As a young woman I read and loved James Herriot’s books. Sometimes the stories almost made my hair stand on end as the good doctor labored to deliver stuck lambs and calves. I thought to myself, “I could never do that!” In fact, the thought kept me from getting sheep for a very long time.
Eventually, I overcame my squeamishness and helped many foals be born, both mine and those from mares belonging to a breeder friend. She also had sheep, and after watching several uncomplicated lambings, I figured I could handle that.
Wren smiles the day after her beautiful girls were born.
Fate unknowingly smiled on me when I bought my first sheep. I admired my friend’s full-size Cheviots but couldn’t find any here in the Ozarks and got Classic/Miniature Cheviots instead. Cheviots are an old British hill sheep breed selected for hardiness, easy lambing, and strong mothering instincts, so my ewes are pros at giving birth and taking care of lambs. But I do occasionally have to lend a helping hand, so as lambing approaches I make sure there’s plenty of lube in the lambing kit, and I remove my rings and file my fingernails short, just in case.
Wren takes her lambs for their first walk outdoors.
Late on the afternoon of March 24, Wren, one of my favorite ewes, got that faraway look in her eye, an early sign of first-stage labor. Then she took herself to the far side of the round pen (the small barn we’re using for lambing this year is attached to a 60-foot-diameter round pen) and began pawing up dirt to make a nest. She’d stop, listen, turn around, and look at the ground (“Where are those lambs?”) and paw again. I brought my lambing kit, a paperback book, and a can of soda out to the round pen and settled in to wait. By dusk she’d crept into the straw-bedded stall I planned to use for a mothering pen but was bothered by Nick, one of two sheep I kept with her for company. Nick is a wether (a castrated male) and kind of a big dumb boy, so he followed her around and kept getting in the way. I locked him out of the stall, and Wren got down to business.
John holds hours-old Sarah.
I watched through the gate until the water bag appeared at her vulva. When she’d settled into her nest and stayed down and started straining, I quietly crept up behind her. Two front feet followed by a nose. Perfect! I encouraged (“Here comes lambie!”), Wren pushed, and out slid a perfect black lamb. I squeegeed fluid from its face with my fingers, and when Wren got up and the umbilical cord ruptured, I placed the lamb by her face. But first I took a peek. A ewe lamb! Yay! All of last year’s lambs were boys, so I’d put in an “order” for ewe lambs this year. Wren crooned to her lamb and licked it. And licked and licked and licked.
Who couldn't love a face like Grace's?
A short while later Wren’s head shot up and she looked surprised. Stopped licking, slung herself down, and popped out another black lamb. I checked and — yesssss! — we had another beautiful, black ewe lamb.
Baamadeus is the lambs' proud dad.
Granted, I’ve assisted à la Herriot several times, but things usually go according to plan, and assisting isn’t as scary as I thought it would be. I love lambing time! We have three more ewes to go. More ewe lambs? Let’s hope! I’ll keep you posted and let you know what they have.
Sue Weaver sold her first freelance article in 1969. Since then her work has appeared in major horse periodicals, including The Western Horseman, Horse Illustrated, Chronicle of the Horse, Flying Changes, Horseman’s Market, Arabian Horse Times, The Appaloosa News, The Quarter Horse Journal, Horse’N Around, and The Brayer. She has written, among other books, Storey’s Guide to Raising Miniature Livestock, The Donkey Companion, and The Backyard Goat. Sue is based in the southern Ozark Mountains in Arkansas.