The Last Check

One really important thing to remember, on a farm with livestock, in the spring: making that last check of the barn each night. It may be past midnight. You may be tired. You may just want to go to bed. But if you skip that last check, something very small might just develop into a very big problem.

That was certainly true a couple of nights ago, when the “last check” revealed two newborn lambs. I didn’t mention it in the post, but the outside door to the sheep area had been left slightly open. One of the lambs had tottered through it, and the mother was urgently trying to call the little one back inside. The other lamb looked ready to totter outside as well. Of course, it was dark and cold, and neither newborn had any idea what she was doing or where she was supposed to be. I retrieved the lost lamb, set her inside, closed the door as far as it would go, and used a snow shovel to bar the remaining opening. Had I not come to the barn, both lambs may have frozen to death outside.

Another example was a cold night early last spring, when we had baby chicks brooding under a heat lamp. One of the cats had accidentally knocked the cord out of the socket. I noticed it during my “last check,” and got the lamp plugged back in before the chicks froze.

Last night, the issue was again in the sheep pen. One of the ewes has been looking extremely pregnant, and ready to deliver at any time. She’s crazy big. Swallowed-a-washbasin big. And when I peeked into the barn last night, she was laying down and thrashing her leg in a strange manner. Thinking she may be in active labor, I hustled to take a closer look.

And discovered that she wasn’t in labor at all – but in a more dangerous situation. She was flat on her back, panting and grunting, trying to roll over so she could get up. Because of her enormous size, she simply couldn’t do it. I wasn’t sure how long she’d been stuck like that, but if she spent the night that way she’d likely have been dead in the morning. I grabbed her, rolled her over, and she scrambled to her feet as she joined the rest of the flock. I caught her again, confirmed she was fine (and not in labor), and then wished all the animals a good night.

That particular ewe is from a long line with a tradition of having “-belle” as a suffix to their name. One of our very first ewes was named Maybelle, and all of the “belles” are descended from her. Maybelle died last year, in lambing, at an advanced age, and we still miss her – but with the naming tradition, she still lives in a sense. Anyhow, we’d had trouble coming up with a name for this ewe…so we’d just been calling her plain old “Belle.” Last night, I finally decided on a name that would fit:

FletcherBelle.

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