And Other Good News
by Laura Parker Roerden
I was drinking coffee while doing chores in the dairy barn this morning when the vet, Rosario, showed up. “Thank you for coming!” I said, stepping out into the frigid air to greet her, clutching my mug to warm my hands. Rosario looked up to introduce herself, offered an outstretched hand, and hit the ground hard. Her rubber boots were no match for the unseasonable slick of ice left on the slanted ground.
The morning had started badly for me, too, so I was sure she might be hurt. I ran to her side to help her up. But she rose nimbly, brushed herself off, and then took my outstretched hand, “What? No hat in this weather?” she chided as we shook hands. I laughed.
She was there to provide a certificate of health for the ram we had on loan from a farm in New Hampshire that we are planning to return this weekend. You can’t bring an animal across state lines without one. There are so many things you realize you have no idea even exist until you jump into something like raising lambs. “Who knew?” is a familiar, if humbling, refrain for me.
As she examined Theo, she gave me advice and made positive comments about the condition of the barn: “Be on the lookout for hoof-rot. Once you have it, you won’t be able to get rid of it,” she warned. “But I can see from the condition of your bedding that you’re not likely to have it. Things look very well-kept here.”
“Aren’t you beautiful, Theo?” she coo’ed to him.
“He’s just the perfect weight, too. We rate them on a 1 to 5 scale and he’s a 3–exactly where we like to see them.”
Pride started to raise in my chest. I felt like I did when the pediatrician would tell me I was doing a great job when my children were babies: like someone had handed me a life-ring, which also meant she could see I was barely still treading water. The sheer kindness of the comment washed over me like a wave; I was surprised to tear up a little.
We chatted while she worked, updating the shots for our other two female lambs, giving me advice on lambing. “Can you tell if their bred,” I asked?
“No. Not really,” she answered.
“Oh, well,” I sighed, as I listened to the litany of signs. “They’ll bag out about six weeks before, though that’s notoriously unreliable. You’ll also notice lengthening in their vulva, and they’ll stop eating too.”
“Just like a cow,” I offered, trying to appear at least somewhat knowledgable.
“Yes, exactly,” she said. “But there’s one sign that’s always reliable,” she offered.
“There’s this ligament on the top of their tale that is taut like a pencil on either side. Just before they lamb it softens,” she instructed, taking my hand to feel the hard ridges. Once I found it, she described the jelly-like feel I’m looking for, equating it to the way our own hips became slack just before we gave birth.
“All animals have it,” she added for good measure. “It allows the hips to open for the baby to pass through the birth canal.”
“Ok, I’ll just keep an eye on them and then when I think they’re close, I’ll check the ligament,” I summarized.
“Yes. That’s a good way to handle it.”
“I have an ultrasound machine in my car. We can tell for sure if they are bred. Do you want me to get it?” she suddenly offered.
“Yes! I do,” I gasped, realizing immediately what she had done in holding back that critical information. She was putting herself out of a job by teaching me to do the work myself. She was reminding me that farmers deliver babies, trim hooves, give shots. She was, in fact, telling me not to call her.
As she retrieved the ultrasound from her car, I talked quietly to the lambs. “We’re going to find out if you’re going to have a lamb, Juliette.” And then it hit me: we’re going to find out if we are going to have lambs.
The ultrasound screen lit up with white halos around dark valleys, as she depressed the handle along the side of Juniper first. Things were moving; I thought I saw something round. “See that circle?” she asked.
“Um. I think so.” I squinted.
“That’s the lamb,” she said.
As she pressed the wand deeper into Juniper’s abdomen, something flickered. “And, there’s the heart-beat.”
This morning, I had seen the first blue bird of the season. Now I know assuredly that Juniper is going to lamb sometime this spring. Juliette is expected to have twins. Only time will tell how lambing will go, but I’m off to buy gel, rubber gloves, and a stethoscope to assist in their births as instructed by Rosario. For now, the bluebirds are back.
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Laura Parker Roerden is the founding director of Ocean Matters and the former managing editor of Educators for Social Responsibility and New Designs for Youth Development. She serves on the boards of Women Working for Oceans (W20) and Earth, Ltd. and is a member of the Pleiades Network of Women in Sustainability. She lives on her fifth generation family farm in MA.