By any human criteria, 561 is a champion.
To start with, 145 days before April 24th, she produced sufficient allure to entice Bryan, eight months old, to turn towards her, the first, and away from the other nine ewes. The two of them test positively for the genetic quality which immunizes them to a neurological disorder which international sheep folk are determined to wipe out. That immunity is fully passed on to their offspring…
Two ewe lambs.
The shepherds at Nordeen Farm agree that April can produce improbably powerful weather, but we disagree that it is the cruelest month. Late April and early May give good days for lamb birthing — not cruel to shepherds around here — and we try to enhance the possibility of good outcomes by feeding the pregnant ewes in the evening, because evening feedings somehow tend to produce daytime deliveries. Storms happen, of course, often with enough low atmospheric pressure to stimulate the birth process.
We’re all mammals, of course, and we understand that exercise is important for expectant mothers, so the ewes are put out to grass in the mornings, and fed alfalfa at the close of the afternoon.
We know that 561 got all that because we came across her licking her newborns at 8:30 one dry morning, in the shed. The lambs were trying out their legs and beginning to think about sucking. When shepherds don’t have to worry about lambs mistaking wool for teats, gratitude is boundless. Even on an April morning. And if Worry whispers, picking a few hours old lamb up and feeling a rounding tummy rather than a bony undercarriage dispels the shepherds’ lingering anxieties. When a lamb hasn’t figured it out, its tail can shake just as much over a mouthful of wool as a mouthful of Mom, but Mom understands self-deception, and will not put up with it.
The birth process can be fundamentally affected by the season of breeding, because, with many breeds of sheep, the later they are exposed to the ram, the more likely there will be twins. Twins are smaller than singles, and while they can get entwined, to the discomfort of all, a large single can get stuck. Ouch. 561 avoided that peril.
So much for human criteria. 561’s a champ. Looking at her photograph, we suspect that she feels she’s a champ.
And the lambs? Late in the afternoon of their first day, the shepherd came across a family gathering: Mom and sister lying on their tummies, and the other sister standing tall on top of Mom. Had William Blake been there to ask her his question, we know what she would have said.
Copyright 2020 Jerry Wigglesworth