I wondered why Rose was not moving to the pole barn. After a second, over the howling noise of the wind, I heard an ewe baaing a high-pitched call of alarm and stumbled toward the sound. Ten or 15 yards to the side of the pole barn, the lights illuminated a beautiful, if haunting scene.
A ewe was lying on her side, clearly in labor. Snow was crusted over her wool coat and was beginning to drift over her frame. I saw Rose looking away from her at a little mound moving under the snow.
At first I thought this curious shape might be a raccoon or stray dog or fox, or some other animal struggling through the snow. As I got closer, I saw it was a newborn lamb, still glistening with fluid, shivering in the snow and cold.
I was frozen for a brief moment by the awful beauty of the scene. Rose moved quickly to head off the lamb, who was going uphill.
I knew—she also did, clearly—that a newborn lamb out in a storm meant almost certain death. I had heard stories of farmers finding lambs frozen to the ground.
I also knew that if she were separated from her mother for too long, the ewe would reject her and refuse to give her milk. The lamb would either die or have to be bottle-fed, a difficult and laborious process.
The lamb stood braying at Rose, perhaps thinking she was her mother. Rose seemed to understand that this creature was frail. She did not bark, charge, or nip at her.
Rose stood her ground gently in front of the lamb. She held the lamb in position until I could scramble up the hill, get my arms around the little creature, and then start to make my way back to the barn.
Rose did not need any commands. She stayed behind with the ewe, who was still lying on her side, struggling. The mother seemed ill to me, as if she might be dying. It could be anything—the birth, the cold, internal bleeding. The sheep farmers would often talk about “SSSD”—Sick Sheep Suddenly Die, and it was often true. A ewe would be sick in the morning and dead at noon. The vets never really knew why.
I got the bleating lamb—hungry and calling out for its stricken mother—into the barn, into one of the straw-lined stalls, and put the heat lamp on. I wiped the lamb off with a towel, gave her a vitamin shot, cut the umbilical cord, treated her with iodine, rubbed her roughly to get her circulation going, and squirted a thick vial of lamb’s milk into her mouth. She stood, shook herself off, and cried out for her mother.
Out in the storm, I heard the ewe’s weakening and pitiful replies. In the animal world, the strongest instincts are always those involving mothering. As Rose would learn, even the most docile sheep would turn into a lion if she thought her babies were being threatened. So if the ewe had been well, she would have been up and frantically searching for her offspring.
When I had the lamb as settled as I could, I went out and back up the hill. The storm was in full fury. My fingers and toes were already numb and aching, my glasses instantly frosted over with ice and snow, and I could barely see five feet in front of me. I had to take my glasses off to see at all. I found Rose and the ewe right where I had left them. The ewe was still on her side, breathing but silent, and Rose was standing right over her, looking down.