Soay (a domestic breed of primitive sheep, originating on an island near Scotland and believed to date back 6 million years) have darling lambs. About the size of a house cat, the lambs are curious, cuddly, and cute to the core. After watching to make sure both lambs had suckled, we dipped their navels in iodine and put mother and babies safely in the sheep shed.
My recent history with lambs is not good. (See 2/24/13 blog entry, http://www.lifeisthestoriesyoucantell.com/1/archives/02-2013/1.html) Over the past several years I have seen many more lambs die than I have seen live. My heart hesitates to love them because it hurts so badly to lose them…..and I have lost so many. Still, Soay are supposed to be a hearty breed and I had high hopes for these youngsters.
Tuesday both lambs were healthy and strong. My hopes grew.
Wednesday morning both lambs were still healthy and strong. My hopes soared.
Wednesday afternoon Grace called me as I was on a bus bringing a group of students home from a cross country skiing field trip. She and Miles had stayed home from school that day, afflicted by the gunk that is going around. “Mom,” she started, “The Soay ewe broke out of the sheep shed and took her lambs into the pasture. Miles happened to look out the window and saw the ram (male sheep, 70-ish pounds, horned) butting a lamb. We ran down and stopped him. The little ram lamb that he was hitting was bleeding from the mouth and nose but we cleaned him up and he seems to be doing fine,” Grace assured me. “But Mom,” she continued, “the little ewe lamb is dead. He must have killed her before we got there.” An all-too-familiar sinking feeling dropped into my heart…..another lamb dead “We put the ewe and her son in the empty chicken coop,” she reported. After reassuring me that the remaining lamb was okay—he was nursing and walking without problem—and stating that she and Miles were checking on him every 15 minutes, she hung up.
Heart-numb, I wondered, again, what more I could have done…… I had secured the ewe in a safe spot, away from wind, rain, and wild rams. Why had she broken out? Why had she led her lambs into danger? And why had the ram attacked them? What threat were they to him? I had never heard of a ram attacking lambs before. Why did I always have to learn my lessons at the cost of a lamb’s life?
When I got home a few hours later, I went straight to the battered lamb…..and found him lying inert in the hay. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I picked up his nearly lifeless body and held it close. His head flopped listlessly over my arm, his eyes were rolled back in his head, and his little mouth was stone cold. NO! NO! NO! This could be happening again.
He was, however, still breathing and I could not let him just die. I had no hope for his survival; I had never brought a lamb that was so far gone, back to life. Never. Experience told me there was no hope. And my heart gave me the same message. I had hoped so many times before, had held lambs, had prayed for them, had sobbed over them…..and had ultimately lost them. Hopeless but not heartless, I desperately began doing all that I could to save his life.
I cornered his mother, milked her (which involved a wrestling match in the manure), and brought the lamb inside. Bottle beside me, I sat on the floor, my back against the wall, and held the little lamb next to me—right next to me. His body pressed against my abdomen and his legs curled up in my lap, I pulled my fleece vest over him. He was entirely covered, except for his little, listless head, which I propped up on my arm. Periodically, I forced the bottle into his mouth and dripped some milk down his throat; sometimes he swallowed it and sometimes it just pooled in his mouth until it spilled over onto my leg.
And there we sat, for over an hour. He showed no signs of recovery and I had no inklings of hope. His breathing was ragged and raspy and the wounds in his mouth opened a bit, turning the milk I was trying to feed him pink. I knew the lamb was gone but was determined that he would not die alone. It seemed that we were both just waiting for him to die in my arms.
Then he started to shiver convulsively; his little body beating violently against mine. Were the shivers a sign of recovery or the beginnings of death throes? Still I held him close, pressed against my body, covered by my fleece vest. Still I waited for him to die.
After shivering for nearly an hour, his body relaxed. Was this the end? He continued to breathe. Still hopeless, stilI waiting for him to die, I held him close for another hour, pressed against me, covered by my fleece.
Then, after sitting together on the floor for nearly four hours, the lamb lifted his head and opened his eyes. I felt his mouth and found it warm. Warm! We snuggled together for another 30 minutes as signs of life began to gradually return. His eyes were alert, he held his head up, he suckled on the bottle. Then he bleated. Bleated. “I’m back,” he seemed to say.
I put him on a heating pad and covered him with a blanket. Within a half hour, he was up and walking about the kitchen. His prospects were improving but there were still so many obstacles in his way, so many places his fragile life could still be lost.
By this time, it was 9:00 p.m. The best place for the lamb was back with his mother, who was out in the barn, but after-dark conditions in northern Utah in February are not ideal for a lamb recovering from a beating, shock, and hypothermia. Many questions remained. Would his mother accept him back? Would he be strong enough to look for her udder? Would she let him nurse? Would he succumb to the cold again? Realistically, his chances for survival were still slim.
Grace and I took him out to rejoin his mother who greeted him warmly. We watched for another half hour while she nuzzled and nursed him. So far so good but still not out of the woods…….
I checked him again at 10:30 p.m., 11:30 p.m., 1:00 a.m., 3:00 a.m., and 5:00 a.m. Each time I found his eyes alert and his mouth warm. He lived through the night and the next day and the next night….and is still alive this morning. Against all hope, against all odds, the little lamb lives.
Why? Why is he alive?
Love. I love lambs, all of them. And because there was love, there was hope, though I did not recognize it at the time. Where there is life and love, there is hope. Sometimes we are the ones who are held tightly and snuggled under a coat of kindness; sometimes we are the huggers, wrapping others up in compassionate coats. Love is the common denominator. God loves His lambs……all of us. As long as there is life, there is hope……….for all of us.