Magnolia Kicks Off the Season!


My ewe Magnolia began the lambing season by presenting me with twin lambs on Thursday afternoon, four days early. She was actually due tomorrow, and was supposed to be the second ewe on the schedule. Silly me, to think my careful records had any control over nature.

I found the lambs stumbling around in the big sheep stall when I went down to the barn for afternoon chores. Luckily I had driven down early, because I was showing an evening movie to students and had planned to eat an early supper.

I assumed the lambs were Geranium’s, because Geranium was supposed to be first to lamb. I’d been watching her closely for a week. I fed the flock some grain to distract them and scooped up the lambs in my arms. A little ram and ewe pair! Perfect! The worried mama followed me to the jug, I locked them all in, and went to grab a towel and some lamb jackets.

Both lambs were hunched and hollow-looking. It was 0° (though perhaps 15° in the barn) and they were very cold. I dried them and pulled lamb jackets over their heads. The little ram was so cold and exhausted he immediately fell over and lay flat on his side in the jug. A healthy lamb almost never lies flat on the ground. I had to set up the heat lamp and get hay from the hayloft, but I was afraid that in the fifteen minutes required the little ram might chill beyond saving.

I picked him up and put him inside my coveralls. In the past I wore to winter chores a big red puffy down vest (an old one of Jon’s from high school) but since the zipper broke I’ve been using a vest I picked up cheaply from Goodwill. It fits much more snugly, which is great for a trimmer look but less helpful for stuffing cold babies down your shirtfront. I eased the little ram inside my coveralls and pulled up the vest zipper. His nose peeked out as I climbed up and down the hayloft ladder and tried not to breathe deeply in case I squashed him.

By the time I got the heat lamp plugged in and the ewe grained, watered, and munching hay, the lamb was warm enough to sit up. I climbed into the jug, stripped the ewe’s teats, and tried to help both lambs to suckle. The ewe turned and rammed me indignantly. It was at this point that I noticed it was Magnolia and not Geranium. She didn’t hurt me — no room in the jug to get up steam — but it was clear she wasn’t feeling cooperative. I arranged the hungry lambs under the heat lamp to stay warm and while Magnolia went back to eating hay, I drove home through the blowing snow for a nursing bottle.

On my return I checked my watch. Late, late, late! Twenty-one seventh graders were arriving at 6:25 to see The Last of the Mohicans and I had to rearrange my history room as a theater. (I had baked chocolate chip bread as a movie snack at 5 AM.) I hurriedly set up all the stalls for the night, carrying water buckets, and let the snow-covered cattle inside.

I needed some fresh milk for the bottle. Dorrie is dried off, preparatory to calving in March, and I’ve been slowly drying off Moxie. (This will be the first time in many years that I will be lambing without a cow in milk… I will plan better next year.) I had ordered lamb milk replacer but it had not arrived. Thus, even though it wasn’t ideal for drying off purposes, I needed to get Moxie into the stanchion and to empty her of the milk that had been sitting in her warm udder for a day and a half, in order to get a bottle of fresh.

The fastest, easiest way to empty the milk would be to let the calves out to nurse. However Moxie read my mind. She was enjoying her siesta from wet-nursing and she refused to go in the stanchion. With her recent bout of coliform mastitis, this nursing cycle has been traumatic and she has not bonded with these calves.

The clock was ticking. Late, late, late! I ran to get a halter and lead. I buckled the halter and pulled. Moxie is a small cow but I can’t budge 750 pounds. Arrgh!

I heard a horn honk. I opened the barn door and looked out into the dark of the snowstorm. Mike had arrived to plow. I needed to move my truck out of his way. I raced outside.

“Sis! You don’t seem very happy!”

I explained: frozen lambs, balky cow, late for work.

“It’s the snow and this cold,” Mike said wisely. “We’re all sick of it!”

I blew him a kiss and returned to Moxie. It finally occurred to me to simply tie her and let the calves out. It is a peculiarity of Moxie that in the stanchion she will never kick, but outside it she does not hesitate. However at three months the boys are so bumptious they simply duck the blows and push back for more.

After five minutes of ecstatic gobbling I pulled them off with difficulty, unsnapping Moxie’s halter so she could shoulder them aside to escape back into her stall. I comforted the boys with some grain in their own stall, chivvied them in, and slid the bolt shut behind them.

I checked my watch. Go, go, go!

Moxie was perfectly happy to have me milk her into the bottle. I patted her neck. “Good girl.”

I hurried with the warm bottle back to Magnolia and her babies.

Fresh milk is an amazing elixir. Within moments the lethargic ram lamb’s eyes snapped open and he began to suckle. I gave him about two ounces. When I set him back in the hay in order to pick up his sister, he immediately stood up and staggered toward his mother’s udder.

I skipped supper and made it to the movie with five minutes to spare. The Last of the Mohicans was a great success. The children thrilled to the heroics of Daniel Day-Lewis and the girls were horrified to learn that in real life he is now my age. After cleaning up the classroom, at 9:30 PM I drove back down to the farm with the bottle.

Both lambs are now fine.


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