Spinning, Knitting, Crocheting, Organic Gardening, Living off-grid, and chasing sheep - because- I'm, like, NOT SANE!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Cute Litte Long, Hairy Legs....a success story

bandit's lamb 006I have about a four year incubation period before what I learn becomes what I know. Just thought I'd spread a ray of false hope for those of you who may have shared some great wisdom with me and are biting your nails waiting for it to 'take'. So, when the time came about a year and a half ago for us to really fundamentally change our farming ways and begin to make some final shifts into the people we wanted to be (as opposed to the people we hoped/thought/wished we were), a previously planted pearl of wisdom from a couple of years before showed itself. This wooly mass is our own 'Bandit'. You can't tell much about her, here, other than that Cotswolds are safe-loving creatures. Some have asked before why we don't post pics of shearing. Well, there are two reasons: 1. that requires pre-planning and organization that is beyond our ability since we are usually catapulted from winter to spring in such a brash fashion that we barely know our own names by June. Still, we manage to plant a 3/4 acre garden so lighten up on us - eh? and 2. because Cotswolds despise cameras! They just don't trust them. They blink, beep, and look deep into their souls - all the things that frighten the daylights out of any wise sheep that has managed to evolve and adapt for such an incredible length of time. Here, Bandit is clearly saying, "leave my baby alone!" Of course, she's not going to stop munching the fresh green grass to do that so she just 'plants' herself in the way.

bandit's lamb 010Baby? What baby? Well, this one slipped by us and was born on a chaotic, crazy morning a week or so ago. We just went down to the barn and there she was. I was relieved and afraid at the same time. She's very small. My heart wanted to say, 'aw, that doesn't matter', but my head was saying, 'this is not good'. Why? That bit of wisdom I mentioned earlier. When we bought the herd, the woman we got them from was in great need of finding them a good home. She asked us to take them all and explained that any that were left were going with the 'dealer' that afternoon. Gah! The heart strings were much easier tugged in those days so we loaded the whole troop and brought them home. One particular ewe stood above the rest, though - literally! She was tall, gorgeously beautiful - big, lashy eyes and long legs with fine hair on them. I picked her out and remarked about her beauty and the woman looked at the ground and said quietly, 'she was my husband's favorite - or else she'd have been gone a long time ago'. I was so excited that day, bringing home all these wonderful, gorgeous sheep, that I failed to derive the hidden meaning of that statement.

bandit's lamb 008Turns out, her senses were pretty accurate. The sheep she pointed out to me have turned out to be top notch, good sheep. The three she didn't seem to care for were all sold when we decided to scale back a year or more ago and reduce down to our very best herd, breed them, and start building our own flock of great wool bearing sheep. One of them was this doll-eyed ewe. Sure, she was good looking. But, the winter she came to us she had no surviving lambs. Bandit showed us why the following season. It seems that she was unwilling to let Bandit nurse. Not unable. I checked her udder, expressed some milk so her teats wouldn't get sore (for which she kicked me MANY times), and even resorted to holding her down so Bandit could drink. Still, every time Bandit would try to nurse - she'd kick her down and run away. It is so disheartening to see a mother without the desire to love her child. Still, she was very, uh, beautiful (notice the fading sentiment here). Bandit thrived through the generosity of the other ewes and the frequent bottle feeding we provided, thus, her name, 'Bandit'. She was the masked avenger who stole in when a mom was busy eating and nursing her own lamb, grabbed that unoccupied teat, and got herself some food. Still, traditional schools of thought say (and, unfortunately are often right) that a lamb or baby mammal whose mother will not feed it will not learn or possess the instinct necessary to feed their own babes in the future. That was a troubling thought as Bandit wove her way into our hearts. You see, here, that she dispels such nonsense - feeding her babe freely in the field.

bandit's lamb 007'Doll-Eyes', however, continued to ferment that seed of inflection in her previous owner's voice that I originally mistook for the understandable amount of disdain one in her situation (messy divorce) would have when speaking of the soon-to-be-divorce-from that summer when she proved that she would and could break any fence (or just walk over it) and that she really preferred to eat from the garden over having to walk around the exert herself eating grass. Her beauty remained but her personality began to show the defects that occur when one believes they are the best and only reason for anyone or anything to exist. She didn't really get along with the herd well, her wool quality was in the 'eh, not bad but not really good' category, and she expected to be doted on. Her twin (our beloved #2) was just the opposite - good mother, good wool, nice disposition, very friendly. Go figure. So, when it came time to decide who to keep and build our own flock from - Doll Eyes just didn't seem to have much going for her beyond that fabulous bod. Another tragic tale of the never understood burdens of being Barbie, I suppose. Technically speaking, we shouldn't have kept Bandit, either. But, I held out for her based on the fact that she struggled so hard to make it and that her aunt, good ole #2, seemed to be adopting her - good signs. Sometimes, the heart strings are tugged for instinctual reasons - or at least that's what I'm saying now because I appear to have been right in feeling so strongly that she had great promise. Pic note: "Hmph," baby says, "I don't get what the great fuss is about going out for grass - you mean they really pick this stuff over milk?"

bandit's lamb 004Still, a ewe who has to steal her milk is already starting out with a deficit. I noticed some signs that she was not thriving so I started her on mineral supplements and a liquid vitamin/electrolyte mix. She gained well after that but she remained very small. I worried. I wondered if I'd done the right thing for her. And, somewhere along the way, I totally fell in love with her. She just had such a spirit. I decided that we'd keep her just because she's sweet and she has great wool but that we wouldn't breed her. Cotswold lambs can be quite large and I couldn't see how her small frame could bear that strain. Apparently, separating her from the ram did not work. Even in the best of times, it seems that at least once or twice during breeding season, the ram winds up being in the wrong paddock or pasture area. How a 300 lb. animal with testicles that nearly drag the ground can jump a 4 ft. fence is beyond my imagination (and, curiously, something I don't really wish to see) but I guess when you've got a whole room full of women in heat you may just believe you can so truly that you make it happen. So, at 2 yrs. of age, it seems Bandit was bred. I worried some more. Pic note: "Gee, Mom, you really like eating this stuff?" And, below,"Okay, I'll try - oh, look, my shadow!"

bandit's lamb 005Then, there was 'Nixie'. Nixie means little water sprite and that's just what this little cutie is - all bouncy and happy - even if she's 3/4 legs and ears and 1/4 actual body. She runs the field with the best of them. I am relieved, thrilled, and , you guessed it, totally in love with her. I know, I know, it's still early yet but she seems to be doing great and Bandit is surely loving being a mom. #2 stands off to the side sporting the grin of a proud Auntie. We're calling it a success story because the entire journey from the day we left their former farm to this day - we've learned so much with/from/and about these guys. bandit's lamb 001 Sometimes it's been through tears, sometimes through great, deep belly laughs, and sometimes through what I can only describe as a draft of dumb luck and accidental magic - but I wouldn't trade it for anything. It is really a daily exercise in living with the results of your actions/choices. That sometimes makes it frightening but, when you see cute little long hairy legs bounding after their mums in the field, you just well with warm fuzziness - it's the drink that sustains you for the times when your heart is in your throat and you want to bang your head into a wall. Pic note: "Nah, I'd rather just follow you around and have some milk while YOU eat that stuff!"