It was a small mistake, really, born of wishful thinking. On the farm, small mistakes often have fatal consequences.
In past years, I’ve always penned our new mothers up overnight with their guard-donkeys when the does and ewes are having their babies. Baby goats and sheep are very vulnerable, especially during their first 24 hours. Compared with human babies, the goats and sheep are precocious — they stand up within a few minutes of birth, walk within half an hour and run the next day.
But a sheep that can’t run is known to coyotes as “food.”
When the birthing began three weeks ago, I didn’t shut the pen the first couple of nights. The grass is green and growing and the moms were out feeding at first light every day. If I penned them up they would have to wait for me to let them out on the fresh grass. I might not be there at first light. My insomnia might go into remission.
The second night of lambing we had five lambs on the ground. The next morning there were four.
Worse, in a way, was the loss of another of the pen’s residents. For three weeks a mother goose had been incubating her clutch of eggs on top of a big bale of hay inside the sheep pen. She hissed at us as we walked through. Her husband stood guard just outside the pen every day, then disappeared at night to his own quarters somewhere.
That morning she was gone and I found bloody eggshells along a path that led from the haystack to a wet mat of her feathers in the pasture.
And it was all my fault.
I must admit that I took some solace from the thought of a warm pile of coyote pups asleep in their den with full bellies under the bank of the creek, half a mile away across the pastures.
But the next night I pushed the sheep, the goats and the guard-donkeys into the pen and locked the gate.
Photo by Bryan Welch