers like to say that if you're going to have livestock, you're going to have dead stock. But it never gets easier to lose an animal. At least it hasn't for me.
I wish I could tell you that this story has a happy ending, or an ending at all. I'm still doing everything I can for Tiny and I'll keep it up until he gets better or until he doesn't. Whatever happens, I'm grateful to have had him while I did.
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