Holding a lamb

The weather outside is frightful – well, it’s beautiful but cold as ______ (you fill in the blank).  There’s a heap of snow.  It coats the tree branches, making the woods look like Narnia.  The birds are hungry, and they keep flying into the window.  Why? Perhaps it’s the glare. I have sprinkled birdseed all over the front walk. I’m cozy in my yellow study/library playing with my computer, reading blogs and commenting. It is 2 days to Christmas.  I am unprepared, and I am about to write up an incident of 30 years ago.  Well, the snow’s too deep to go Christmas shopping.


A blog I like to read, Red Nose, today posted a list of 100 things she had or had not done in her life (she has lots of time, being a kid in her 50’s).  A thing she has not done is hold a lamb.  I suppose that has some relevance to Christmas – Lamb of God, lambs around the manger, shepherds keeping their sheep and all.


Well, I have held a lamb, in fact more than one.  Here’s the story.


Once upon a time I worked at the Department of Agriculture in Maryland.  I was an electron microscopist and I studied mostly pigs, but another researcher was doing an experiment in which he wanted to use lactating ewes.  That necessitated the production of lambs, which became superfluous as soon as they were born. 


The law says that government property cannot be given away, so theoretically the lambs had to be destroyed.  There were quite a lot of them, perhaps 20.  Nobody wanted to kill 20 baby lambs, so we had a departmental meeting and the boss said, “I don’t care what happens to those lambs, I just don’t want to know about it.”  As quick as you can say “Jack Robinson,” those lambs vanished from the premises.


I had a friend, Penny, who lived on a farm in southern Virginia, and she kept sheep.  I spirited away 5 lambs, intending to take them to her in the coming weekend.  That meant I had to keep 5 newborn lambs in my suburban Bethesda basement for a week before I could make the 8 hour drive, with the 5 babies and my 7 year old son, to Penny’s farm.


Of course, they had to be fed.  Often.  Very often.  They were ravenous.  With advice from the Agriculture veterinarian I got some human baby formula and five bottles.  My house was full of baas, and I didn’t get much sleep.  A lamb can empty an 8 ounce baby bottle in about 5 seconds. It’s sort of like pouring it down the drain.


One day, during that week, my nice next door neighbor, with whom I was friendly because he was Burmese and I had lived briefly in Burma, said to me, “You know, Anne, it’s really strange, but I could swear I heard sheep in the neighborhood.”


It was a long week, but on Saturday morning I loaded the lambs and a lot of baby formula into the back of my little station wagon. Ben, my 7 year old, and I set out for southern Virginia.  Every couple of hours the Baa-ing would get loud enough to necessitate a pit stop.  I would go into a filling station bathroom, get some warm water from the wash basin, fill the five bottles with formula, and Ben and I would open the back to the station wagon and feed the lambs.  We invariably gathered a crowd of onlookers.  Kids would want to pet the lambs.  I would have to tell the story.


One of the lambs got an upset stomach and had diarrhea.  I worried about that, and out of desperation I bought some Pepto Bismal at a convenience store.  It wasn’t easy to give a lamb Pepto Bismal, and although some got in him, a lot got on him, and he began to look bright pink.


As we got near Penny’s place it was getting dark.  I stopped at an outdoor pay phone to tell her we were close and to verify some turns.  I didn’t want to get lost at that point.  As I was phoning, a man began to bang on the phone booth door.  I opened it and he said, “Want to sell those lambs?”


We all arrived safely.  Penny immediately solved the problem of feeding five lambs separately.  She made a rack that held the five bottles.  They all survived.  The pink one was named Pepto, and he lived to a ripe old age


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4 Responses to Holding a lamb

  1. zuleme says:

    I’ve been meaning to write a post about cold weather dressing and we’ve been so busy shoveling that I haven’t felt like writing. Yesterday we were out shooting video of a train plowing the tracks in preparation for a steam train event next month (which we will also be filming)
    Anyway, we swear by smart wool. They are not cheap but we get them half price because we have a LL Beans outlet store. Go to smartwool.com. We wear different weights for different weather or activities but they are the only sock that has ever kept my feet warm and dry in the cold.

  2. Old Woman says:

    Thanks for that, Zuleme. I’ll get some.

  3. Well, yes. I just “met” a pair of Smartwool mountaineering socks at REI but refused to pay $20
    for them. Outlet store? I’ll find one somewhere.
    I think I want to go snowshoeing. Wanna come?

  4. dale says:

    Oh, I love this story! Somehow people’s kindness to animals, in this culture (which resolutely denies them personhood), always touches me as the purest kind of compassion, one that isn’t supported by any rules or cultural imperatives, but just rises from the heart anyway. Makes me happy.

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