Dad was a shepherd in how he cared for the orphan lambs.
Lambing season was in spring, which in North Dakota (south Canada) was more like winter anywhere to the south. The lambs birthed at all hours, sometimes with sad results.
In the middle of the night, temperatures in the teens or lower, Dad would check the flock and find a ewe in crisis. Multiple births were common, and sometimes a triplet or a twin did not survive. The mother would bleat inconsolably, earnestly licking the lifeless kid, pushing the stiffening body with her nose—sheep CPR.
This is when the shepherd would arrange an adoption. Gently scraping the still-steaming afterbirth from the dead lamb, Dad would go to another pen and select an orphan. The orphans were the result of an odd proclivity of certain ewes to refuse bonding with one or more of their new-borns. For reasons known only to her, mama sheep would reject her own–meanly and mercilessly butting the babe away from her udder. These orphans became our bottle lambs, requiring hand feeding if they were to survive.
Sheep are dumb, which in this situation could work to the shepherd’s advantage. Out of sight of the grieving ewe, Dad coated the orphan—head and back—with the glistening afterbirth. He would carry this crying lamb to the still despondent mother and place the babe under her nose. She would sniff, smell her own life fluid, and often with a satisfying moan, nudge the orphan to a waiting teat.
This loving chicanery did not always succeed, but when it did, my father went back to his warm bed a happy man. As adopted lambs, the orphans grew stronger and fatter.
Those who remained orphans became pets until old enough to feed themselves on the spring grass. We held them in our arms as they hungrily drank cow’s milk from a baby bottle. They were adorable–their black or white faces, their tiny snow-white teeth, their dark eyes, their tightly curled coat. Some of them snuggled close as they drank, before pulling away to romp the pasture with the lambs raised in a real sheep family.
I guess you could say the shepherd had a special love for the orphans.
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