Lambing: the time of year when all the ewes you bred back in September/October start popping out their babies, heralding a sweet hope for spring.
Lambing: a season of profound anxiety, where cups of coffee and sheep checks in the night intermingle into a strange glowing orange blur, where decisions become a battle between urgency and patience, where new life brings you constantly face to face with death.
Lambing: the time of year where I probably feel most like a farmer, where my gut instincts are good, when handling animals feels like a thing I know how to do. Also the time when I feel the most doubt about being a farmer, where the gaps in my knowledge become most evident and glaring.
Last year, lambing felt like a celebration and a discovery. I was figuring out that I wanted to be a farmer, I was beginning to claim the word as something I could use to talk about myself. We had some difficult births, and the times when we succeeded felt symbolic, probably too symbolic. One lamb we had wasn’t breathing at birth, and I noticed, and, for lack of any other option, attempted to do lamb CPR like I had read about in one of my sheep-keeping manuals. I got it completely wrong, but in the process, managed to clear the lamb’s airway and he started breathing. We called him the Boy who Lived. Everything felt significant. Everything we were doing was right and good, and we were learning every step of the way.
This year, everything is different.
The season started with struggles. One of our most troublesome ewes, that we have tried and failed to get rid of for the past two years, somehow prolapsed her uterus a week early. We got it back in, and thought she was going to die, but gave her a chance. A week later she passed three dead lambs, and now she’s got mastitis. Troubles upon troubles.
Our dear original dairy goat, Mommy Rockstar (named by the dear boy when he was four), followed this past Sunday. She had gotten a knee injury in the fall, and so the pregnancy has been very hard on her, and her kids needed a little hand getting out into the world. The smallest one died, we think of a birth defect or pnemonia, maybe both. The other two are looking good, but her milk hasn’t really come in so we are bottle feeding.
Since then, we’ve had some good lambs born. The maternity ward of lambing pens is full, the heat lamps are on, we’ve been giving shots and docking and tagging. And it’s funny—when I started writing this piece, the direction I was planning on going was talking about how I have personal struggles with feeling or not feeling like a farmer, and how this year, the struggles have deepened what I even think that means.
But now, now that lambing is going in earnest, and we’re doing bottle feeding shifts and the barn checks aren’t just expressions of anxiety but actually are discovering new lambs or ewes in labor, and all the shit about being a farmer or not feeling like a farmer doesn’t really matter. Because we are doing it, ready or not.