By Robin Mayes, Farm Educator
Our new little lamb at Gallant Farm has stirred memories of one I once had as a pet. We did not raise sheep on our farm, but there were still many large flocks of sheep on farms here in Delaware County in the early ‘60’s. (It is not obvious today, but in the past, Ohio had more sheep farms than any other state east of the Mississippi River.) There were sometimes “orphaned” lambs when momma ewe had triplets or if something happened to her. Because farmers were busy and male lambs were not especially valuable, they were often given over to neighboring children to raise them for market or as pets.
You can imagine my joy when Dad came home one day and told me a neighbor had a lamb that needed a home. For a kid that dragged home any supposed orphan critter for nurturing, this thought made my 6-year-old heart soar! I was not disappointed! It was love at first sight. And the prospect of feeding him with a bottle? Well, that sounded like heaven!
On our way back we stopped at Mr. Bumgartner’s. He had raised hundreds of sheep before retiring from farming. Mr. Bumgartner was more than happy to find one of his leftover lamb bottles and show me how to get the lamb to nurse from it. Because he was hungry, my little guy took to it right away. We took him home and with his full tummy, he was happy enough to hop, stiff-legged across the lawn. That was the cutest thing I had ever seen! Because I was a huge fan of Sherri Lewis and her sidekick, hand-puppet, Lambchops, that seemed the perfect name. The irony of that name never occurred to me!
As time passed and my little lamb grew into a young ram, he got bigger and stronger. And of course, as we say at Gallant Farm, RAM is both a noun AND a verb! When he began running at me with his head down it began to wear on our relationship. Because I had mistakenly thought shearing the wool from sheep was a cruel practice, I had not allowed Dad to do so. What I didn’t realize then was that it can be a relief for the animal to shed that winter coat. The wool on my sheep’s face had grown over his eyes and so I could easily avoid his head butting. That is, until the day Dad said, “Not cutting that wool out of his eyes IS cruel. We have to trim it at least.” After he had done that, and Lambchops could actually SEE me and not just follow the sound of my voice, his aim was on target!
After a couple of particularly hard hits one day I told Dad that I had decided to sell Lambchops. He looked surprised (and looking back- probably relieved, too) and said he would take him to the auction for me. I happily agreed, thinking Lambchops would go to live out his life on a farm in a large flock. Dad wasted no time and took Lambchops to market the next day. He brought me home a check for $14 which I used to buy a watch (also ironic if you know how I am with punctuality). I missed our frolicking across the lawns together, but I did NOT miss that head-butting. As my school bus passed different farms on the way to school that fall, I kept looking at flocks, hoping for a glimpse of him and his new friends. Now I know the real outcome for lambs taken to market, but I am glad that Dad never let on. He let me think my little lamb lived a long happy life on a beautiful green pasture.
I have thought a lot about Lambchops while sitting in the stall, holding our fuzzy little Tunis lamb here at Gallant Farm. Due to a few issues with his momma, he has required some supplemental feedings with a bottle. While he slurps down his baby sheep formula I take advantage of the opportunity to “snuggle” him a bit (something frowned upon by real farmers!). As with Lambchops, I know my time with “Buddy the Lamb” is fleeting. At 60, I am a tiny bit more realistic than I was at 6.
Stop out at Gallant Farm and meet Buddy. We are also expecting another lamb or two in coming days!
The farm is open 10am – 5pm Tuesday through Saturday and 12pm – 5pm on Sunday.