The sun shone brightly over the hill as I kicked the toe of my worn out shoe against a clod of dried up dirt. I was eight years old and looking for something I could help with on our small farm. Since there were no boys on the farm, I was a daddy’s girl wanting to prove I could be his right hand man. With many things I was, as the saying goes, “more a hindrance than a help” with.
One thing I could always seem to find something to help with and one of my favorite things to do was work with the sheep. Sheep were to me among some of the most peaceful and tranquil animals. They just made me feel relaxed watching them. Except for the buck, who stayed only long enough to send some babies on the way, the ewes were for the most part rather timid. Occasionally, there was a stubborn one or two, but mainly they peacefully ate and rested.
The main time I helped with them was during the early spring in what was typically lambing time. A few weeks before lambing time, I would help dad move them closer to the house and the barn. It was always funny the way they herded. Where ever the lead went the rest went. It looked like they may be glued together sometimes. Usually if you could get the lead ewe to go in the right direction it was no problem with the rest. My dad could always throw a rock in such a way that it landed right beside the lead ewe and then rolled in a semi-circle right into the entrance of the field the sheep belonged in. The lead seemed to follow the rock and there they would be in the correct field with no trouble. No chasing for miles, as you might do with cows.
My job during laming time was to keep a watch on the ewes and if I saw them in the process of lambing or getting ready to then I was to move them into the barn and a stall. This seemed an important job to me and I took it seriously. When I could, I must make a million trips to the barn to see if anyone was doing anything. I wasn’t old enough to know the particulars of giving birth, so I felt a little sick when I found out that cute cuddly lambs arrived looking a little bloody and slimy. You learned a lot of things like that on a farm that you might not know until later. (Now kids learn them on TV and the internet, but not then) I felt even more sick when one sheep left a bloody glob laying on the grass and my cat kept trying to eat it. What was wrong with that cat?? I didn’t give him anymore kisses for awhile.
I don’t know if labor were too hard or what the reason, but often a ewe wouldn’t own a lamb. They wouldn’t feed it or keep it warm. I had mixed emotions during this time, as I felt sorry for the lamb who had no mommy and pure happiness that now it would get to stay with me for awhile. Abandoned lambs were brought to the house and put in a container and then we fed them bottles. For me it was the nearest I could get to taking care of a real baby. I would feed them their bottle, wrap them in a blanket for warmth and comfort them when they were scared. If they stayed long they began to recognize my voice. Most often in a couple of days, the mother would take back the lamb or maybe another mother would take it and have two.
During cold weather lambs would get chilled out. It was just too cold for them, or maybe the mother wasn’t taking good enough care of them. When this happened, my dad had a liquid he kept in a building out back, that was called Wild Turkey and he put a little of this in the lamb’s bottle. Often times it would give the lamb a little jolt and warm it up from the inside out. Dad said too much Wild Turkey would kill a lamb, but just a nip often helped them to make it. I saw it occur more than once. The lamb would be laying on the bottom of a container barely able to move. If you could get a little milk with the Wild Turkey in it into the lamb in a few minutes it would be moving and trying to stand up. A magic potion that Wild Turkey.
One night dad came in bringing another lamb. It had been born just before dark. It was very small he said and he doubted it would make it. He handed the container it was in over to me. There lay the cutest little lamb I had ever saw. It was so tiny, but acted so weak. Little gray colored curls lay all around it’s ears and all over it’s head. I adored it from the moment I saw it. I got a bottle and tried to feed it, but I couldn’t get it to eat much. I fixed a hot water bottle and wrapped it in a blanket and put in with it. It still seemed fairly weak. Then dad decided to try his magic elixir on it. We put a bit of Turkey in it’s bottle and I tried to squirt a little in it’s mouth. Still the lamb had not much interest in eating. But maybe it got enough in it’s mouth to help because after about 20 minutes the little lamb started to raise it’s head and act more lively.
We continued to work with the lamb and slowly it continued to improve. By morning it could stand, if you helped it. I decided to name it the unusual name of “Gurgles”, as it seemed to me that it had all the happiness and cuteness of a real baby which made gurgley noises. My dad would have preferred Daisy or Blackie or something like that, but Gurgles it was. I played all day with Gurgles and by afternoon she could move her awkward legs fairly well. Sometimes, every leg would slide in a different direction and she would slide right down on her stomach. I’d laugh and scoop her back up. She just moved so awkwardly, but she had spirit. Dad didn’t want to try giving Gurgles to another ewe as she was so tiny he didn’t think she could survive the cold weather. I didn’t mind her staying with me. We played and as she got stronger she would try to run and move her little square legs to jump. Sometimes, when no one was looking I would sneak her into my bed for a nap. If mom had of caught us we may have both went out the door.
After a couple months with Gurgles in the house she still wasn’t as big as she should have been, but she had grown and strengthened up until dad thought she could make it outside. Besides that it is difficult to keep a lamb in the house when they get big enough to play. So he took Gurgles out to a shed we had and placed her with a couple other ewes and a lamb to see what would happen. They were friendly enough with her and the lone ewe, who had lost a lamb, finally took Gurgles as her own. I was happy Gurgles had a mom, but she was still mine. I ran to see her of the evenings and hold her. She was still my cute little Gurgles and still littler than the rest.
One day I heard a crying sound coming from outside. I ran out and I heard cries of desperation, cries of fear. I stared running towards the sheep pen, but was passed by my dad, who was carrying a gun and shouted for me to, “Get back to the house!” I didn’t go back to the house, but stumbled on a few steps. I could hear the most horrendous cries coming from the pen where Gurgles was and I could see blood. Two Irish Setters, one had Gurgles in front and one had her in back and they were ripping her apart. I fell to the ground and covered my ears with my hands and closed my eyes tight. I didn’t want to either see nor hear what was happening. Silently I repeated over and over, “Please stop it! Please stop it! Let everyone be alright.” But everyone was not alright. Two dogs died and there were bad words exchanged with the neighbor. Not to mention that sweet, innocent Gurgles was gone from my life.
There on the farm I learned about the whole circle of life. Living and dying without even trying. The miracle of birth as it gives way to the horror of death. One of the hardest lessons I have found to learn in life, but one that is learned by everyone at some time. Yeah, you learned a lot there on the farm.