Last Tuesday I began writing this post in my head. I titled it “Agnes’ Reprise,” owing to her resoundingly successful second round of lambing twins. Her loss of a strapping ram lamb last June sent my world into a tailspin for a bit, and as it turned out, she was again the first to lamb this season. One might note that I chose not to use that title in this actual post.
In temperatures hovering around negative 8 degrees F, Agnes delivered first a ram and then a much smaller ewe. It was at this point that I was likely hitting the snooze button of my alarm for the first time, at 5:30 am on January 21. I had been up a couple times throughout the bitter night to trudge out to the Sheep Hotel, with a hunch that Agnes was in labor. I followed up with another hit of the snooze button when the alarm resumed, but on the third attempt, I bolted out of bed with an undue sense of urgency. I ran outside half-dressed, expecting to return to bed, but the fluffy-looking lamb trying to nurse and a still-slick newborn bawling with cold sent me flying back to the house for towels and proper cold weather attire.
“We’ve got lambs!” I hollered up the stairs. Captain Daddio jumped from bed and quickly made the fires, made coffee, and reinstated the heat lamp enclosure we refer to as The Beach. I could have kissed him, had I not been out of my mind with urgency.
Lambs are surprisingly adept at handling cold weather, unless they are wet. Birth is a slick, wet, messy process, but necessarily so – the laborious licking and cleaning a ewe must do upon birth is thought to cement the mothering instinct. Slick birth married with subzero temperatures makes for a window of opportunity so small as to scare the pants off a rookie sheep midwife such as myself. The ram lamb, born first, had the benefit of Momma’s full attention throughout the licking process and as I glimpsed him first, appeared fluffy and dry. The ewe lamb, however, had to split Momma’s attention between herself and her brother. This is where I swooped in with dry towels and a vigorous hand, fighting the freezing chill that had already made frosty the wee one’s ears. Without delay, I brought her into the house to warm by the fire.
Once dry, I returned her to Agnes for a chance to warm from the inside out and begin nursing. Crisis averted, I noticed the ram lamb shivering and discovered him to be quite too wet for negative 8 degrees, so he had his own turn by the fire.
There are few things as exciting as a newborn lamb in the house. We sent Daddy off to work, with the bulk of the frenzy behind us, and chose George and Martha as names for the plucky pair. (the story of George filling his loafers with Martha’s pea soup has become cemented in our family culture)
Just a bit of a nagging worry was George’s right eye, which didn’t quite open all the way and was starting to weep a bit. Perhaps negative 8 degrees will do that, I thought, and decided to observe it for a spell. After a restorative nap and a blow-dry, George declared his consuming hunger and joined his sister and mom outside.
It seemed all was well.