It was a cold windy day late in March, 1975. The snow had melted except for a few patches in well shaded areas. My flock of crossbred ewes had been lambing for several weeks. I filled the hay feeders and watched as the ewes and older lambs crowded around and started to feed. The younger lambs lay together and I looked them over before making a final check of the yard.
None of the ewes were outside and I had started back to shut them into the shed for the night when a faint sound drew my attention. It seemed to come from an old apple tree which leaned in the far corner of the yard. When I walked over I found two small newly born lambs lying on the cold ground on the far side of the tree. One was trying weakly to stand, the other lay flat, only its tiny mouth opening in an almost soundless cry. They had obviously had no attention as they were still covered with the mucous from their birth.
I picked them up and hurried to the house. They were badly chilled and needed immediate attention if they were to have a chance of surviving. Pushing open the door I carried them to the bathroom. My two young sons came curiously to watch. Finding my oldest towels I pulled my old green plastic baby bath from its hiding place beneath the sink. Filling it with warm water I immersed each lamb in turn while supporting its head, following this treatment with a brisk rubdown. I told my older son to find me a cardboard box and to line it well with old newspaper. The ram lamb was larger, darker coloured and stronger than his sister. It was his cry which had alerted me to their plight and I had hopes that he, at least, would live.
When Dan brought me the box I put both lambs into it, folding their legs under them in a natural position. I then put the box and lambs near a radiator with a towel draped over it. My five year old gently touched the smaller lamb on the head.
“Will it live Mommy?” David asked.
“I don’t know yet,” I answered. “We’ll just have to wait and see.” I knew I had done all I could, it was now up to their natural stamina to take over.
I then went back out to the shed to search for their mother. Most ewes are protective of their lambs and do not ignore them, as had happened in this case. My ram was Dorset and these lambs were coloured so I knew that I was looking for a coloured ewe. The sheep were still feeding as I moved quietly among them. Then I spotted the dark faced ewe with hollow flanks and the telltale stains of recently giving birth and knew that my search was over.
I caught her and in spite of her protests put her into a claiming pen. Upon examination I found that she did not have much milk, no doubt part of the reason for her neglect of her offspring. I carefully stripped the important colostrum into a baby bottle. I would need more and was thankful for the supply that I kept in my freezer for an occasion such as this.
When I arrived back in the house the lambs appeared to be sleeping. I removed a small carton of colostrum from the freezer to thaw. Glancing at the clock I saw that it was time to go to my father-in-law’s farm for the evening milking. I urged the boys to put on their coats and boots and we were on our way.
It was dark two hours later when we arrived back home. As soon as I pushed the outside door open I could hear the cries. Flipping on the light we all stared at the two small heads peeking out of the box. Both lambs were on their feet and their bleats of hunger were loud and insistent. “Look Mom,” my younger boy cried. “It’s just like magic.” Indeed it was miraculous to see the difference in the small creatures who had been so near death three hours before; in David’s statement a name was born.
The fight for their lives was not yet over. Heating the fresh milk I introduced them to the bottle. The ram lamb suckled easily but the smaller lamb needed some coaxing. Finally she got the hang of it. When the children were ready for bed David went over and crouched beside the lamb box to say goodnight to Magic. The next morning I took the ram lamb out to his mother. The warm bath which had helped to revive the chilled lamb had also robbed him of his natural scent and combined with her poor milk supply, she was not interested. But I put her in the head gate and helped the lamb start to nurse. There was no way this ewe would raise twins, but if she could raise the stronger lamb I would consider it a bonus. The children named this lamb “Barny” as he was to live in the barn.
By the second day I had switched to lamb formula and was fairly confident that both lambs would live. Their angular little bodies started to fill out and the fine wool to lengthen and thicken. It soon became obvious that Magic was doing better than her brother so I started to feed him also. Within a week I moved Magic to the barn and penned her with her brother. Once they were eating starter well and my sheep went to pasture I weaned them from the lamb formula. The two lambs always stayed close together when grazing.
Magic grew to be a celebrity of sorts. Barny was sold along with some other market weight lambs. Because she would follow you willingly Magic was easily halter broken. She was taken to Wellesley and shown to David’s class of Beavers. Many of the young boys had never before touched a live sheep.
I had decided to keep her and she produced her first lamb shortly after becoming a yearling. Magic proved to be a good mother. I also used her for shearing demonstrations at the local fair and Apple Butter Festival. We had her for ten years and she raised many lambs. And that’s the story of Magic, the lamb that very nearly missed her chance to survive.
Durham resident Jean Kuehn has raised sheep, goats, horses, cattle and hogs. She loves writing about animals and has written a book of dog stories entitled ‘Pawprints in My Life.’