Mothers of All Stripes


Farm Notes

In early February, we had a sheep give birth to two lambs, one female and one male. As is my practice, I placed the new babies and their mum in a special pen with lots of clean bedding, food, and fresh water. Mum was doting on both babies and doing all the things a good mother should be doing—or so I thought! 

Over the next 24 hours or so, I checked on them regularly, refreshing mum’s water and bringing more food as needed. In my busy, semi-distracted state, I mistakenly thought that both babies were being lovingly attended to.  

The next morning, mum and her baby girl were doing very well, but the newborn male was flat out and very cold. He clearly had not been feeding and I had missed it. He had exhausted all of his energy reserves, and now had an internal body temperature around 90° and was unable to lift his head. He looked like a real goner. With no one to blame but myself, I scooped him up and brought him into the house. 

As much as I try to avoid this type of situation, it does happen from time to time. And over the years, I’ve learned when they are too far gone to save. But something about this little guy’s plaintive cry told me that he wasn’t giving up, so neither did I.  

The best way to warm a chilled lamb (or baby goat) is in the kitchen sink, in a bath of warm water with plenty of rubbing to stimulate circulation. It is not unlike thawing out a frozen roast, taking lots of time and patience. We have a large farmhouse sink that has seen its fair share of baby animals over the years. I refreshed the bath with more warm water as needed, and kept the little fellow’s head elevated as I worked to raise his internal temperature over the next hour or more. 

When he had warmed up a bit, I dried him using an old bath towel and a hair dryer. I snaked a tube down to his stomach and gave him a small amount of energy replacer and electrolytes. 

The key to saving a chilled baby is getting their internal temperature to near normal (101-102F) before introducing milk. Patience and luck both play key roles. A few hours after finding him in his sad state, I was tubing a few ounces of milk into the little one and hoping for the best.  

Now, several months later, little “Lazarus” (as I like to call him) has grown to be quite the handsome young ram and follows me wherever I go. He recognizes me as his mother, of course! 

I bring this all up because Mother’s Day is a wonderful time to celebrate mothers of all stripes. Sometimes, they’re not biological mothers at all, but rather friends, coaches, teachers, and neighbors that serve as role models and caregivers. These often-unsung heroes among us can have a small but powerful impact, sometimes delivering assistance or guidance at an especially critical time in a young person’s life.  

Teachers and school staff, for example, recognize when a student is falling behind or needs encouragement to rise to a challenge. Much like my role as shepherd of our farm’s flock, educators and coaches have to keep careful watch over their students and recognize when someone needs help or special attention. While this is nothing new per se, it is a large and sometimes exhausting (if not discouraging) part of their job. When they have too much on their plates, they too can miss important signals. (Honestly, do not get me started on teacher salaries!) 

It is also a good time to remember that as adults we have the opportunity (and I would argue, the imperative) to have a positive impact on kids’ lives when we can. This may take the form of volunteering, joining the PTA, or even running for the local school board.  

But it can be even simpler than that. Our online or in-person behaviors and political discourse are seen and heard by children every day, whether we realize it or not. Raising our standards and expectations of community and civil communication demonstrates to our children that we care about one another and our “flock.” 

Like that little lamb who needed swift attention at a crucial moment and is now thriving, there are kids in our communities that need to see positive role modeling. I truly believe each of us can contribute, mothers or not!