OPINION — Earlier this winter I’d sold the bulk of my little flock of sheep when we weren’t sure we would have any grass to feed them come summer. I’d kept the aged, the maimed, and the motley, of course, because no one else would want them, and those are always my favorites. Which means my flock now consists of two ewes so old we didn’t bother to breed them because we weren’t sure they’d even make it through winter, an even more decrepit wether, one surly yearling, two ancient shetlands, two younger shetlands so wild we rarely see more than their short tails as they run away from us, a ewe whose heritage is too mixed to categorize, four pretty decent looking young targhees ewes whose only flaw is being obnoxiously friendly, and one more very pretty young targhee who just happens to have only one eye.
We put the rams in with some of the ewes at the beginning of December. We’d intentionally avoided breeding the really, really old ewes, and when the beginning of May arrived I was looking forward to an easy lambing season. I quickly realized, however, that whether you have seven ewes or 700, you have to check the same amount. The difference is with seven ewes, most of the time there’s absolutely nothing going on.
May 1 came and went with no lambs. May 2 came and went. May 3 came and still no babies. All the ewes that were bred looked exactly like most women in the last days before labor — very big and very uncomfortable. I knew it couldn’t be long, but I was getting impatient, and I also knew there was a solution: a shepherd at a neighboring ranch had just put a post on social media looking to rehome some orphan lambs.
“What do you think?” I asked my husband.
“I think you better not get too many, or you are going to end up with five sets of triplets and have a barn full of bums.” he replied.
“No way! I mean, what are the chances of that with mostly first-time moms?” I replied.
I decided to seek a second opinion.
“What do you think, do I need bum lambs?” I texted a shepherding friend.
“Remember how many bottle babies you had last year? You don’t know how many you will have this year…” she texted back.
“But I literally only have seven bred ewes, and three are shetlands. I’ve never had a bum from a Shetland before,” I replied
“And with that, fate just decided you will have ALL Shetland bums this year. Bwahahahahah!!” she responded.
Can you already guess the ending of this story? After ignoring the very wise advice of my husband and friend that very afternoon the kids and I were hurtling down the highway in my Subaru hatchback, four bum lambs squirming adorably at the kids’ feet while we brainstormed names.
“Why did we even get these lambs,” my daughter asked suddenly. “Won’t we have our own lambs?”
“Because of cuteness,” her brother replied for me, thus proving our young apples haven’t fallen far from my husband’s and my respective apple trees.
Big Trouble, Shy, Sweetie, and Deer’s Ears are now happily ensconced at the ranch, luxuriating in the sun and fresh greenery. The kids and I cross the yard many times a day with bottles and are always greeted with a rousing chorus of joy. Meanwhile, in the barn waits one of the wild shetlands. She gave birth to twins but can’t seem to figure out what they are or how to feed them. So, while not officially “bums” yet, after I feed bottles to the orphans, I have to go to the barn and kneel, holding that darn shetland still so her poor babies can get a drink.
For now it’s manageable, and I can honestly say I have no regrets. However, I still have five more ewes to lambs, which has me a little nervous, so I will not tempt fate by saying anything more!
Eliza Blue is folk singer & writer. She lives with her husband and two children on a fourth-generation cattle ranch. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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