Spring is right around the corner — or at least I hope it is — and new life will be springing up all over the farm. For a livestock farmer like me, that means lambs and calves should be dropping any time. This year, thanks to yet another fencing malfunction, we will have some lambs coming in January, which is not ideal — but it goes with the territory. I have plans for some good snug shelter using some of the incredible excess hay bounty we harvested this year, and I plan to pen imminent moms out of the wind and weather in the hay barn. In spite of my mistakes — and even some events beyond my control — I anticipate this time of year with compelling memories of lambing seasons past. Like that time one of the ewes disappeared for a couple of days and then showed up with three healthy babies in tow. Or that other time when another ewe came into the corral and dropped four live lambs practically at my feet.
Lambing is about the future. It’s about the past. It’s about closure on another breeding season — successful or not. It’s about the continuous cycle of life, and death, which sustains the life. Sometimes a lamb is lost to exposure, or its mom didn’t clear the membrane from its face soon enough. Sometimes you could have saved it had you been there, but our goal is to breed ewes that are really good at what they need to do. Sometimes you lose lambs to coyotes — sometimes you lose a ewe that way, too.
In every case, you ache at the loss. As an animal husband, I am compelled to count live lambs — and dead lambs — and calculate some measure of my success. Our flock has a birth ratio of more than two live lambs per ewe, and a weaning ratio somewhat lower than that. But when I want to feel proud about that, a late afternoon coyote strike brings me back down.
Lambing season is a season of reflection ... of anticipation ... of taking stock ... of celebration! But most of all, lambing season is about new beginnings, with nothing but possibilities ahead.
To help celebrate the season, we’ve put together a showcase of your baby animals on the facing page. A nearly perfect respite from the long cold winter coming to an end, and harbinger of the glorious season of life that’s unfolding ahead.
Whether you’ve just entered into your first lambing, calving, farrowing, foaling or hatching season, or you’re an experienced hand, I’d love to know what you’re up to this season. Send me a note (firstname.lastname@example.org), along with a photo or two (jpeg, at least 300 dpi) if available, and it just might wind up in a future issue.
See you in summer!
Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on Google+.