We were all holding our breath.
“Come on… push girl… PUUUSH!” pleaded Josh our livestock manager, pulling hard on a slippery lamb dangling limply from the backside of her mom.
“Lamb? Are you still alive?”
None of us were sure. And from the guttural and wrenching sounds mom was making, I didn’t know if she was going to make it either. While on morning chores, Rich and Kate had discovered her only minutes before, laboring heavily, pawing at the ground, lip curling upward with each contraction. And as soon her baby began to emerge, we saw the reason for her outsized strain: instead of a snout framed by two black hooves, the ideal birthing position for a lamb, all we could see was a snout. Both of its front legs were tucked back creating a logjam at the shoulders and preventing it from slipping through mom’s birth canal.
“We’re going to lose your lamb if you don’t push!” Josh said again, having successfully coxed one leg forward but anxious at the slow progress.
“I’m AM pushing,” answered Rich, in his best indignant mamma sheep, an attempt to cut our collective anxiety as we watched from a respectful distance at the edge of the stall.
Too nervous to laugh, we held our breath as a lifeless-looking lamb finally slid onto the hay.
My hands were shaking as I took in the scene: mom, bloodied and breathing hard, my classmates whispering, “good job” and monitoring the baby for signs of life.
Then with one gesture, the mood shifted. As if there had been no excruciating birth, no human hands probing her insides, mom turned to look at her baby – a little girl. Sides still heaving with contractions that would deliver the afterbirth, she began licking, starting near the lamb’s tail and moving quickly up to her wrinkly neck, clearing away the translucent and glistening birth sack from her eyes and mouth.
The lamb’s back legs finally began to flutter. Ten long minutes later, tiny bleats emerged from the straw and the knot in my stomach eased. Within an hour, the lamb stood and took her first awkward jabs at mom’s utter in search of a belly-full of milk, something she had never had but instinctively knew she needed.
This was the first of three births we witnessed this week, each different, fascinating and miraculous. After watching all those lambs sputter to life, I feel like I should have a well of profound observations to offer. Instead, I’m simply left to shake my head and marvel at the wonder of it all.
A mother’s drive to care for and nurture her baby . . . A baby’s inborn ability to go from living underwater to standing on all four legs and suckle a teat…
“How do it know?!” These words from Dina’s grandfather, Irv, echo in my mind along with his mock childlike amazement at the cycle of life he loves to watch play out on long walks along the seashore.
This weekend, Dina came to the farm for a brief visit on Friday and won the lambing lottery when she witnessed the third birth – a beautiful and uncomplicated delivery. And the most vocal newborn I’ve seen.
Grinning with her whole pregnant body as we walked out of the sheep barn afterwards, Dina’s eloquence rivaled her grandfather’s.
“Go Mammals!” she said.
Go mammals indeed.
And the rest of the week’s photos can be found HERE.