just born lamb

Ovine Passover

As the curtain falls on autumn, the icy cold of winter grips the landscape. The morning began bright and sunny, with a fresh crispness in the air. Sugar coated fields sparkled in the sunlight as we trundled along the narrow country lanes towards Pablo’s farmhouse. His two guard dogs signalled our arrival with loud, ferocious barking. Like a call to arms, the canine population of the whole village echoed their support.

Alerted to our arrival, Pablo ambled across the courtyard to welcome us. A stern command from their master reduced the dogs to silence and before long, peace and harmony were restored to the village.

‘Come look at this,’ said Pablo excitedly.

He opened the gate and marched quickly across the lane; Melanie and I followed. Facing us was a small, stone-built stable. Its weathered granite walls were patched with bright-green mosses and the old mortar had long since washed away from between the stones. An old wooden door sat awkwardly in the entrance, held closed with a looped piece of wire hooked over a rusty bent nail.

Pablo released the wire and slowly opened the door. A feisty sheep darted its nose into the opening. Instinctively, Pablo pushed it back into the stable with the palm of his hand.

‘Come quickly,’ he whispered.

As he entered he flicked a bakelite switch on the wall. We stooped low and followed him through the doorway. The dim glow from a low-voltage bulb revealed a small flock of sheep huddled against the far side of the shed. The space was cramped and the air inside felt warm. On the ceiling, dusty cobwebs hung between thick wooden joists. Underfoot, clean, dry straw formed a soft, spongy-carpet.

As Pablo stepped slowly towards the flock and the sheep parted nervously. Standing in one corner were two newly born lambs, feeding frenziedly from their mother. Their long woolly tails wagged with excitement as their heads jerked backward and forward, gulping down their mother’s milk.

Sitting silently in the opposite corner was a third, looking lost and alone. For reasons unknown, the mother of this cuddly new born lamb had rejected it at birth. Pablo walked calmly across the stable and picked it up, holding it firmly under one arm. He turned and brought it back to show us.

A tiny bundle of flesh and bones held together in an oversized coat of close-cropped wool. I extended my hand to stroke its head. Instinctively it tried to suckle on my finger. A soft, warm and toothless mouth sucked away on my index finger, but to no avail. At the time, this rejected and forlorn creature was just two hours old and faced an uncertain future.

Two months on and Pablo has taken on the roll of surrogate mother. His wanting companion follows him around the village like a faithful hound and is never far from his side. Uncharacteristically, his whole family have become emotionally attached to this cute little creature. Pablo’s daughter has even given it a name: Missy.

Missy’s future is now secure. When the butcher’s knife is sharpened, this family favourite will be passed over. Rejection at birth has brought this little creature a long, productive and happy life on the farm.

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