Cold and Snowy Decembers


Farm Notes

In my humble opinion, cold and snowy Decembers are the absolute BEST. December is my birth month, so my favorite memories of this time of year are when we had plenty of snow for my birthday.

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Every year, I would invite my closest friends for a sleepover party. We’d spend nearly the entire time outside in the snow. We’d hike a mile or so to get to the very best sledding hill. There is nothing in the world quite like a perfect sledding day! If there was enough snow—and the snow plow driver was kind enough to make a big pile at the end of our driveway—we’d build fantastic snow forts.

Kristin would dig the first tunnel and was famous for how quickly she could punch through the icy snow. Shawnda was in charge of snow removal. Sue and Tara were always pushing the limits as to how many “rooms” we could build in the snow pile, without risking structural integrity. After what seemed like hours, we’d spill back into the house. Our woolens were heavy with ice, our cheeks red from the cold, and our sides sore from laughing. We were so happy!

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Cold and snowy Decembers are still the absolute best, despite the fact that I’m not having sleepovers and building forts with my pals anymore. Now, I am tending to lots of sheep and goat moms and their babies, even if it is my birthday.

Every morning throughout lambing and kidding season, I check for newborns that might have arrived overnight. One wintery morning, I found a mother ewe, Bella, cleaning and chatting with one small newborn baby lamb. An older but healthy and experienced mom, I immediately suspected Bella might have had more than just the one. (As with human babies, singles are always bigger than twins, and especially bigger than triplets.) Bella’s little girl was suspiciously small, so I searched around the barn for a sibling. Trying not to disturb the other sleeping moms and their babies, I eventually found not one, but two other newborns.

Did all three belong to Bella? No other moms were paying the least attention to these other newborns, nor was anyone calling out for them. I brought all three babies to Bella and allowed a moment of sniffing and talking. Bella recognized two of the babies, but not the third. Ok… now what? Could this third belong to someone else? I proceeded to check for other new moms. This “check” involved a lot of looking at sheep butts. Not to be gross, but I was looking for trailings, fresh blood, and swollen “bits”—in other words, signs of a recent birth. (I know how jealous you must be! My job is very glamorous, indeed.)

After examining every sheep’s rear end in the barn, I concluded that Bella must have had triplets. Triplets! It doesn’t happen very often on our farm, perhaps only once or twice a year. And it was a first for Bella. Except in her opinion, she only had twins

I proceeded to put Bella and her babies in a “jug,” a small temporary pen to encourage bonding. She wouldn’t allow the third newborn to suckle, so I milked out just over an ounce of colostrum for baby Peep*, as I now call her. I fed and watered Bella, and left the four of them to rest.

Unfortunately for Peep, Bella never warmed to her. I now bottle feed Peep three times per day. Since I do not have a ready supply of sheep’s milk, I’m feeding her regular cow’s milk with an egg whisked in for added fat and protein. (Sheep’s milk has roughly twice the protein and fat found in cow’s milk.) Peep now thinks I am Mom and follows me everywhere.

As the cold and snow continue throughout December and into the New Year, I’ll send Christmas cards to my old friends and thank them for the great memories. Maybe I’ll go sledding with my daughter, Margaret, who loves snow about as much as I did as a kid. And for my birthday, I believe you’ll find me red-cheeked in the cold barn, happily checking sheep bums!

*As in “Bo Peep”!