Loving Orphans

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.

Next:  Encounter with a Hero

The Day We Wanted Them All to Die

My father and I cared for a flock of sheep. 

            No, that’s not quite right:  we maintained the flock. Do not think of us as shepherds.  The term “shepherd” implies a modicum of relationship with sheep.  We did not so much relate to our sheep as coexist with them. 

            About twice a year the female sheep required a large pill to control their intestinal worms.  The males had worms, too, but they were so mean we let them keep their worms.  I wish it were that we could have stood in the pasture and had the sheep line up and come by, open a mouth, receive the pill, and move along with a thankful “baa.”  But animals don’t much like pills, and in fact will spit them out if given a choice: “Baa, baa—you know where to put your pill, smelly Skinface.  Thanks, but no thanks.” 

            Facing such a rebellious attitude, we “shepherds” had to administer the pills with a rod-like device that forcefully propelled the tablet down the throat.  

            The pill-dispensing day rolled around, a warm summer afternoon.  We needed to assemble the flock in the barn so we could easily move from sheep to sheep with the pill rod.  This is when the trouble started. 

            Sheep have pitiful self esteem, perhaps the lowest in the animal kingdom?  They never use mirrors—they just look to see what everybody else is doing–why do you suppose they’re called sheep?  One good sheep dog can easily control a large flock, because all the dog has to do is get a few sheep moving in the desired direction.  The rest follow.

            My dad and I herded the flock toward the barn door, and with a lot of “baaing,” the group headed in, a rushing river of wool. The problem was that the first sheeps (No one really believes that “sheep” is both singular and plural, do they? Get real!) that entered the barn turned left (Sheep seem prone to counter clockwise.) and circled back and out the door, of course leading all the other knuckle heads behind them.  Soon the whole crowd was back in the yard, nervously awaiting our next move.

            It was hard, but we did get them to head back in the second time—with the same result.  Now the sheep were in a frothing frenzy, non-stop “baaing”—a bleating cacophony.

            My father was a quiet man who didn’t talk that much and usually let life come to him.  But he did have a slumbering temper, and after our third failed attempt, he began to mumble, saying words that all seemed to start with “B.”   It took a good fifteen minutes to get the flock headed into the barn on the fourth try, and this time my Dad grabbed a stray wood fence post and ran to the barn door. When the “leader of the flock” started her exit-the-door move, I heard a loud “thwack” and some discouraging words as my dad brought lumber to sheep skull.  He kept swinging his bat until the thick-headed masses reversed direction. 

            I ran to help Dad shut the door.  The sheep looked no worse for wear:  you need a brain to have a concussion. We dispensed the worm control, marking the nose of each sheep after a successful pill swallow.  Emotions of all cooled, and in the end only the worms suffered.  

            I observe:  Following enthusiastic peers can get you a terrible headache.

 Next:   Loving the Orphan Lambs  

The Blog Goes Bleat

THIS is my first “bleat.” 

            I’ve chosen the word “bleat” instead of “blog,” because I think “blog” creates  a pressure to be profound that makes me uneasy, as in having to market yourself with comments like, “You should check out my last blog on global warming—really nailed it!” 

            Oh? In 300 words?

            I don’t think I could ever convincingly say, “You should check out my last bleat on global warming—really nailed it!” 

            “Bleat” is a perfect word for someone who may lack the self esteem to blog boldly, or is fearful that after about five blogs there might not be much left in the tank:  “My topic today is the fascinating story behind shoe inserts…” 

            And as a bleater, I possess some gravitas (had to get that word into my first bleat) about bleating because I grew up around sheep.

            Many people know something about sheep.  I know sheep.  I might say some of my closest friends have been sheep, but in addition to that being wacko-wacko, it’s questionable that an animal with so little mental gravitas could participate in a relationship. 

            To be sure we understand one another, a “bleat” is the annoying sound a sheep makes for no apparent reason, usually heard as “baa.”  Oh my goodness, if the woolly idiots would just stop with one “baa!”  But when you string about 40 baas together?  Take it from me—get about 75 adult sheep in a confined space, all bleating like air raid sirens, and you are on your way to a mental break.

            I’ll try not to bleat annoyingly.  Just one “baa.”  Maybe, two?

            In the next bleat I tell one of my favorite stories about sheep:  it’s full of rage, violence, and disturbing humor.

            If you have the gravitas for something so potent, check back soon.

 Coming:  “The Day We Wanted Them All to Die”