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What was the first job you had? Was it a job that helped shape your views?
One of the first ‘jobs’ I had growing up was helping in the lambing barn. After all, I had convinced my dad to keep the ewes, so it was now part of my responsibility to help with the extra work and rewards of breeding them.
We would split lambing checks, with mom and dad doing them during the day, while we were at school, my sisters and I doing them after school and in the evening. I would then do the early 6 am check before school. I was the morning bird and enjoyed the quiet of the barn in the morning. I was also usually late for Spanish class once those checks started. Sorry, Ms. Hofts.
Those years of caring for the ewes taught me a lot about life. The natural cycle of life and death happens readily with sheep. And it is a hard lesson to learn, but one that brings understanding to the rest of life. But it also taught me that life and birth and death is natural. So many times we try to step in and adjust life to make things more convenient for us. But many times all we do is interfere and nature adjusts. The best example of this I can remember was with one of my first ewes (mom sheep).
It was chore time that afternoon, and one of my ewes already had one lamb almost born. We picked up the lamb and led the ewe into the maternity ward, where she would have her own pen to bond with her lamb. I continued to watch her as it finished chores around the barn. I knew she was carrying more than one lamb, but she refused to settle down and have it. Eventually we all left the barn and went back up to the house, deciding to go back in an hour and check her. In that hour she settled down and had another lamb. I made sure it got up and nursed well, and returned to the house. The next check she had another lamb! She ended up with 4 lambs that night, but every time we were in the barn, she would act as if nothing was going on and shut labor down. She needed her space and time.
The biggest lesson I learned in the lambing barn was when to step in and help and when to just leave the ewe alone. 95% of the time the ewes had the lambs just fine on their own. As long as none of the other ewes were bothering them or it wasn’t super cold, they did quite well in the pen until the lamb was up and had nursed. Then they could be moved to their ‘private room’. The other 5% of the time was the critical ones, where the ewe just wasn’t going to have the lamb on her own. Either the lamb was positioned wrong, or the ewe was just too exhausted, usually, but she needed help.
Distinguishing the difference in the two was tricky in the beginning, but with time and practice, it became easy to spot the births that were off, or not progressing as they should.
When I started having my own children, part of me wondered why something so natural was so medicalized. But it was what everyone was doing, so I followed suit. Later I learned there was a different more natural approach, and I was all for it. I just wanted the same space and respect I had given all the animals in my care.
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