I was surprised by lambs again this past week. That’s not to say I didn’t expect to have lambs toward the end of this month. It’s that I didn’t expect those lambs to come from Mari. It’s Tiny who looks like she’s carrying around a couple of heavily inflated beach balls.
I knew Mari was pregnant. There’s no mistaking that sort of pudginess. That said, she looked pudgy as in not delivering for another month. To the best of my knowledge five months ago Mari had still been avoiding both Cinco and Peanut, using her innovate avoidance technique of sitting down whenever they came near her.
Then Tuesday afternoon, I saw her separate herself from my little flock. That’s when I discovered why you shouldn’t dock your sheep’s tails. In the middle of a contraction she’d lift her tail to the side and give it a strange little twist. I totally recognized the meaning behind that posture. It was clearly “omg, I have to push.”
Wanting to give her some space away from her brothers, I herded everyone up to the orchard, guiding her in then closing the gate on the boys before they could enter. She instantly went into the far corner of the garden area. I followed her in and sat to watch, using the massive decaying length of cottonwood that I’d had dragged into the garden years ago. Judging from her lack of beach ball roundness, I guessed that Mari’s little guys were going to be small, but so is Mari. I was concerned that she might need help.
Instead, Mari proved a complete pro at this lambing thing. The first baby slid right out. It was a little ewe (YAY!!!). Although little Milly was tall, she was all bones and skin and couldn’t have weighed in at more than a pound. Much to my relief, Mari began talking to her newborn immediately, making that quiet little grumbly “baa” that passes for baby talk among sheep.
At this point Moosie had shown up. No four-leggeds are allowed to be born on this property without Midwife Moosie in attendance. All of a sudden, he had his nose in there with Mari’s, both of them working away at licking that baby clean. I waited to see if this upset Mari. Of course it didn’t. After all, Moosie was there to lick Mari clean more than a year ago when she was born.
Once little Milly was on her feet we all settled down again as Mari pushed out her second lamb. This one was a little ram lamb, who proved to be slightly smaller than Milly. Again, mother and midwife worked together to clean him up.
Within forty-five minutes, both babies were up on their feet and wanting to nurse. That’s when Mari discovered it wasn’t enough to just push those babies out, that there was more to this whole mothering thing. For all the world she looked utterly appalled by the idea of those two babies putting their mouths onto something she obviously considered private. She danced and turned and backed away from them, walking in circles as they stumbled gamely after her.
Concerned, I left her alone for a bit, reminding myself that the babies could go twenty-four hours without nursing. It didn’t take long to realize that Mari favored Milly over her little boy. In fact, Mari became quite forceful about driving him off. That’s when I told her loudly that she wasn’t sticking me with bottle-feeding her baby, not when she was equipped with both milk and a teat to feed him. Then, just in case, I picked him up, cornered her, and put him on her teat.
As he got his mouth on what he wanted and began to suck hurriedly, she froze, her eyes wide. Then she turned around and tried again to head butt him. Despite my determination to never again bottle-feed lambs, I backed off. Within half an hour she’d expelled everything that she needed to be rid of and had settled down so that her udder was hidden beneath her.
Worried, I retreated, figuring she needed space, and insisted that Moosie come with me. I swear, that dog would sleep with those babies if I let him. An hour later and she was still avoiding her babies. Three hours later and she was letting little Milly take a swallow or two while still driving off her boy.
That’s when the little guy figured out that he needed to time his swallows with his sister. Smart kid–or lamb, as the case may be. Sure enough, by the next morning she was feeding both of them, even though she was still head butting the little guy whenever he tried to approach first.
I remained worried about this until Friday when his mother walked around a corner while he was dozing. I happened to be on the porch watching as this happened. All of a sudden, he woke up. His tiny head jerked frantically from side to side as he looked for her. An instant later he leapt to his feet and bleated out a tiny little cry that was clearly “Mom! Where are you?”
Instantly, Mari, who really was just around the corner of the orchard, turned and called back. But so did Tiny, who was across the field. As Tiny came running toward the orchard with her half-grown boys in tow, Moosie was off like a shot, racing down from the porch to check on his baby. I and my visitor followed the dog. We all converged on the little guy at almost the same time. Mari held everyone off as she nuzzled him, gave him a quick lick, then turned to let him nurse.
Whew. He definitely belongs to her even if he’s not her favorite.
That’s not to say I won’t be bottle feeding. I know exactly when Tiny got pregnant. I was there when it happened. There’s no question that she’s a bit overdue. I’m thinking she intends to wait on the full moon to deliver. What worries me is that she looks just like she did when she gave me three and I ended up with Peanut in the house.
Two, Tiny. Two is enough. Don’t be an overachiever, you hear me?