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Signs of spring: New life

Corrected and updated April 6, 2021

Although lingering patches of snow lie on the ground, the redwing blackbirds are noisily coming to town, bears are coming out of hibernation, and baby animals are being born. It’s spring!

Bonnie Chandler of Prospect Hill Road holds a baby goat. (Photo by Tim Clark)

The other day at Bonnie Chandler’s Fairlea Farm on Prospect Hill Road, a 4-week-old kid, about the size and weight of a house cat, straddled my arm. Its little heart beat strongly, while my other hand stroked its soft white, tan, and black coat.

Little buds on his head felt like the emerging crowns of the garden’s perennial plants poking through the earth. The garden crowns will be daylilies, the buds on the kid’s head will be horns, if they aren’t nipped soon. With a facial expression of infinite wisdom and total acceptance, his golden eyes with their rectangular pupils stared off into the distance, tolerating a stranger’s contact. He was visibly more comfortable when passed back into Chandler’s arms.

Set down on the ground, the kid entered the little barn looking for his mother, while a set of triplets watched. By the looks of some of the other does, brand new kids will soon be joining this sociable nursery. Although the kids get sustaining milk from their mothers, Chandler periodically gives the kids some milk from a bottle so they bond and relate to people.

This is the best time of year for kids to be born: warm enough that temperatures aren’t life-threatening, but too cold for the parasites that cause infections. Chandler said it is exciting to see the newborn kids and to witness the does’ instinctive love and care for their babies.

Over on South Shaker Road, Judy Warner’s eight lambs are learning about the world as the ewes swirl around their babies, offering milk on demand, gently nuzzling and inspecting them, pretending we are not around. “They go to you; you don’t go to them,” Charlotte Vallaeys—Warner’s neighbor—said.

Vallaeys explains that sheeps’ eyes have rectangular pupils, like goats’ eyes, which give them wide-angle views to the sides. She adds that, according to her reading, grazing ewes may appear to be randomly positioned throughout the pasture but, in fact, they are positioned in such a way that, collectively, they can see a predator from any direction, providing matriarchal guardianship.

Liam Kemeza and Herdy the lamb after a supplemental bottle feeding session. (Photo by Jen Manell)

Within an hour after birth it is critical that the lamb stand up and find its mother’s udder to nurse, but sometimes it’s necessary to supplement with a bottle. Soon the lambs begin tasting grass that contains the microbes necessary for gut health, and later, they eat the hay and grain their mothers eat. They get a little salt as well. Warner and Vallaeys are watchful for behaviors, such as crying, that may need human intervention, particularly around feeding and overall health. Eventually the lambs wean themselves off milk, or their mothers may vigorously encourage them to do so.

As Vallaeys and I were leaving the pasture, our backs to the animals, the smallest lamb came trotting behind us, bleating. Looking for the bottle of milk, I suppose. We turned. I bent down to look into its innocent face, the sound of its bleating going straight to my heart.

The trees will suddenly leaf out. The sheep will give up their fleece, clip the grass and maintain the pastures, partake of the apples that will fall in nearby orchards, and the lambs will grow.

In spite of everything, nature’s seasonal renewal has come around again, offering consolation, health, and rebirth we desperately need.

Goats find the photographer interesting. (Photo by Tim Clark)

Editor's note: This article has been corrected and updated. The original article included a wrong name for Bonnie Chandler’s Fairlea Farm.

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