We’ve all heard of a battering ram. This ancient method of smashing through walls was obviously named after male sheep, who charge head down to bash whatever is in their path. Female sheep can do this, too, if they have a mind to. Thursday night I had a prime example.
Once the main flock had bounded out of the barn that morning, I’d let Mango out of her jug into the empty half of the big lambing stall. She and her lamb, Yellow eartag 15, rested and ate there happily all day, communing through the fence with the ewes and lambs in the other half.
I still had to band little 15’s tail. I did this at evening chores, and then ushered the pair back into the jug for the night. I like to know that lambs are safe with their mamas while they are in any discomfort. I like to know that when they’re small, sore, and confused, they won’t be wandering up to strange ewes and getting tossed into walls. In the morning, I figured, I’d put Mango and 15 in with Smoky and her lambs, 13 and 14.
Meanwhile, my two-year-old white-faced ewe, Snowy, the next up according to my records, was going into labor, right on schedule. No problem! I enticed Snowy out of the big stall and across the aisle into the jug next to Mango. Each of them had a pile of nice fresh hay.
I let all the rest of the animals in for the night and was closing gate bolts when I heard the first reverberating crash. Gosh, what was that?
I hurried down the aisle. There was Mango, squaring off and lowering her head.
Each jug is 4’x6′. There really wasn’t room for her to get up a head of steam. But nevertheless — crash! Mango was battering the divider of 2x4s and welded wire between the two jugs. It was clear from her posture that she was intent on protecting her baby from the dangerous interloper next door — who happened to be her own younger half-sister.
It was funny. Two years ago, Mango had twins and in post-partum shock promptly deserted them. It was 24 hours before she completely accepted and fed the lambs. Last year, she had a huge ram lamb. She found him more interesting, but again she at first refused to stand for him to nurse, kicking him off until I locked her in the stanchion. Now, apparently, the third birth was the charm. Right from the get-go, Mango was on the job. In fact she was determined to be Super-Mama, ever-vigilant against the slightest threat. (There is no zealot like a new convert.) Crash!
“Knock it off!” I said to Mango sharply. I looked in at Snowy. She was definitely in labor, panting and grinding her teeth.
I carried flakes of hay to all the stalls, counting them out. Crash!
“Stop it!” I commanded Mango, over my shoulder. Surely she would relax at any moment and turn back to her hay.
I was filling water buckets for the cows at the far end of the barn when I heard a crash and a clatter as the heat lamp hanging over the jugs jounced crazily on its cord. Oh, no! The heat lamp bulb! The nearest store to buy a new one is an hour away! Another crash, this time accompanied by the ominous sound of splintering wood. I rarely swear but I dropped the bucket. “You stupid bitch!”
I ran down the aisle. Mango’s battering had ripped the 2×4 support from the 3″ deck screws that held it in the ceiling and in the 4×4 along the floor. The whole jug system had collapsed. Mango stood there triumphant while Snowy cowered half-underneath welded wire panels.
Poor Snowy. Just what a girl wants in her first labor: to be sharing her maternity suite with a maniac!
I opened the gate and let Snowy out. She lumbered hurriedly down the aisle, away from the madwoman.
I picked up 15 in her blue lamb jacket and carried her into the mothers’ half of the big sheep stall. Mango hopped nimbly over the wreckage of the jug to follow. Little 15 was still a tottery baby, barely able to steer on wobbly legs, but it was clear that in her present mood her mother was not going to be contained in any jug. I figured Mango would be safe in a stall made of rough-cut 2x6s bolted to 6x6s buried four feet in the ground.
Ten minutes later I had the jug re-built and Snowy back in it. I left to go home to make supper. When I returned an hour later, two small hooves were poking out of Snowy’s bottom.
Quite often ewes who won’t have anything to do with you in the normal way of things are calm in your company at lambing. I sat in the jug, clasping my knees, clean towels and iodine ready, waiting. All around me animals were munching hay. At such times the barn feels so peaceful.
Crash! I glanced over my shoulder. The curious geese, Andy and K, were peering as usual through the gap between the boards of the big sheep stall. Mango had spied them. Crash! Take that, you dastardly lamb-eating geese! The geese exclaimed and murmured to themselves, falling back and then waddling forward again for another peek. Crash!
Across the aisle, after many moans and bleats of distress, Snowy finally delivered her first lamb, a single 10 lb, 15 oz ram. Then she just lay there. She did not seem in pain or trouble, just exhausted by the evening’s drama. Over to you, her expression said.
I picked up the lamb and scrubbed him dry with a towel. I dipped his navel in iodine. I weighed him on the lamb scale. Snowy watched serenely.
16 was the strongest, most vigorous, noisiest lamb I’d seen in some time. He was born hollering and on his feet in a flash. I put him near his mother’s head, where he roared for food. “Ma-a-a-a-h! Ma-a-a-a-h! Ma-a-a-a-h!”
Snowy answered him kindly, but she was intent on resting. My, the warm red light from that heat lamp felt good.
She gave his head a few fond licks, but that was it. She wasn’t moving. Nice time for a siesta!
With Snowy in a Zen state, I figured it was my opportunity to trim off some of the dirty, felted wool tags around her udder. I sawed laboriously at the thick wads of Romney wool, the scissors digging painfully into my thumb, and the thought came to me once again: Nothing but Clun Forest sheep with beautiful naked udders in my future!
Lamb 16 staggered over to me, still bellowing at the top of his voice. He flopped down. I pulled back the thigh wool and showed him his mother’s clean white teat in the hay.
I’ve never had a lamb nurse his recumbent mother while he himself was also lying down, but 16 suckled eagerly. Snowy looked on, tranquil.
Between gobbles, 16 would lose the teat and wail. Piercing bleats, non-stop. My ears were ringing. His screams were so loud all the other female sheep in the barn were calling in answer. Except his mother. Snowy gave me a limpid look.
I put my hands under her bottom and heaved.
“C’mon, girl, it’s time to get on the job.”
She got reluctantly to her feet. 16’s roars were barely muffled by the teat in his mouth.
When I was sure 16 was warm, fed, and dry, I slipped a lamb jacket on him. He dozed under the heat lamp with his eyes closed, still crying every once in a while in his half-sleep.
Maybe he was dreaming of his crazy Aunt Mango, the battering ewe.