Sustainable steps

Singing Adele helped keep cold lamb alive

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This winter has been colder than I can remember. My permanent clothes are four layers topped off with heavy Carhartt coveralls and big heavy Sorel boots. To get chores done, I need two or three pairs of mittens, one to wear out while the other heats up in front of the little milk room heater. When I collect the eggs from the hens and need to reach under to check for eggs, I leave my hand in there to warm until the hen complains.

Just getting through the day to day chores has brought me close to tears many times. Due to freezing, eggs need to be picked up more times through the day and water checked frequently. Because of the cold, the mistake made this summer was also made worse. The ram was left in with my ewes too long and there was a bit of a free for all that resulted in all my lambs coming in December and January. I generally like to lamb late so it is warmer and I have less loss due to freezing cold temperatures.

One morning my son and I went to feed and check sheep and we both saw right away that there was an ewe giving birth and that she was possibly in trouble, but due to the deep cold, 9 degrees at the time, we were both hoping and pretending that we really wouldn’t have to do anything. As we came closer to finishing, I knew the ewe needed help, and knew that would involve someone stripping down to their t-shirt and reaching into this ewe and getting a lamb out.

Trying to hold back the tears, I quickly tried to think of a reason why it should be my son, Silas, and not me, I knew I was grasping at straws but turned to him to point out that he was younger when he quick said to me, “Your hands are smaller.” I stripped down and got the job done and put mom and the huge baby away in a lambing jug and climbed into the truck to warm up. Two days later, I was doing the afternoon check and found a new lamb lying flat on the ground, cold weak and floppy. I tried rubbing, coaxing and propping, but the lamb gave very little response. It was soon apparent that this situation was going to require more intervention.

I needed to get them back to the main barn at Sunnyfield, so I called my husband and he came and helped me get the mother into the back seat of my truck, while I put the lamb in my lap. From past experience, I know you need to keep the lamb interested in being alive. The stories told of swinging newborns around are not that far-fetched; a response is needed even if it’s anger!

I was driving through town with a full-grown ewe baaing at me from the back and her non-responsive baby in my lap I was rubbing. I wanted to do more, but had to concentrate on my driving so I decided to sing at the top of my lungs while patting on the lamb. What better song than Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep”?

So driving across town, patting and singing, with “baaing” in the back, I managed to annoy the lamb enough to stay alive. I unloaded the mother at the main barn, but decided to take the lamb home to administer anything else that might help. I got a blanket and laid her next to the woodstove, gave her an injection of selenium — New Hampshire soils have little or no selenium — and a symptom of selenium deficiency is a weak and floppy lamb. After that, I sat and rubbed and kept turning her, hoping to get any kind of reaction. Her eyes were not opening, she was making no sound, and not trying any kind of movement at this point.

After an hour with no change, I even gave her the drug I find either kills them or saves them: dexamethasone. And 20 minutes later, I still had a limp lamb next to the stove, so I went into the living room to tell my husband, Dan, the sad news that I was going to lose my first lamb. I had tried everything I could think of. I had just gotten the appropriate sympathy going from Dan, when I heard a thump from the other room followed by a very weak “baa.” I ran to check and, yes, she was moving and making noises. It is a very bad idea to take a baby lamb from its mother, as she will soon forget, and then often rejects a baby that you are trying to return to her. So despite the bitter cold, I needed to get Adele back to her mother.

The next morning, I hurried to the barn, and found both mother and Adele doing fine. That is the story of how Adele lived and got her name.

Ruth Holmes is one of the principal farmers at Sunnyfield Farm, a nonprofit community farm in Peterborough.

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