Saturday, April 19, 2008

Lamb in a Box

It's the time of year again when I dream about sheep and I smell like sheep. Sometimes the dreams are good and sometimes the dreams are interrupted by the bleating of the lamb downstairs in the box. It's 2 a.m. and someone wants a bottle. As I heat the milk in the microwave, barefoot and chilled in the night kitchen, I am transported back 25 years ago to my own babies. Thing is: now I'm holding in my lap a woolly, white ball with four gangly legs and poop on its butt, tipping its head back and trying to convince my little friend that this is almost as good as mother's milk.

I have played nursemaid to two lambs this spring. I'm not really into tramping out to the barn in the middle of the night, so they stayed in the house until things were back to rights. The first, Teddy, almost died and I fashioned a card board box into a holding pen. I placed it in front of the antique grandfather clock in our front room not far from the wood stove. With a layer of straw for bedding, I positioned a desk lamp over Teddy for added warmth, balanced on a hand-painted foot stool my mother gave me as a present before we moved to the farm.

Teddy was rejected by his mom when she discovered she had three babies and not two. Rejected lambs are known as "bummers", as in "What a bummer, your mom doesn't want you," or something like that. Hard as I tried to convince the ewe to keep him on, my tricks didn't work. Hard as I tried to convince Teddy a bottle was easier anyway, he resisted.

I've never had a hungry lamb not figure out how to suck on a bottle and, as things went from bad to worse and he became dehydrated, I asked for help from Liz the vet. She had me pick up a subcutaneous drip from her office. What?! Heck, it seems I could have asked most of my friends with cats or dogs about this as they all had stories of the intravenous drip that saved their pet. Only difference: they missed the "hands-on" experience of sitting on the rug in the house, inserting the needle between the shoulder blades, holding a wiggly lamb with one hand, holding the bag at shoulder height with the other. I managed this on my own when I had to, but luckily we had visitors interested in helping. If you help, you are entitled to name the lamb and so "Teddy" appeared out of the front room and into the sun one day, named by our visitors' kids.

Cute Tulip (also named by a child) should have become my second bottle fed baby. I worried about him to the point of bringing him into the house too, but was unsuccessful with the bottle...and keeping him in the box at night. He only stayed in the house for two days because he had the bad habit of waking up and baa-ing loudly. As I tripped downstairs in the dark to quiet him, I realized the baa-ing was coming from the living room one time and the dining room another. Sharp little hooves slid across the hardwood floors, down steps, crashing into tables and chairs. This was not the restful night any of us needed.

With Teddy in recovery and Cute Tulip refusing to take a bottle, I returned both lambs to the barn to see if they could scam some milk from Tulip's mom when she wasn't looking. It worked well enough to keep them alive and I kicked the ewe and four lambs back out into the flock. Sunlight, fresh air, and a chance to sneak milk from more than one ewe put the odds more squarely in the lambs' favor.

These days, Teddy meets me at the back barn door for breakfast and dinner. Cute Tulip hangs on to his mom's teat through her back legs even when she is walking away from him. His white wool has turned a permanent shade of beige from being pee-ed on. I will grab him from time to time and force feed a couple ounces of milk. But Tulip is a scrappy fighter and, while he will probably always remain small, I think I have found a home for him that will be better than most. His job will be to keep the grass down at the home of an elderly couple. I guess having a sheep is easier than getting out the lawn mower.

Unlike many of the farm's lambs that will experience one very bad day amongst many good ones, being small will save these two bottle babies, for a while at least. Teddy and Cute Tulip will grow out of their 'lambness' and become sheep and I will likely forget their names in time. What I think I will always remember is the small face looking up at me from the edge of the card board box. "You don't look like my why do you smell like a sheep?"

Top photo: Cute Tulip dressed in Safeway bag so no accidents in house; Bottom photo: Cute Tulip thinking Patches might be his mom...Patches looking nervous.

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2008 Scottie Jones

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