Guest post by farm intern Janice Ho
One of the most amazing experiences you can have on the farm is not only witnessing the birth of a new lamb, but also helping to make sure it’s a successful one.
After seeing how many things can go wrong in the process of a lamb birth, I now find myself holding my breath when a new pregnancy is underway. I’ll only exhale once momma and lamb (or lambs!) are safe in their pen and the baby is standing and feeding.
Well, this evening we had a new birth! It was—as it often is—completely unexpected. Sometimes you’ll know it’s coming when the mom sits down on the hay, her legs splayed out. But other times, you’ll just be going about your work in the barn, then turn around to see a little lamb standing there, taking in its new world of hay and sheep (and a donkey).
Just a few hours ago, I was running a hose through the sheep barn to fill up the water tank when I heard that tell-tale clue: a tiny baa that the bigger lambs don’t make anymore. I stopped in my tracks and looked around.
The adult sheep who aren’t parents are kept in a separate part of the barn from the mommas and lambs. I couldn’t see any sign of a baby amongst the adults, but upon some investigation I found a wee little lamb amidst a bunch of sheep who were eating hay. The lamb was freshly born, being licked clean by its mom.
After going through a few lamb births, I’ve learned that timing is important—giving the mom time to lick the baby and start bonding with it before I handle the lamb myself and start carrying it off. Although we need to move the pair to the “maternity ward,” I don’t want her to think I’m trying to kidnap the lamb from her.
So I crouched down nearby for a good few minutes, just telling the mom softly that she was doing a great job. The lamb—a dark brown-and-white patterned one—was walking around, clearly looking for an udder, but was mistakenly going after a young ram standing nearby. I helped to bring the lamb back to its mom, and watched it start to feed.
Finally, it looked like it was break time, so I said: “Okay, let’s go momma.”
I picked up the lamb, keeping it close to the mom’s face, and started walking the group towards the “maternity ward.” Sometimes a momma sheep will be hesitant to follow and stop. When that happens, I’ll stop too and wait for the baby to cry out, which always gets the mom continuing onward.
Once the mom and lamb were inside a pen, the mom sat down on the hay. “You’re tired, huh?” I said. Then I noticed something coming out from behind her. Ah, it must be the placenta, I thought. But … wait a minute … that looked like … a head!!
It was a second lamb being born. And it was the first time I had witnessed the actual birth of a lamb. It was the most unreal thing to see it come out, bit by bit. It was completely covered in slimy membrane goo, and it wasn’t until the mom licked it for a good couple minutes that it started looking like the furry creature we know it to be.
It’s a huge relief to see this new family doing well. I’ll still be holding my breath a bit for the next couple days while the lambs continue to feed and grow strong. But I have lots of optimism that the twins are here to stay.
Going through multiple lamb births and deaths puts so much into perspective. When your day-to-day reality changes so that your problem in life becomes “will this lamb live or die?”, a lot of things you might once complain about becomes pretty trivial.
I’m immensely grateful to have these experiences with the sheep. It will be impossible to come out of the farm life and not be changed for the better.