I’ve mentioned Ursula the sheep in blog entries before this one, particularly Such a Pretty (Sheepy) Face and A Typical Day in the Life of an Atypical Writer. She’s a cute, small, but zaftig Classic/Miniature Cheviot who belongs to my friend Lori Olson of Boscobel, Wisconsin, though she’s lived with us in the Ozarks for several years.
Raised as a bottle lamb, baby Ursula went to work with Lori to get her meals on time; she grew up to be queen of the porch swing and husband Mark’s companion in the tractor cab when he worked the fields. Ursula is not your typical sheep.
And she grew up to make beautiful babies of her own, both for Lori and, since coming to stay with us, for me, including twin ewes Izzy and Jacy (Izzy is mom to this year’s winsome baby, Black Aliss) and a gorgeous young ram named Aries, whose birth I described in A Typical Day in the Life of an Atypical Writer.
However, I always worry about Ursula as her lambing dates approach. She’s not my sheep, and well, she’s Ursula. What if something went awry? I couldn’t live with myself if she died.
So after Aries’s birth I said no more lambs for me; she’s a pet until she goes home with Lori. Then last December, drat, I spied her standing by the ram pen asking the boys to come out and help her make lambs. I couldn’t help myself: I shut her in a breeding pen with Rumbler for two days.
Four months pass. We’ve had two easy births, and then came Arthur. I start thinking (hint: I tend to obsess), Ursula’s really fat; what if her lambing goes bad?
I begin balancing her diet: a carefully measured amount of chopped alfalfa to supplement pasture, a handful of grain, constant access to the mineral tub, a bowl of dried blackberry leaves every day. Ursula is not amused. She wants quality and quantity. The weeks tick by. Her lambing date draws near.
Ursula’s due dates are Friday or Saturday, June 10 or 11. In theory lambs are born 137 to 158 days after conception, but in practice 147 days is the norm. A few days prior to lambing, Ursula usually begins showing all the symptoms of impending labor, including a dropped belly and full-to-bursting udder. She’s restive and increasingly solitary on the day she gives birth and delivers at or shortly after dusk. She lambs on her due date or one day before or after. She is, in a word, predictable.
A few days before her due date this time, Ursula’s udder is still rubbery, and she’s perfectly round, though nowhere as huge as her usual pregnancies. What gives? John and I are scratching our heads; is she pregnant or just fat? I begin checking her udder multiple times a day and twice a night (did I tell you I tend to obsess?). Is it bigger? Firmer? I can’t tell!
On Friday morning, her due date, yes, it’s slightly firmer! It continues slowly expanding, and by Saturday evening it’s half filled. I tell myself that if she continues at this pace she should lamb on Monday evening — but I keep on checking her every few hours.
Sunday morning at 1:00 a.m., I check again. Ursula heaves herself to her feet and lets me feel. Her udder is still only half filled, and she’s lying in the stall among her friends, chewing cud. She is not in first-stage labor, so I can sleep till morning, no problem. I stumble back to the house and fall into bed.
At 6:00 a.m. I’m getting a drink of water when I glance out the kitchen window and spy a group of sheep lined up outside the building staring at something in one of the stalls. Ursula is not among them. I rip on my clothes, grab the lambing kit, and race out the door.
Ursula and her tiny black lamb Dixie Moon
Ursula is smugly nestled in a pile of straw with a perky black lamb curled up beside her. The lamb is semidry, and its ears are standing up; it’s been here for an hour or more. It’s tiny! I pick it up and turn it over. Yay, a ewe! Ursula watches me clip and dip its navel; then I carry it around the corner to the mothering pen, and Ursula follows. I mentally name the new addition Dixie Moon, from a line in “Heart of the Night” by Poco. I’ve wanted to call a kid or a lamb Dixie Moon since we moved from Minnesota to the Ozarks. However, our breeding prefix is Wolf Moon. Wolf Moon Dixie Moon? I don’t think so. But Ursula’s lambs carry Lori’s prefix: Misty Glyn Dixie Moon — that’s nice!
I check Ursula’s udder, and it’s still quite flaccid, but she has thick, yellow colostrum for the lamb. Dixie crowds under her mom and immediately grabs a teat. She’s already nursed!
After all that worry and a hundred trips to the barn, I wasn’t needed at all this time. Ursula tricked me into missing her final lambing.
Ursula smiles. “Gotcha!” she says.
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.