Merry month of May
Or, as Edwin Way Teale puts it:
“The world’s favorite season is the spring.
All things seem possible in May.”
While Mr. Teal was obviously referring to the Northern Hemisphere in this sentiment, he’ll get no argument from me. May is the bomb, to use a dated slang phrase. I adore May, more with each passing year, it seems. It catches me by surprise in a way, even though I look forward to it, anticipating its lush explosion of growth, where the world comes alive beyond all expectations. I think I write about it every year, in my awe: the many shades of green (who knew there were so many?), the green jungle of understory growth, the explosive greening of the trees, the grass growing so quickly, the weeds! I love it all, though I have to admit I also, always, feel a little bit like the White Rabbit of Alice in Wonderland, late, late, late and in a bit of a dither about it as I work to get the garden prepped and planted with my future food. Last year I didn’t get things planted until late June and it showed, with some plants not having a chance to fully mature, others that didn’t produce much since there was little time between maturity and frost. I’m determined to get things done before the end of May this year (less than two weeks away – gulp!). I have the first third planted, the second third just needs some hoeing and smoothing with a rake and should be ready for planting. The last third is in pretty rough shape, with weeds (plants I didn’t select, that is) taking over aggressively. But at least it’s all fenced now, so the sheep and chickens are staying out, and the cats too, for the most part. The cats seem to think it’s a giant litter box and recently dug around in my just-starting-to-sprout green beans, making a mess, squared. More watering needed (keeping the soil soggy and less appealing keeps them in the dryer duff under the cedar trees).
So the month is zooming by, as the season tends to when I have much to do. Sunset is at 8:45 now (in my latitude), still a month before solstice, which means I don’t usually get in the house until 9:30 every evening, which puts a bit of a crimp on housework. (heehee) The garden and outdoor tasks, and, if I’m being frank, the soaking up, the stop-and-smell-the-roses delight of it all, absorbs much of my time.
The lambs are growing fast. I banded (castrated) most of the ram lambs a couple of days ago (I did Cinnamon’s boy a week or so prior, since he’s 10 days older than the rest). I wasn’t going to do Minnie’s ram, nor Lorna’s, since they’re both small yet, but they had the goods and I was able to grab ‘em. (they can be a bit like watermelon seeds – ram lambs are born with huge scrotum, but the testes take a little while to grow to where you can grab them adequately for banding). Banding is the easiest for me, but it does leave the lambs uncomfortable for a half day. When I checked on them the next morning they were fine, but you still worry.
Lorna’s doing okay, considering her condition. As I alluded in my last post, she’s had a tough time of it. What I thought was a bad carry when she was pregnant (her mother also had triplets, and looked like a pack horse, with the bulge evenly distributed compared to Lorna’s uncomfortable bowling ball on her left look) turned out to be a ruptured pubic tendon—basically the ligament that holds everything in place on either side and Lorna’s left side somehow became torn. My description to the vet and other sheep people didn’t ring any bells, and I wish I’d have sent a photo to the vet – it’s immediately obvious to anyone who’s seen it, like a vet. If I’d known how serious it was going in, I wouldn’t have been so ignorant when it came to pulling her babies. There was basically no way they were going to come out without help.
At any rate, Lorna and I managed to get all the babies out—she was trying so hard, and I know was in some pain as I groped around inside her (as gently as I could, but so ignorantly, too), trying to turn the first guy (all I felt was his back when I first went in – majorly bad presentation) I had to pinch his skin to pull him around, and hope I got the right end pulled around. I got the legs forward, then wasn’t sure if both of the legs belonged to the same lamb. Then his head was nowhere to be found (tucked down between his legs). When he finally got out I didn’t think he’d be alive, but he shook his little head and I immediately started toweling him off. I put him in front of Lorna and she was interested, licking him so aggressively that I actually pulled him away (she was biting at him with every lick). With Lamb #2, only one leg was back, so it was a little easier. I could feel her little mouth moving on my finger, so I knew she was alive. I got her out and went back in to find a third lamb in there, with the water bag in front of him. I waited for Lorna, thinking she could do this on her own (again, ignorance of her condition, as well as learning that once you’re in there you should pull all the lambs). The water bag appeared but she wasn’t making much progress. I went in again to find his head there, but both front legs back. I was getting tired by then, and I know Lorna was too. I managed to get him out, though without finesse and it wasn’t easy on Lorna. He wasn’t responding when he got out; I rubbed aggressively and even tried swinging him, but nothing. It was too late—I’d waited too long. While I don’t think she could have handled three babies in her condition, it was still disappointing that I’d failed her. In retrospect, it’s amazing that she survived at all. Not only with the ruptured tendon, but this traumatic birth. I think her devotion to her babies—she adores them and is so attentive to them, always knows where they are and calls to them if she doesn’t—is what pulled her through.
I looked back at photos and saw she was normal as recently as three weeks prior to lambing. This condition is uncommon, especially in young healthy, first time mothers (tends to happen when a ewe is older and has had many lambs – worn out, so to speak). It’s not genetic/hereditary, according to my research, so that left me with trauma, and the likelihood that one of the other sheep rammed her. I had my suspicions – the Black Welsh Mountain wethers have been jerks for a long time now. They bully the smaller Shetlands away from the feeders, hogging the food, and the two horned guys get quite aggressive about it when the mood strikes. My guess is that Bo or Curly rammed Lorna at the hay feeder and caused this injury. I could be completely off base, and it could all be just bad luck or poor nutrition (not enough supplemental grain for calcium, etc.) but for this probability and a myriad of other reasons, I was done with them. I could list all the reasons, and bore you to tears, but suffice it to say, they just didn’t fit my situation any more. I will list one, and that is they ate, and wasted, hay at prodigious rates. And yes, by now you’re seeing the past tense on my verbs.
They’d dodged the bullet for four years (remember, it was “you or the freezer” that got them to my property back in 2010). A “should be sainted” fellow shepherd friend came over (the same friend who owns Colin the ram, in fact), with her incredibly focused Border collie, Shay, to help me with getting them loaded and off to the butcher. I picked them up today – 86 pounds of ground, and 8 or 10 bags of bones (some with huge rinds of fat attached) that the dogs will enjoy in the coming month or two. I always told them, Farley especially (they’d rammed him aggressively, and unprovoked, more than once, and he remains very careful to avoid the sheep when they’re out, though he’s a little less nervous around the Shetlands, who don’t attack for fun), that they’d have the last laugh. Daisy, of course, had no problem with their propensity to ram, and played them like a matador with his bull. But they’d gotten their licks into her, too, when they got the chance. It feels only a little weird to be feeding them to the dogs now. I sort of miss Bo, the biggest jerk, and the biggest, boldest personality. But not enough to regret my decision. Sheep are born expecting to be your next meal (it can be exasperating at times, this ingrained distrust of humans); the three of them were way past pull date in that regard (two of them were 6 years old, one was 5 years old). And, I hate to say it, but it’s reduced the herd stress and me-stress by huge amounts – hay waste has gone to near-zero, and the ewes and lambs are enjoying the freedom of the entire pen, as well as getting out every day for 3- 6 hours – first to mow my lawn and prune back the encroaching forest – then onto the pasture until dark, when I move them back to the shed for the night. A good routine for me, and they seem to be digging it too. All is well.