Spring in the Adirondacks is a time of invigorating contrasts. We wake up to a meadow dotted with early-blooming wildflowers, only to see the brightly colored petals dotted with snowflakes by mid-afternoon. Loons and ducks send ripples across frigid gray water, while birds in the treetops perch among twigs budding in the warm sunlight. Despite winter’s reluctant release new life is emerging everywhere, even in the less-than-wild confines of our barn, where the ewes have begun giving birth to lambs.
Last week, Barn Manager Erica Burns welcomed the first two arrivals: twin lambs, born on April 16. More lambs have been born since, giving the barn a fresh, youthful vigor as the days slowly get warmer.
During a typical spring, students at North Country School are on the front lines of the lambing, playing a vital role in caring for the flock of pregnant ewes. Every morning and night, the students take turns doing morning and evening tours to make sure our eleven ewes are content and healthy. During lambing season, Level 5 students do lamb watch, a serious responsibility that involves staying in the barn at night to look for signs of labor.
“They’re essentially another set of eyes on the ewes, and it’s great when they’re able to look and say ‘This one looks a little different’ or ‘This one didn’t eat its dinner tonight,’” Erica said.
When a ewe goes into labor, the students are there to assist and learn. Sometimes the lessons are tough—it can be bad for a ewe that’s struggling to be given painkillers, so the students need to understand that allowing her to feel what’s happening Is essential to the process—but it’s always enlightening for them to witness the miracle of birth firsthand.
A ram is also essential to the lamb-making process, and this year Erica introduced a new ram to the flock. As the only black sheep of the bunch, he’s easy to spot. Erica said a couple of the older ewes tend to be bossy and they can put a young ram in its place, but the new ram is sweet, gentle, and patient. He’s fitting right in, so much that all of the ewes became pregnant, which means they like him. Those bossy ewes can also be stand-offish to people, so getting to know them requires patience and understanding—good traits for anyone to learn.
Sheep also provide camp and school with wool, which is collected before lambing begins. The wool is spun into yarn for knitting and weaving projects, and it provides roving for felting projects in our fiber arts programs. Thanks to the black ram, white and light gray yarn are now available!
By the time campers arrive, the lambs are romping around and ready for poetry readings and snuggling. It isn’t all cuddles and relaxation, though. Campers are also essential to taking care of our sheep, as they do barn chores, help move them from field to field for rotational grazing, and feed and water the flock. Every bit of help is important, and the sheep give back by providing us with food, wool, and lessons on being kind, gentle, and patient with one another, always.