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KAREN SCHWALLER

By Staff | Mar 29, 2013

I’ve been noticing something in my trips out to the sheep barn this lambing season.

We have many bottle lambs this year, between a ewe that died, mothers not claiming their little ones, and moms who can’t provide enough nutrition for their babies.

It takes a lot of time feeding them all, and it gives me ample opportunity to look around and observe the habits of mothers in the sheep barn.

In this time I’ve decided that, while moms are different in many ways, there are lots of things that mothers have in common all across the board – human or not.

Based on the habits of her children as they grow up, many a human mother has wondered if the hospital in which her children were born was a barn in a previous life.

But mothers in the sheep barn know flat-out that their children started out there, and perhaps that helps them be tolerant of all the things that their babies do all day long.

After all, she was born in a barn, too.

Entering the sheep barn for morning chores during lambing season is not for weenies, based on the things seen adorning the back ends of ewes who have just contributed to the sheep population.

And some mornings, I’m not sure if it’s better that you have breakfast or not before you dare to go out there.

Have you ever entered a lambing barn first thing in the morning? The female of the species can be a loud and demanding one when it comes to (a) providing for her family, and (b) chocolate; though the animal mom would never consider giving you the silent treatment until she gets the goods she wants – no matter how much we wish she would.

Until the ewes have been fed in the morning, you may as well give up trying to use the sophisticated method of speaking as a way of communicating with another human being. It will only make you hoarse and crabby if you try to out-yell a barn full of hungry mothers.

You’re left to resort to the ancient method of hand gestures and head-pointing, at least until the ewes have been given their hay and grain, and are quiet.

It’s similar to the communication between couples who have been married for a very long time, except the hand gestures in the sheep barn are more recipient friendly.

Once breakfast is provided and the mothers are busy chewing, you’re down to just hearing the sweet sound of baby lambs as they announce their presence.

This year we have a pen of six bottle lambs, along with a set of triplets that we help along with some milk replacer, and a few others who just need a bit of food and attention to keep them over the top. As I watch the lambs who don’t need any extra help, I see them seeking out nourishment and watching them eat ferociously as their tails become a blur from the excitement of eating.

The mother just stands there patiently, protecting them and letting them eat. But once in awhile the lambs get a little rambunctious finding the food supply, and she will gently swat them aside, take a step or two away from them and let them think about the way they treated their mom.

I guess all moms now and then get tired of someone needing something from her all the time, and just want a little respect and some time to herself. I think moms everywhere can attest to that, but I admire the ewe’s calm way of disciplining.

It’s easy to feed a group of bottle lambs by taking a couple out of the pen at a time, feeding them and then getting a couple more out.

It’s a good thing we have this down because when you step into a whole pen full of bottle lambs who maul each other and anyone in sight, it’s a “survival of the fittest” mentality – kill or be killed.

They all race to the fence to greet you with reckless abandon, blatting and scrambling to stake a claim to the bottle first, climbing on top of each other and knocking others out of the way if necessary.

I understand that. I’m the same way when I’m around a group of friends who brought a cherry cheesecake.

Mothers with any number of legs grow tired sometimes of feeding and caring for their offspring, but they know it’s their truest calling in this life, and so they carry on. It’s an odd combination of responsibilities and feelings, but it seems to work – whether in the house or in the sheep barn.

In the house, it probably only works because we know where to find the hidden chocolate when our children get the best of us.

Be jealous, my four-legged mom friends.

Schwaller is a Farm News correspondent from Milford. Reach her by e-mail at kschwaller@evertek.net.

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