Civilization, or, what do you do with a newborn lamb?

May. 7 2015
From the Farm

From time to time, looking up at Orion and his dog moving silently across the sky, I find myself thinking about all our forebears who looked at the same thing. What words crossed their minds, I wonder. Did they see a dog at his heels, or was it a lion in pursuit? Did they ask if he would capture what he is hunting after he sets in the west?

And when I find myself looking at a newborn lamb and its mother, the timelessness of the occasion happens again: She is licking it, softly talking to it, encouraging it to rise and find the milk supply, and she will nose it along gently as it moves from her head along her side. The lamb has risen to its feet and is shaking itself and despite the glare it wants to get somewhere that it can suck. If I approach the ewe, she may stamp her forefeet to warn me off, she may back away from her lamb a bit. But she is impelled to stay with it to get it started.

Now, here’s the part about Civilization: if I pick the lamb up and hold it no higher than its mother’s eye level, she will follow it and me, wherever I take it. What I do is back into a four-sided pen I have built, 4′ x 5′ (called a “jug”), and close the gate when both are safely inside.

It has clean straw on the ground, a plastic bucket for water, a black dish for oats, and a sheaf of alfalfa: Mom will be thirsty and hungry after all the work she has done. And there is a whole series of things I do to make sure lamb is drinking and swallowing and that both, now bonding, are well.

It’s just as well, thinking about our ancestors, not to leave out any of the possibilities – was it a woman who put it together that if she had powerful feelings about her offspring, maybe a sheep would too? Or a child: Dad, Mom, look what I’ve got! Or a man, out hunting . . . And of course if you have a ewe, you’ll have some wool, and if you can find a ram – or let it find you – you’ll have some more lamb, and some more wool. . . and so it went. And so it goes.

I should say that for my money, it’s a dog, not a lion. Angus, Flora, and Tibbie, night workers all, would probably agree.