Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Dusty Day

Tonight, when I come home from work, there is a lamb in my living room. She is splayed out on an old rug bleating and kicking her legs. When Joe was feeding the livestock, he found her lying in the field near death. Her mother had successfully delivered her twin brother, but this lamb weighed probably eight to ten pounds and must have spent too much time being born. She was worn out by the time she dropped onto the snow, and she just didn’t have the energy to rise and suck. Joe brought her home to attempt a revival. As I stare at the matted, wet lamb, I mentally review what we need to do.

First dunk the chilled lamb in a warm bath to bring her body temperature up. If this doesn’t work at least she’ll be clean when she dies. Then, after wrapping her in some old towels, give the lamb a shot of antibiotic and leave her to steam dry in front of the wood stove. Next, you must feed her. Newborns need colostrum which is not available in a store near you. Grab a partner, and go back outside. Corner the uncooperative mother ewe. While your partner holds her head, get down on your hands and knees. Pray. Then, press your head into the ewe’s side and fish around underneath her until you locate a teat. If you can’t find one, then bend until your head is on the ground and you’ve established eye contact with your target. Grab the teat with your right hand and use your left hand to clean the poop out of your hair as you straighten back up. Next, squeeze the teat. If you are rewarded with a squirt of milk, line a soda bottle up with the stream and capture it. When the ewe breaks free, chase her around. Try not to cuss. Repeat until you collapse or you’ve collected some colostrum.
When you get the colostrum back to the house, you must make a decision. Will you drown the weak lamb trying to get it to suck a bottle or will you kill it by tube feeding it? If you’re smart and rich, you’ll choose “none of the above,” and call the vet. Of course if you were smart and rich you would have called the vet in the first place. He has pre-mixed colostrum and he knows how to get that tricky little tube down the lamb’s throat into its stomach instead of down its windpipe into its lungs.

I am roused from my musings by a last weak bleat and kick from the lamb. She chooses to die without our help. As I look at the little lamb laid out on the floor, I can’t help but be relieved. When things go well, I always feel like we’ve pulled off the ultimate miracle. A Lazarus. But, more often than not, all of our efforts yield nothing but a last death gurgle and kick. The old timers around here say that lambs are born just looking for a place to die. Still, we try. In spite of the difficulties and frustrations, we want to see those little lambs bounce back to life and go tappity-tapping across our kitchen floor.

Joe bundles up the lamb and takes her outside. He will dispose of her body in the morning. I clean up the mess she’s left behind. A friend of mine wrote in his blog the other day that God loves dust. From dust we are born and to dust we return. It’s been a dusty sort of day.


  1. God loves dust. Reading that on my grandmother's birthday (she died last April) helps. Thank you.

  2. Thank you for taking the time to post this:)

  3. Hey Gin...readiing your description of how to bring a lamb back to life was the highlight of our breakfast together this morning. We are sorry the little lamb did not make it. Rob and Jake send their love to you, Joe and all your creatures...great and small. Meg

  4. There is a gift for you over at my blog!!! http://www.amommymadeit.com