I started to worry about the little lamb on Thursday, because he would only take two ounces of his milk in the morning. I had a goal of getting him to take three, five-ounce bottles per day, and two ounces was quite a shortfall. Jonathan told me the temperature was expected to fall into the 20s Thursday night, so I decided to put the lamb in the barn office, which is heated. I didn't want him burning up any calories trying to keep himself warm, especially when he was taking less milk than the previous day.
I took him into the barn office Thursday night, and since my coat already had dried pig poo and mud on it from Pearl's Big Adventure, I cuddled the little lamb in my lap, not worried at all if he peed or pooped on me. I made up my mind that I would get five ounces into him if I had to sit there all night. He'd suck vigorously for a minute or two, then stop, as his eyes would close. I'd squeeze the bottle to push some milk into his mouth and remind him why he was hanging on to the nipple. Half an hour later, he finally swallowed the last few drops of the goat milk. I laid him on an old mattress pad that I'd folded over several times. He was only a few feet from the heater, so he would stay warm.
Friday morning, I warmed up his bottle of goat milk and picked up my camera, so I could take a picture of him to share with you. When I walked into the office and saw him, I knew he was dead. He was laying on his side exactly as he had been laying for the past week, but somehow I knew the life was gone. I walked up to him and touched him. He was cold and stiff. Part of my brain immediately yelled at me, "You shouldn't have taken him out of the barn! It was too stressful to bring him into the office. It's completely foreign to him." But another part of me wondered if this was for the best. He had no doubt been suffering. A lamb should be running through pastures, not laying limply in the straw. He should be nursing from his mama and grazing alongside her, not waiting for someone to dribble milk down his throat several times a day. And it seemed the strangest of ironies that I was trying to save his life only to butcher him next summer. Then I realized that is the irony of the farm every day with meat animals. We take care of them and feed them so we can end their lives at some pre-appointed time in the future.
Over the past two weeks though, he had earned a special place in my heart. Although I had been calling him Uniball since discovering his shortcoming, I no longer felt I could call him by a name that didn't recognize his amazing will to live. In fact, it now seems terribly disrespectful to have called him that. I wish I could say that I learned a lot from this experience and that I'll be able to better care for a sick lamb in the future, but if I did learn anything new about ovine care, I haven't realized it yet. Maybe I haven't processed this enough yet to be writing about it. Perhaps this experience is like so many on the farm and not so terribly unlike watching lambs bounce across logs or play hide-n-seek behind trees -- I've simply learned a little bit more about myself and gained a deeper understanding of life. Even though I doubted myself many times over the last couple weeks, I'm glad I tried to save him. I know that this little lamb is one of those animals that I'll never forget.