You will see me using the phrase, “Shepherd Like a Girl!”, frequently when it comes to Copia Cove Icelandic Sheep. Read more to learn all about what that means to me!
What’s a girl to do?
My first seasons lambing, I had zero hands-on experience and 101 bred ewes ready to pop! As if that wasn’t enough of a challenge, I was the single mom of my 2 year old daughter, Madison, and I was still breastfeeding. Also, I didn’t have anyone to help me with my daughter or lambing. Yikes!
Discovering How to Survive, and Thrive
Lambing is stressful enough without the added pressures of being a good mother and shepherd, and doing it all solo. I took a little trial and error, but it all came together in the end, with a lot of intention, determination, and support. I really had to prioritize my “situation”. I had to decide who’s needs, that of my sheep, my daughter or myself, needed to come first. It was a dynamic performance to say the least! Here’s what happened…
During lambing season, an entire month in duration, I had to take things one day at a time. Breaking things down into small, digestible bites was the only way to make it through this thing. Having somewhat of a routine was paramount and benefited all of us (me, my daughter and the sheep). Set-in-stone events each day included three sheep checks, three meals for my daughter and I and my daughters nap-time and bed-time routines. Optional events included my shower, my full 8 hours of sleep, and my downtime. Come to think of it, there was no downtime for me, so scratch that one!
As I said before, priorities were constantly shifting between mine, my daughter’s and the sheep’s. It is such a delicate balance because if I’m not nourished and energetic then I’m unable to care for anyone or anything else to the best of my ability. Musts for me were eating enough nutrient-dense foods, getting enough calories and staying hydrated. My daughter and the sheep had different plans for me, of course, but I did the best I could. Madison was till breastfeeding three times a day, needing regular solid-food meals, one nap and to go to bed at a reasonable time. The sheep sometimes needed assistance with lambing and seemly content monitoring.
I lamb out in pasture, only bringing ewes in that need exceptional attention or assistance. I would find a ewe waiting for me at the pens on occasion. The seasoned ewes, bless them, if they needed help, would bring themselves in to the jugging area, making my day a lot easier. The first-time ewes always needed a little more monitoring, but the more hands-off I could be, the less stressed they would be and the better lambing experience we all would have.
Being prepared and organized was essential: having a well-stocked lambing kit, clean water, hay, straw, vacant jug pens, snacks for everyone, extra baby clothes, diapers, etc.
Letting things go that weren’t important was also necessary, like cleaning my house. Yes, it was a wreck. There was no social life for me, obviously. When I had some “free time”, which was rare, I’d make bulk meals that could be frozen and pulled out in single serving packages. There just wasn’t enough time for me to even cook everyday.
Making sure my daughters needs were met was huge. A happy baby makes life a whole lot easier. Most of the time she was happy to be out in pasture helping me check ewes and play veterinary assistant with mommy. I had to keep somewhat of a schedule to overt melt-downs (mine and hers). When we would get close to nap time or dinner time, I was wrapping things up out with the ewes, no matter what was going on.
Personal and Professional Support Systems
I tried my best to use the very limited resources I did have. My financial resources were, well, nonexistent, so I couldn’t afford an experienced person to help me when I ran into challenging situations during lambing or to check the expecting ewes or frail lambs at night. I actually got through the season with a LOT of help from a Facebook Group, Icelandic Sheep Owners. I cannot say enough good things about the shepherds there! Day or night, I could post a question or search the archives for information that I desperately needed to save the life of one of my sheep. Though, I did call my local veterinarian in a few cases and also had to have her do a farm call once that lambing season. I also had a friends and family rooting for me and elated to see newborn lamb pictures on Facebook, which always helped me get through the day.
Knowing When to Walk Away
There were several evenings when I would have a assist a ewe in delivering lambs (usually multiples). It would get late, time for my daughter’s dinner, bath and bedtime routine. I’d use my intuition as a mother to decide when to leave and to let nature work out the rest. When I had lambs that had to be pulled or were hypothermic or a combination of other problems, I did everything I could to get them going and then I’d have to walked away. As much as I sometimes felt the need to sit with the lambs until I knew they could stand and nurse on their own, I just couldn’t! I had a young one of my own that took priority. Meaning, I made sure the lambs were warm and had a full belly. Then I left them alone with their ewe mother. Every time, and I mean every single time, I’d come back in the morning to wonderfully energetic lambs and a calm mother ewe. Nature knows best!
So, what does it mean to shepherd like girl?
Kick ass, love what you are doing, be present and prepared. The payoff for me was healthy lambs, a happy kid growing up in a great environment, my own personal satisfaction (I can do anything!), and getting to do some of my favorite things – being outdoors, creating, learning, and having success.
Remember to always…
Shepherd Like A Girl!
–Amika & Madison