There’s always one in the bunch. Well, if you are us, there is generally more than one in the bunch. For purposes of identification, the subject of this story is known as Jacob X. Jacob is her primary sheep breed but there is a little something else in the mix, hence the ‘X’ which denotes she is a cross. We have never bestowed upon her a proper moniker, because this particular ewe has been on “the short list” so many times I’ve lost count.
She is, as Jerry’s dad would say, “Goofier than a run over dog.” I bought her the first year we were in the sheep biz because I wanted a little color on the farm—it was a sea of white sheep and that was a tad boring. So the fact that she is a mish mash of brown, gray, black with a little white is really her only redeeming quality.
When it comes to functioning brain cells, she has precious few. She initially didn’t get good marks in the ‘mothering skills’ department, either--she tried to stomp her first lamb to death. We supplemented the critter until it was almost a bottle baby and then Jacob X decided she wanted her back. (Short listed, but gave her the benefit of the doubt since it was her first year.) She birthed her second lamb (a black one!) in the cold pouring rain when a nice warm barn was just steps away. She managed to hide all signs of labor from me so I would go away unawares. That lamb died. (Short list; but another reprieve because she produced some color and because I have a soft heart. Or head. Last year, she gave us twins and did a good job raising them, buying her another reprieve.
So flighty and squirrelly is she that any time I have to be in close quarters with her, I know that to get to freedom she will always—ALWAYS—take the path of least resistance. And that is generally over the top of me. She truly does seem to have a couple loose wires, and every once in a while they touch.
I noticed during shearing back in March that Jacob X was already big as a house. I had been keeping a watchful eye on her so as to keep her up close to the barn when the signs pointed to an impending birth. But my best laid plans often go wonky—she escaped and of course went into labor all the way on the back of the farm in the furthest corner, right next to the fenceline where our neighbor has a pile of downed trees. We have seen coyotes disappearing through the fence at that very spot.
Now I might not have noticed her missing until we fed that night, so busy were we with previous lamb arrivals and all the baby goats, but I had been scanning the field with binoculars all afternoon trying to save the few steps that I no doubt will need when I am old. Er. Old-er.
Yup…as I trained the glasses on her I saw her go down and hop right back up, and spin in a circle and look at the ground. Crap. I needed a plan that would allow me to handle this little hiccup in a timely manner, as I still had much to do before the sun set.
What I really didn’t want to happen was for crazy Jacob X to have her lambs in the wide open, predator-ridden spaces and then run them around like mad to keep from getting caught. I figured I only had about an hour until dark, so whatever plan I hatched needed to go off without a hitch the first time. There would be no second chances with this wild-eyed nut job.
As I plodded along to the back of the farm I weighed my options. Halfway back, I realized that I had forgotten my phone. A hundred yards further it crossed my mind that it might have been prudent to bring a rope, because unlike most of our sheep, this one was not going to take assistance from me laying down. Literally.
All I had was a long sleeve sweatshirt tied around my waist and my binoculars still hung around my neck.
My left arm had been giving me fits for days. From my Google-assisted self-diagnoses I figured I was having rotator cuff issues. The prospect of lugging a wet lamb across 50 acres while her bat crazy mother mauled me in an attempt to get her child back was not an appealing one. Still, I figured, letting her pass the first baby and then follow it (dangled along by me) back to the barn was my only hope of getting Jacob X and offspring back to safety before nightfall.
“Why didn’t I just stick with my communications career?” I asked myself for the umpteenth time this spring.
I approached my target stealthily, keeping low to the ground, much as Marlin Perkins and Jim (with his dart gun—which I wish I had right now!) would have approached big game on that Mutual of Omaha show back in the day. Suddenly, Jacob X stopped her spinning in place and honed in on me—ears erect and eyes wide. I became motionless for a moment, and was relieved to see that the ewe’s water had broken and now she was intently staring at the ground, confounded as to why there was as yet no baby laying there.
Her confusion gave me the time I needed to inch ever closer to her, having now dropped to the ground. Because of my arm situation, crawling frontward was not an option, so I began scooting in her general direction on my buttocks, stopping every time Ms. X looked my way.
