(Get to) know thy neighbor

We know our immediate neighbors. For the most part, it’s us.

We’re fortunate that our farm includes property across the road and on both sides of our house. The farm also includes significant stretches of road frontage, which means passersby can easily see what’s going on in certain pastures. Our road isn’t usually busy, but traffic includes anything from milk trucks and manure haulers to cyclists and non-farm neighbors.

Lots of cyclists pass by the farm on weekends.

Our sheep spend most of the year on pasture – not because that’s the only way to raise sheep, but because it works for us. In late spring, we keep the ready-to-lamb ewes in pastures that are near the house so we can check them easily. During one pasture check, I noticed a ewe that had started to lamb but wasn’t making progress. I knew she needed help, and fast. I caught her, carefully laid her on her side and used my leg to steady her in that position before ‘going in’ to assess the situation. It wasn’t pretty but it worked. Just as I figured out the lamb’s position (and mentally outlined a plan), I noticed a car that had pulled off the road. Since people often stop to watch lambs playing, this wasn’t too unusual.

Uh oh. The car wasn’t idling. For a brief moment (very brief), I considered the mini-dilemma: which was more important – explaining the situation to the woman (who had clearly stopped to watch the show) or the health and well-being of the ewe and her unborn lamb? No question. The ewe was #1; the woman could wait. I manipulated, pulled gently, manipulated again and within about 20 minutes, I was able to get the lamb out. It was huge. I cleared his nostrils, rubbed him briskly with a towel and tickled his nose with a blade of grass to help him sneeze out the rest of the lung gummies. He snorted a few times and was fine. Whew. Then I noticed that the woman was standing outside her car for a better view. It occurred to me that if I had driven by a sheep pasture and saw someone catch and straddle a sheep, I might be a bit curious myself. After about 15 minutes, I held up the lamb and shouted, ‘he’s fine!’ She watched until the lamb stood and nursed, and seemed relieved with the all’s well report. She smiled and drove off.

Tickling newborn lambs' nostrils helps them sneeze the lung gummies out.

What if the scene had been different? Lambing (or calving, kidding, foaling, whelping, etc) doesn’t always turn out ok. What if I had pulled out a dead lamb, which is a distinct possibility with a first-time lambing ewe trying to push out a large, single lamb? What do we say to our non-farm friends and neighbors when ‘stuff happens’?

I can’t explain everything, but what helps is having an open barn policy of sorts. That doesn’t mean people are free to wander in whenever they want. It means that if friends or neighbors are interested in the animals, I take the time to show them. If people pull over to watch lambs playing, I’ll stop what I’m doing and talk with them. If I have to explain that a certain animal is in a pen being treated for (whatever), I remind them that people get sick too, and when an animal is sick, we do whatever it takes to bring them back to health. I also remind them that the work we do every day – in every kind of weather – keeps our animals comfortable and healthy.

A group of teachers participating in 'Ag in the Classroom' learns about the role of livestock guardian dogs. Inviting educators to the farm pays off - teachers learn from farmers and pass that information to students and their parents.

One often-asked question is 'why do some lambs have green marks on their backs?' The answer is 'after they were born and before they came in as bottle babies, I color-coded them so I'd know which lambs came from which ewes.'

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