As described several weeks ago, waiting for lambs is hard. That’s not the only hard thing in farming (particularly livestock farming). Actually many things are hard. And worrisome. And stressful. And sometimes horrific. I’ll spare the details but the point is: farming is not all sunshine and lambs.
That’s why farmers must carry faith above all things. Faith (and by this I mean something you cultivate in your heart, not something you hear in a sermon) means that tomorrow the sun will come up again. It means that no matter how awful and scary life has been, or how lonely we feel, everything will be okay. It means that despite death, we will have life. Eventually, anyway.
Here’s a recent story of family and faith on our farm.
For several weeks in March we had a run of bad luck. I lost two yearling ewes to freak accidents. A round bale collapsed on one and a week later the other was found dead (no obvious reason why—the previous day she’d been fine). Between the long, looong winter and going down to find dead sheep in the pen, I was feeling pretty worn down.
Then Lucy had triplets. Beautiful, bouncing triplets. Lucy is an excellent mother and the lambs were strong. A friend had loaned me lamb sweaters (aren’t they awesome?), so despite the freezing temps alternating with rain and sleet (ewww), the lambs were able to keep warm and gain weight right away. Part of the reason that happened was thanks to the mothering nature of another ewe, 618, who was still pregnant with her own lambs. This happens sometimes; hormones take over and new moms/still-pregnant moms may fight over baby lambs. It’s happened before at our farm and it’s not a pretty sight.
In this case, Lucy and 618 actually co-parented. In the hours after the lambs arrived, 618 physically blocked other sheep from approaching Lucy and maintained a perimeter around the new family. When our dog Vaughan approached, 618 rushed at him. The best way I could
describe this relationship would be as if 618 were Grandma flying in from out of town to answer the door and phone, manage visitors, and make sure the new Mom got plenty of rest and fluids. In this case, Lucy wasn’t even 618’s daughter. Sometimes your family is the one you make.
At first when 618 began to let the lambs nurse as if they were her own, I wasn’t too concerned. I figured she would have her own lambs in a day or two and a natural separation would take place. In the mean time, the triplets would gain weight faster despite the four inches of snow(!) arriving in the night (did I mention ewww?).
Four long days passed. After the second day, I began to worry. Should I have kept them from nursing? I couldn’t separate them now—618’s milk had come in, and to separate them would likely mean she’d get mastitis (an udder infection, for you non-lactators). What would happen when her lambs were finally born—would she reject them? Would she injure the triplets? Would I end up with a pile of bottle lambs from the horrible crash-and-burn of my poor choices? Despite my usual habit of leaving the ewes to do their own jobs, I found myself visiting every few hours, and in the middle of the night, carrying a nagging, aching fear in my chest.
On the morning of the fourth day, I went down to the pen at the crack of dawn. I found two huge lambs. One was the largest ever born to our farm. 618 knew exactly what she was doing. She had clearly bonded with both and the family unit was complete. She and Lucy were near each other, but 618 had everything handled. Amusingly enough, the triplets are still allowed to nurse from her when they can—they just have to wait until her two are done.
What does this all have to do with faith? Despite the weight in my chest, I have faith in my girls and that their knowledge about their births and family is greater than mine. I have faith that despite bumps in the road, things will turn out all right. I have faith that, even when we experience some death, life will still flourish. All I need to see is a pile of lambs napping in the sun to reinforce that.
Last fall, a certain high school director had faith in his actors and community to take on the Vermont premiere of the Broadway show Mary Poppins. He didn’t know how it would happen; he just knew that it would. The first sold-out shows in 20 years and more than $1,100 in bake sale income *alone* later, his faith was rewarded overwhelmingly. Sometimes, you gotta step off the cliff so you can fly.
Thank you, BC Rainville.
In your honor, please meet Mary, Bert, Poppin, Mr. Banks (Mister), and Mrs. Banks (Missus). We wish them many sunny days ahead. Depending on the day, some of them might even fly.