Charlie and Daisy

March 30, 2009 by Ellen Stimson in Baby Lambs, Springtime, Vermont. New England

We do not live on a farm. We live in a high end little picturesque village in Vermont filled with people who moved here from somewhere else. Most of them came from Manhattan and more than half live here only part time. But we live off a little lane up a hill from the historic village center, backed and wrapped by a forested and protected knoll, and so our chickens and critters are more of a hidden secret. But these lambs have brought up some questions because you see, we are not farmers. Most of what I know about farming comes from the See and Say I had when I was about one. I know what sounds the animals make and I know roughly what they produce, sheep-wool, cows-milk, like that.

But I don’t know what it means when a lamb coughs. I don’t know the diseases of sheep and how to treat them. I do not know how to mend a fence, or to keep the lambs from eating the little irises that are just pushing their sweet little green heads up out of the cold dark earth. When my friends Karen and Jack brought their little dog Madeleine for supper the other night and she decided to chase the chickens, I knew that chasing her would only excite her more. I knew that and still I chased her and screamed. Stories with dogs chasing livestock, especially older animals like our chickens, often have very bad endings. The chickens were clucking and scared out of their wits, Madeleine was agitated and couldn’t hear her name let alone respond to a lie down command, and I was running and yelling like a fish wife, sweating and coughing, being chased by two frightened baaa-ing baby lambs, and finally running smack into my friend Jack who looked like he might have a heart attack at any minute. Eventually somebody nabbed the dog, and the chickens flew into their house, and the lambs got bottles and rocked, and all was again right with our little world. None of this was the dog’s fault. It was the fault of the non-farmers who should have never let a strange dog into the yard where it might be enticed to molest the livestock.

And so, should we really be considering keeping these little lambs? We don’t even have a barn. We have a fancy chicken house that looks like something some silly yuppies who wanted blue eggs would build. There is a coop out back where we could expand and add a place for the sheep. But it will cost a bundle to heat and side and insulate etc. And there is a fence around part of the smallholding but it too is mostly just for show. It will need shoring up. And we’ll have to fence in the garden. Sure the lambs are only fifty bucks apiece, but the rest will be well into the thousands. And we like that our dogs and cat and chickens hang out with us in the yard. Will the sheep? Because at the rate they are downing these bottles that is what they surely will be, probably sooner than later. Charlie can jump three feet straight into the air. It is like watching the Christmas Rudolph cartoon, only the live stage show version. He runs sideways kicking up his heels behind him and twisting and turning in the air like a little circus lamb. He is the epitome of a spring baby animal feeling fresh. He is joy in a wool suit. He runs circles around Daisy as if to say Look at me, I am a RAM! He may only weight five pounds, but he is destined for 300 and he wants you to know that he knows it.

For once I am trying not to control the decision. I am trying to just be with these little creatures and let the group decide or maybe even the lambs. I have long coveted a cow. But are we ready to abandon the idea of the Vineyard for a big hunk of the summer? What do I know about cows after all either? Everybody has the right to begin and to learn something new of course. Is that what I am aiming at? Have I secretly decided I want to be a farmer, even boutique sized? Do we want to have to hire a caretaker with the expertise of a shepherd or a dairy farmer when we travel? Will these little guys come when we call them? Charlie already follows me around just like the Mother Goose rhyme promised he would, but will he when he weighs a hundred pounds? How about when he gets to three? Who will trim their hooves? Do they have books for this sort of thing? Who will shear them in the summer? Is this really what we want to be doing in our middle years? And what about that year in Italy…..the questions are piling up.

These baby lambs were a surprise. It had been a while since we got a big surprise in this family. It was welcome and sweet, and we responded and are happy and glad. But now the next bits cannot be a surprise. We must decide and plan or it will surely come to a rough end. Last night when they were curled up in front of a spring fire, after being given their bottles and a little warm bath, they looked like an old oil painting come to life. Their black noses were outlined against all that white wool and their eyes were heavy with a milky sleepiness. The curled around one another and baaed and cooed quietly to sleep. The beauty of the moment took my breath. I will always remember these little lambs and this wonderful spring. But soon some decisions are going to have to be made….


