A lesson about the love of raising sheep

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There are days here on our farm that I can feel the jolly presence of my wonderful grandfathers. When I was a toddler, my maternal grandfather decided his four little granddaughters needed the experience of bottle feeding a lamb.

We had the dairy farm, we had the time and the love to spare, so he figured it was a happy and fitting gift.

I wish my dad could tell this story, because he told it so well. To say he was skeptical of the gift seems a bit of an understatement. Four tiny lambs arrived at our busy farm.

Bubbles, the lamb

I named mine Bubbles, and wanted this lamb to sleep in my bed with me at night. My dad just shook his head, as if to say, ‘why is this happening to me?’ (This is where my father would insert a statement about Bubbles likely having earned her name by frothing at the mouth, carrying some deadly disease that just hadn’t been discovered by science yet. Each time this story was told, those sweet lambs lost even more of their charm and innocence.)

Veterinarian visits

One by one, each lamb required a veterinarian’s visit. There were sleepless nights and crying daughters. There was a whole lot of worry and sweat equity on our father’s part, along with a vanishing ledger. After losing two, my father, who said he knew less than nothing about sheep with no desire to change this negative pool of knowledge, made the decision the remaining two needed to go.

He was hoping to at least break even, because the ‘free’ gift was costing him dollars and his own good sense. He called a livestock hauler to take the sheep to an auction barn.

A few days later, he received a bill for $48. Not a check, but a bill. It turns out one of the ewes died on the way to market, so there was a carrier fee, plus a removal and caretaker fee upon his arrival at the auction barn. The one surviving ewe, which happened to be Bubbles, was considered underweight and they could not get a bid on her. This unhappy turn of events carried a small fee, as well.

So, my maternal grandfather and my dad’s grandpa Charlie both had a few chuckles about this over the years, as my dad quietly grumbled about what a great gift this had been. Lamb farm. Both grandfathers were respected farmers, with Charlie lambing big numbers every year. He sold lambs to young farmers in the area, and Charlie’s flock was revered as one of the very best around at that time. That early experience didn’t stop me, as it had my father, from wanting a flock of my own.

The fire

We had an impressive start on this one year ago when our barn fire took all that we had.

Starting again

With the lucky break of a fellow wanting to cut back and retire, some wise purchases and a gift from a wonderful Farm and Dairy reader, we have a starter flock, and the good feeling of beginning to get back on our feet.

Each day, one Dorset ewe finds her way out of our east pasture. It is always the same one, and the only one, and she so sweetly looks around every nook and cranny of our farm. One day she walked right up the sidewalk as though she were coming for a cup of tea. She holds her head high, as sure of herself as the queen bee.

The Dorset

Doris the Dorset is now known as ‘that dang Doris’ by my hubby, and our English Shepherds simply do not know what to make of her.

The dog

Billy has stopped barking at her, but stays quietly by her side, keeping a close eye on her in case she decides to bust any of her comrades out. She is not unruly, just a curious ewe with wandering on her mind. Billy patiently waits for one of us to save the day, and he quietly nudges her along.

When the gate to the pasture is opened, Doris quite willingly goes back in with the flock, and they all rush to welcome her back, their cries loud and clear.

Billy comes back to the porch for his dog biscuit, and he always looks as though he wants so badly to say a few things about Doris the wandering Dorset. He graciously accepts his treat and lets out a heavy sigh, relieved his job is done for another day. Doug grumbles and shakes his head, just as my dad would surely do if he were here.

The memories

My grandpas Charlie and Henry feel as though they aren’t all that far away, as I pet Billy and praise him for a job well done.

Doris the Dorset is a little ray of sunshine, in or out of the pasture. I feel a rush of joy, multiplied by two ornery grandfathers, no longer here, but with me just the same.

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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.

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