Whoa! I am so blown away this morning by the resilience of nature. I went up to check the sheep at about 7:30am and a little lamb came crashing out of the long grass to greet me, bawling his fool head off. I nearly fell over with wonder because I had been sure that little guy was dead of exposure.
Here’s what happened: Yesterday the fence, (Kencove electronet, more on this in another post,) fell over in the rain and the sheep got out and wandered all over 6 acres of pasture before I finally managed to corral them back in. Thank god my neighbor Leo had gone up there to get the tractor and check the oil in it. (He cuts wood for us and uses the tractor to haul trees out of the woods.) He came down and let me know that they were out. I usually check the sheep in the morning, move them if they need grass, and then see them the next day. So I wouldn’t have known the sheep were out until this morning or last night if they managed to find their way to the barn. Anyway…I ran up there and let them wander around while I moved the fence to make a new paddock with yummy grass to entice them back into the fence. Generally that would be a reasonable thing to do. However, there were three ewes with lambs in the flock and I SHOULD have grabbed up the lambs right away and secured them. This would have kept their mothers close too. But I didn’t.
I mistakenly thought the sheep wouldn’t go far and that they’d come right back in to get the new grass. I wasn’t putting it together that they weren’t really hungry because they’d gotten through the fence before all the grass in the paddock had been eaten. This means the ewes were just in it for the excitement and they ranged far and wide. The two older lambs stayed with their mummies, but one little guy was lost in the tall grass. After two hours of putting up fence and herding sheep in the driving rain, we just couldn’t locate the lamb. I came back into the house, put on some dry clothes, donned the enormous rain suit again and went back out to search with the dogs. No luck. This little lamb was just around 50 hours old at the time, so I was sure he would die of exposure. I spent that last hour tramping around the pasture crying and praying and calling for that little lamb to come out.
When lambs are separated from their mothers they tend to curl up in a small ball and lay low until they hear their mother call them. It’s a good way to stay hidden from predators, but it’s very frustrating when the shepherd of the flock is in the “predator” role. I gave up when I could barely put one leg in front of the other and was soaked through again. I need better rain gear.
It was a sad night for me. I had found a little lamb in the pasture, dead, that morning from starvation. Her mother, Rosy had stopped feeding her. This is something that first time mothers sometimes do, even if they do feed them in the beginning. I was so low about the loss of that little, beautiful lamb, and then to lose the little guy in the pasture when I could have just caught him up in the beginning really knocked me down. I had visions of selling off the flock to some more experienced, “better” shepherd who was not so foolish to let lambs out of her sight. Then I’d have another good cry and tell myself to buck up and stick with it because I really do love being a sheep farmer.
I have memorized a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke that I tried to focus on during the evening:
God speaks to each of us as he makes us
Then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
Go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like flame
And make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life,
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.
While I still flinch at the word, “God,” (I am a recovering Baptist,) I find great comfort in this poem and in my own relationship to the great mystery of Spirit. This last 24 hours has been a rough ride into despair, and back again to utter joy when this little guy came running out into the open. It’s been hard to “let everything happen to” me and not just close down emotionally and be hard about it. Farming is so hard on the soul sometimes, but I’m so glad that in this case there’s a happy ending and some joy and relief.
Please keep this little dude in your thoughts and prayers- if you’re the praying type. He’s not out of the woods yet. He probably has pneumonia and his mother is not recognizing him as he was gone too many hours, so she won’t feed him. He’s dry and warm and fed now and we’ll try reintroducing him to his mum this afternoon. He has a real will to live and I feel that if he’s come through almost 18 hours in the pouring rain without food and body heat from his mother, then he’s got a very good chance of surviving. Let’s all pause for a moment to wonder at the resilience of nature.