  • Mighty Morphin' Mama

    Oh my gosh, they are so cute! But, yeah, big commitment!
    Hope you are soaking in that spring sun and it is warming all those chilled and shadowy places left over from the winter.
    Take care,

  • laurwilk

    My opinion is that of someone who only knows the bits and pieces that you share on here. But, as a farm girl, I would recommend to stick to the fostering and only the fostering.

    As wonderful as farm animals can be, they are also a lot of work. And cows? While some (especially those who are bottle fed calves) can be sweet as can be, they don’t always end up that way. And then you have a thousand pound animal who is ornery and pesky and really just a lot of work/energy without a lot of benefits. They’re not snuggly, they’re not playful. They want to eat whatever they can eat, they get out of the fence and end up in the middle of the road, and you stand there with a stick trying to get them to go the other way while they pay you no attention.

    And maybe, if you really think the farm life is appealing, spend the summer helping out at an area farm and learn a bit about livestock animals. If you still think it’s something you want to invest the time and energy into, then I would go ahead with it.

    Or, potentially you could look into helping out an organization such as Farm Sanctuary (there are lots of others) which ensures that you get to spend time with animals but at the same time ensures that you can give them back if need be.

    Dogs/cats add extra responsibility and make vacations/last minute excursions difficult. Farm animals create exponentially larger responsibilities. And what if everyone else in the family gets tired of feeding a lamb/cow every morning – especially in the freezing cold Vermont winter when feedings are (typically) a twice daily chore? And the chore of scooping stalls of frozen poop in the dead of winter! Oh, lordy!

    Well, wow! It seems I have some opinions on the matter. I must be holding in some sort of resentment to my parents for those 6:30 AM freezing cold mornings spent feeding cattle and the hours of scooping frozen horse shit as punishment for missing curfew!

    Best of luck with whatever you decide!

  • Kate

    Keep them. Live dangerously.

  • Heather

    Ummm, honey? Your barn doesn’t have to be heated or even insulated all that well. That’s what those nice wool coats are for.

    And there are years of retirement ahead in which to perfect your farming skills. As you keep telling me, why can’t you have it all? Just maybe not all this week, all at the same time.

  • Katiedid

    There is lots to think about. Too often people get new pets, (sometimes even kids) with little or no thought to how they will fit into the family.
    These are real decisions. And what you are teaching your kids is how real decisions, the kind that effect others and daily life, really get made. You think and you try on an idea and you decide. I am betting on the lambs…

  • GutsyWriter

    I just found your great blog. I think you know the answer. Perhaps you’re in the honeymoon period. All babies are cute, but then you have the “teenage,” years to deal with. Do you have the energy to start that again? And is it for fun or for money?

  • Casdok

    Difficult one. But am sure will work out somehow. Things do dont they?!

  • Molls

    You have lots of questions and worries which leads me to think this is not a love match for you. Enjoy this bit and see where you get. They are a happy distraction. Enjoy them and if when May gets here you are completely in love the decision will be made. But if you aren’t then it will have gotten made another way

  • Abigail Mae Hudson

    What a perfectly lovely way to celebrate spring.
    Don’t worry. You will know.

  • Crystal Jigsaw

    Hi there, I have been directed here by Casdok. You have a lovely blog and I enjoyed browsing through and reading this post in particular.

    Myself and my husband are sheep farmers in Northumberland, bordering Scotland. At the moment, we are getting through lambing 230 ewes and each one is a joy. They are giving us many healthy lambs, ours of which will be sold next year.