Out of the corner of my eye I caught motion to my right. I looked over to find all three cows, the bull and the new calf standing on the fenceline separating the fields watching intently as this interesting little addendum to their normally boring existence played itself out. I swear I saw them rolling their eyes!
Gradually I was able to advance within 15 feet of my target—close enough to see two feet protruding from behind as another contraction hit. More spinning, a bout of pawing and additional staring at the ground as she grew more perplexed as to just where her child was hiding.
“You’re going to have to push harder than that,” I said in my head. “It’s a little more effort than pooping.”
Ten more minutes of the ewe repeating all the steps above, and I was beginning to grow concerned. The legs were a little farther out but no little nose was visible, which could mean a malpresentation that the ewe is incapable of correcting all by herself. Something like that could cost both the ewe and her lambs their lives.
“If only she would let me assess the situation,” I may have said aloud to the fascinated cows, “I could move this whole deal along.”
But how to make that happen. That was the question.
I had one option. Just one. And clearly, with this bat crazy sheep, I would only have one shot to make my plan work. I scooted closer in increments as she spun in place, and then down she went again with another contraction. I had taken the binoculars from around my neck and now I sprang forward toward Jacob X’s head and lassoed her with the strap.
The ewe jumped up and took off like a shot, but I had managed to get the strap over my (bad) arm and hooked in the crook of my elbow before she began dragging me—now on my belly—in earnest.
I am sure it was quite a show for the cows, and Amish ears might have been burning as the sound of me screaming “STOP YOU CRAZY BITCH!” at the top of my lungs carried across the fields.
I just knew that if the binocular strap broke, I would never, EVER catch her again.
The searing pain in my arm almost got the best of me when Bat Crazy headed straight for a fence post. This could be good—or really bad. Hooking the post with my other arm brought the ewe to a gasping, choking and abrupt halt. We stared at each other as we both caught our breath. We were amazingly still attached to each other by the binoculars. Another contraction hit, and I disengaged from the fencepost and latched onto the feet protruding from Jacob X’s rear end. With only one hand to hang onto the lamb’s feet, I was at a serious disadvantage, but by this point I could see a nose to go with the front feet.
“A normal presentation.” I thought with relief. “At least there’s that.”
Jacob pushed and I pulled, and eventually out popped a rather gargantuan lamb. I had a brief moment of remorse for my evil thoughts in her general direction when I saw that what she had just passed was waaaaaay bigger than it should have been.
I knew I had her now since I had her child in my possession, so I loosed her from the binos and we slowly began making our way back to the barn, me limping along dangling a wet ball of gooey lamb and Jacob X circling me full tilt, trying to knock me down and punish me for the kidnapping in progress. I was praying we could make it back to a stall before baby No. 2 decided to make an appearance.
The cows, kicking up their heels in merriment, followed us along as far as the fence allowed.
As I put the baby down to open the gate into the barn lot, Jerry looked over from the grill where he—in the interest of not starving to death—had pork chops smoking.
“Oh, hey,” he said. “Need some help?”
I glared in his general direction as I passive-aggressively replied “Nah. I got this.”
Into the barn and into a stall we went, and just in the nick of time. Baby 2 was on the way. I left mom and big sis to their own devices as I washed up for dinner. Fifteen minutes to eat should give enough time for the Jacob to accomplish a second birthing.
“Could nothing go right today?” I whined in my head. Fifteen minutes later I had my answer.
A bit of privacy had produced nothing like another lamb, and a second intervention looked to be needed. This time, Jerry held the ewe somewhat still while I did a bit of ‘exploring.’ Sure enough, this baby was bumfuzzled up and needed some straightening out before it could make its appearance into the world. A quick unfolding and pulling forward of front legs was all it took, and sister lamb was born.
Both sisters were solid black except for sprays of white on their heads and faces, which gave them a comical look and, if they made the cut, would add some future color to the farm. Cute as the dickens. Hmmm…to short list or not to short list…that remains the question