Friday, March 2, 2018

Chess In The Storm

It's lambing season and I am dealing with a snow storm on four hours of erratic sleep. Every time I did fall asleep I woke up an hour later, went to the window with Gibson (Friday stayed in bed) and listened for the cries of lambs. Every 4 hours we are outside checking, more often if a ewe seems to be close to the big show. I'm kind of a mess right now but presently dry, in clean clothes post a hot shower, and my nail polish is only slightly chipped so bring on the world.

I was up until Midnight last night. I was finishing up my last check on the ewes before bed when the first fat flakes of this storm started to fall. My friend Leah was over for a Girls Night, and we had just finished a movie with the dogs when I asked her to help me put on Mabel's blanket before she headed home to her own farm. She held the flashlight while I attached the snaps and buckles that secured the big mare's blanket. Mabel stood so well for us both, despite the snowfall and dogs racing around her legs. She's a good one, her.

I woke up for the day around 4:45. I went out to check on the flock again and the storm was in full force at that point. I walked up into the fields with a flashlight and my two collies, racing around me. When they got too far they were lost in the squall and my heart beat too fast for comfort. The sheep were in their shelters and the horses were under the old apple trees. Merlin refuses to use the pole barn unless there's hail or meteors. Mabel's blanket was her bulwark against the elements. I said hello to them before heading back inside to make breakfast and start the day's first cup of coffee.

Now that you're here, let me explain why I'm bottle feeding Bette Midler. Here's why: I'm just one person. It was after 8PM when I got home and discovered her. I wasn't expecting lambs for a week or so at the earliest. When I tried to see if her mom would claim her; Hannah ran off - a black sheep into the black night. She was leaping across a three-acre hillside. Time for decision...

 I knew I could set up a jug for her in the smaller sheep shelter and put down fresh bedding. I could run inside, gather supplies, set up heat lamps and extension cords and tarp up the wall with the loose boards that let snow in. I could install a water bucket on a snap clip, build a gate, and then run around the field alone trying to catch the ewe on the lam (Off the lamb?!). I could try to bribe her with grain but that seemed impossible without including two big horses and six other sheep also gathering in a tight space for grain. I don't have health insurance and I wasn't going to try and pull one 150lb animal out of a flurry of grain crazies in the dark with a bossy 1200lb mare. So instead of that "easy" option I would have to chase, corner, trap, catch and drag Hannah into this jug setup I built in the 25ยบ dark. Once her and her lamb were inside said jug I'd have to pin her against the wall and force her to let the lamb nurse. If I managed all that I would sit with them and repeat the process into the night hoping they would bond so Hannah could raise her. You know, the easy way for us shepherds!

But I didn't do any of that. You know why? Because it was easier on every animal on this farm to just bottle feed the ewe for a few weeks and then bring her to the flock. I wasn't going to play social worker to a deadbeat young mom. I would bring the lamb inside, wrap her in a towel, dry her, feed her, and have her asleep in my arms within two episodes of The West Wing. I have done it many times before. I took a vote of all the residents in the house and no one cared if a lamb joined our living room menagerie so that's why Bette Midler is inside. And with this storm raging I am glad. Her next bottle feeding (and my next coffee infusion) is set for twenty minutes from now. I'm all about that schedule.

I have two ewes left to lamb. Hannah gave birth to little Bette and Marnie and Jessa (same age as Hannah) have yet to deliver. My oldest ewe, Brick, is now pushing 13 and I don't think she has a lamb in her which is a shame since some of the finest ram lambs this farm ever produced were her own. So unless I get two sets of twins I'll be buying in some meat lambs to raise on pasture and grain, which I did last spring to fulfill shares.

That's how spring goes on a farm like this. The ol' chess board gets dusted off and set up and the strategy for a summer begins. Lambs are one piece, piglets another, chicks, poults, ducklings, kids.. all pieces. My chess board would be just the knight pieces - but instead of horse heads they would be every beast I raise and able to move in every direction, levitate, and then die or make more pieces...

Actually, now regular chess seems like a breeze.

I just got off the phone with the electric company about a payment plan to stop the power from being shut off. Not a pleasant way to spend a snowstorm but I don't want any of you thinking this is some ski resort in the mountains. I put all my energy and sales into the last mortgage payment and fell behind on the electric bill, which spiked rocket high during the intense deep freeze in December/January. Another chess piece on the board, another problem to solve.

Guys, farming isn't for everyone.

Whew, I am so messy right now. A little raw, a little anxious. I put a big pot of dark roast coffee on the stove and have another ten pounds stored in the larder. The does aren't freshened yet to be providing cream on tap here, but I do have powdered creamer and 20lbs of stored sugar. That's a true comfort at a broke place fueled by caffeine fumes. The storm might be howling out there but inside things are comfortable enough. A good song, hot drink, and dry socks make all the difference in attitude around here.

Onward into the storm, into lambing, into choices and luckless slinging and all the dirty joy.