    Lambs only stay cute and scenic for a short time. In another few months it is doubtful they will be able to sit by the fire. They will need to be outside in the freshair. Sheep are a lot of work and a lot of expense in vets fees. The list is quite endless as to how much attention they need. They are also very tying and I suspect your trip to Italy will be postponed unless you have some very nice neighbours who will take care of them. Your lambs will be fully grown within 9 – 12 months and next summer will have to be sheared in order to keep maggots from eating them alive. Not to mention to keep them cool.

    We run our farm as a business but our sheep are extremely time consuming. Together with the 230 breeding ewes, we also have 9 tups (or rams if you wish) plus around 30 old ewes we no longer use for breeding. On top of that, by the end of this season’s lambing, we estimate a total of around 500 lambs.

    They are actually lovely creatures. But they are nervous animals and won’t be too keen on having an over-active dog running about! We would be well within our rights as farmers to shoot any wandering dog we see in our fields if we felt it was upsetting our livestock.

    Crikey! I hope I haven’t bored the pants off you!! Apologies for going on a bit but it is a huge commitment, however rewarding if you intend to breed. I am currently updating my own blog with our lambing season.

    Best wishes,
    CJ xx

  • GutsyWriter

    The move to Belize is in a memoir I’m revising. I hope to get an agent by the end of the year. I decided to do snippets about life in Belize as I go along. The first is in my latest post. Are you writing a book too? How old are your kids. My bio explains the move. Thanks for stopping by.

  • Anonymous

    Why not? What’s the worst that could happen?

  • library lady

    Why not make adopting two orphan lambs an annual spring ritual? You keep them and have all the “Awwww” moments and then when it’s time for them to be sheep, take them back to the farm. It’s good to see all the new readers your lambs have brought you!

  • Dana

    I’m not a new reader. I just usually don’t comment.
    But here’s my question. If you don’t keep them will they go to market?

  • Caroline Turner

    Me too. I love reading about your good essays about life in rural New England.
    I have never felt like commenting before, but must now.
    If the lambs adjust to your family and seem happy there, do they get a say? When we take on these creatures what is our responsibility to their wants and needs?
    I am not judging just wondering if these are things you are thinking about

  • Drew

    Look ladies if their moms died and nobody bottle fed them so would they have died too. So this is giving them at least a spring and part of a summer.
    They are likely raised for meat. And unless you wear plastic shoes, carry plastic purses and eat no meat, it is hard to condemn taking them to market.
    Mrs Paproth good luck. Seeing bottle babies off to market is hard. But I am grateful for the people who do it and raise these animals with integrity in gentle loving environments.

  • starrlife

    I vote for the annual fostering. There might be one along the way that grabs you enough so that you keep it but might as well dodge that one if you can! Is it too late?

  • Texan Mama @ Who Put Me In Charge

    I like what Laurwilk said. I think this first year should be a fostering year. Think about it like when students at a school do a garden project. They don’t build one at home to sustain their family… they make a practice garden at school first! I think these first lambs should be your “practice lambs”. If you really love all the responsibility that comes with them, you can work out the details.

    Is there a farm nearby that could house them if you decide you can’t do it? Or, maybe, could you board them the way people board horses?

    Just some ideas.

    And, I grew up in St. Louis. My whole family is there. Of course I know Edwardsville too. I used to live in Carlyle, IL before we moved here. Do you ever go back?

  • Jacquie

    I grew up with sheep. The lambs are fantastic, but sheep are hard work. They will break down any fence you can build. There is always something on the other side that looks better than what is ion the inside. You will get good at mending fences.
    And that little ram is going to be very familiar. Even after you get him fixed he is going to ram you every chance he gets and when he is full grown you will feel it too. They ram you out of love and wanting more grain and because it is spring and and and. Bottle babies get very familiar and at 2 or 3 hundred pounds this is less of a good thing than you might now imagine

  • Dreams and Designs

    Wow, so very very cute though! I am clueless but it sounds like lots of work to me! But then again, so do a lot of things you do so who knows!?!? 🙂

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