April 9, 2020…
He didn’t need to utter a word. I could tell by the pained look on my husband’s face that something was terribly wrong.
“It was a stillbirth.”
I cried harder when I walked into the barn and saw the perfect, little, brown Babydoll lamb lying motionless in the hay.
April 12, 2020…
“Come, quick!,” yelled my husband. “It’s happening.” I ran like a crazy fool to the barn only to just miss the birth of twin lambs, Henry and Henrik, from our second ewe, Hanley.
We watched as Hanley eagerly began showering her first lamb, Henry, with big, sloppy kisses.
But she didn’t seem to notice Henrick, the second lamb still lying in the hay. So, wearing gloves, we brought the other newborn to her nose. She half-heartedly licked Henrick a couple times and then turned away. From then on, she wanted nothing to do with him.
We waited until morning hoping she would allow Henrik to nurse. No luck. So, we filled a bottle with colostrum and began feeding him.
But it wasn’t easy. Every time we went out to the barn, it was like playing a game of “Where’s Waldo”. Once Henrik got stuck behind the hay feeder and then I found him curled up with the male sheep in another pen.
Fearing for his safety, that evening we snuggled the lamb into a cardboard box and carefully placed him next to our bed, hoping to make those midnight feedings a little easier on ourselves.
Sometime between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. the next morning, Henrick passed away.
More pain. And more tears as I write this wondering if there was not something more I could have done to prevent his death.
I know, you’re probably thinking they are just lambs. But my heart broke anyway.
After five months of waiting, I was eagerly anticipating our first births on the farm, this grand milestone of achievement as a shepherdess.
Death was certainly not in the script I had imagined.
But I should have known better. Nothing I have done on the farm (or in life) has gone according to my carefully made plans.
The truth is when you sign up to become a farmer, the agreement clearly states in big, bold letters that you are also signing up for death.
We have lost ducks to foxes and chickens to a ferret. We have had chicks drown in their own water and we had to kill our previous rooster when it nearly clawed out one of neighbour’s children’s eyes.
I have lost hives to human error and the long, cold Canadian winters. And, of course, there are the multitude of plants that have perished under my care.
And then, there are the purposeful deaths. This year, we will be raising our own meat chickens. And these ram lambs I wept over may (I say “may” because I have not yet been able to eat anything I’ve raised) have one day ended up on my dinner plate. Males have a tough life on the farm.
So here I sit writing to you…contemplating life and death, which are never too far from each other here on the homestead. And, although it is to be expected, it’s not easy. Taking a life or witnessing a death never is.
And this heartache makes me want to scream and cry and pound the dirt, throw my hands up in the air and give up.
But I haven’t yet and I don’t think I ever will. Because homesteaders and farmers, we are not only tough, but, we are full of eternal hope and gratitude.
We learn from the painful experiences and we assure ourselves that next year will be better.
We give thanks a million times over for all the blessings we do have and then we dry our tears and we grab our feed buckets and carry on to the next task knowing there is no other life we would rather live.
And so, I have said my goodbyes, I have buried the losses and I will press on taking joy in watching Henry annoy my ewes as he happily frolics around the barn showing everyone just how high he can bounce.
There is still life on the farm, my friends, and it is beautiful.