This year, the very last ewe of our flock to lamb was my good friend, January, who was originally a bottle lamb in 2010. Having grown up with no mother except me, we became fast friends very quickly. She seems part sheep and part human – a goodwill ambassador to all who visit our farm. Even better, every year she daily brings her lambs to see me when they are very young, so I not only have a relationship with January, but with her entire family. It is one of the blessings of my life.
When January delivered her triplets in late March, my intent was to name her lambs for white things, knowing from the genetics involved that all of her lambs would be born white – they always are. The first lamb, a ram lamb, was immediately named Putty – no question. My intent was to name any ewe lambs for flowers, so when the second lamb was female, she was quickly named Peony – and we had only one more lamb to go.
When the last lamb was also a ewe, I had trouble thinking of any white flower besides that found on a pea. I knew it was one of those brain malfunctions that comes with weeks of little sleep, so I quickly grabbed my phone, searching for white flowers. Of course, all I could easily find listed that began with a P was peony and sweet pea. Even in my sleep-deprived state I had trouble imagining myself calling out to the flock, “Pea, come on, baby! Come here, Pea!” All I could imagine was all of the neighborhood children and their bathroom jokes at my poor lamb’s expense! Yet, the name Sweet Pea fit her so well that it stuck, in spite of our desire to begin all of the lamb names this year with a P. I convinced myself that Sweet Pea was close enough. After all, I would forever think of her as “Pea, Sweet,” which did begin with a P!
In the first days after lambing, January’s milk hadn’t fully come in to provide the quantity needed for all three lambs in such cold temperatures, so I took out bottles occasionally to supplement them as the supply slowly increased. Putty and Peony would drink hungrily from the offered bottles, but Sweet Pea would hear nothing of it! She was a stubborn little ewe who made it abundantly clear that she would rather starve than drink from any other source than her mother. Honestly, for a time, I thought she might starve. I would come out to the barn to find her standing in a corner near her siblings, all hunched up and obviously hungry and cold. Yet, no amount of trying could convince her that the bottle would solve all of her problems. She was nothing if not determined – and hungry.
Over the next week, Putty and Peony began to gain well as January’s milk came in and began to supply the needs of her lambs – or so it seemed. Whenever I would come to the barn to find Sweet Pea still standing all hunched up in a corner, I would grab the girl and push her under her mother where her udder strained with milk. Sweet Pea would seldom nurse, however. She would simply duck down and walk under January’s big belly, exiting from the other side. No amount of my coaxing could get this girl to fill up.
As the first week became weeks, I could see Putty and Peony rounding out and beginning to show growth. We put them into their first real sheep coats at about two weeks of age – but when I tried to do the same for Sweet Pea, she was lost in the coat. It took me three big pins to make it fit – and even then, the extra coat and those pins were so heavy that they flopped over and hung down on one side of her little body. It was obvious that she was still much too small for a real coat, so I put her back into one of our newborn sweatshirt coats – a teal one which did make her easier to find!
This was actually a help to me, since many of the decisions that I make for the flock at this time of year are based on the size of the smallest lamb – and this year, that is definitely Sweet Pea! We don’t move the lambs out into full-time pasture rotation or eliminate the hay in the creep area until the smallest lamb is over at least 15 pounds. Having Sweet Pea in such a colorful coat made my decisions fairly easy. I simply had to glance into the field and spot her colorful coat to determine what to do – and so far, they are still in the barn, and the lambs are still getting alfalfa hay of their own.
Yet, Sweet Pea is beginning to grow. Yesterday, I was finally able to remove the teal coat and put her into her very first real lamb coat, complete with leg straps – but I still did need one pin. She was easy to catch, and she cuddled into my arms as I carried her back to the barn where I could sit and change her coat. As I sat on the hay bale in the feeder, she calmly looked up into my eyes, and I suddenly realized that I have become attached to this little one. She looks so very much like her mother years ago when I would come out to feed her a bottle. Sweet Pea lay in my lap perfectly content to have me change out her coat – and even long after I had finished.
I will admit that this little lamb has stolen my heart – something that isn’t particularly easy to do this time of year. With so many lambs, and knowing so few will stay here on our farm, I hold myself back from getting too attached – at least until I know which lambs are our flock choices for the year. Yet, Sweet Pea has wormed her way in, in spite of my defenses. She is obviously a survivor, in spite of the odds – and I suppose we could use more of that in our flock. Thankfully, I do need another white ewe. It seems that this choice may have already been made.