A crowded empty nest

A few weeks ago our nest was about as empty as it could get. Neither of our boys were planning on coming home for Easter and their Christmas visit was long behind us. As I moved the chick incubator into a son’s old bedroom I couldn’t help being struck by the irony of hatching eggs in the very room of the symbolic empty nest.

A few weeks ago our nest was about as empty as it could get.

Neither of our boys were planning on coming home for Easter and their Christmas visit was long behind us. As I moved the chick incubator into a son’s old bedroom I couldn’t help being struck by the irony of hatching eggs in the very room of the symbolic empty nest.

I drew the blinds, cranked up the heat and for once was grateful to have a quiet, unoccupied room to use for my chick hatching project. Ten days later the former occupant of the bedroom phoned to say he had changed his mind and would be coming home for a visit after all. Two days later his brother did the same.

To add to the irony, they emerged from the plane at the exact same time the chicks started emerging from their shells. By the time we got home from the airport seven chicks had hatched. My nest was no longer empty. On the other hand, it wasn’t quite as full as I would have liked. Out of 34 eggs only 11 hatched — not a good percentage at all, but at least I was getting a hundred per cent return on my children. Make that a 150 per cent when you factor in that one of them brought along his girlfriend!

Not to be outdone, Rowdy looked up at our full house and promptly spit out not one, not two, but three healthy little lambs. What a quintessential Easter we were having. Almost a dozen downy baby chicks and now three bouncing baby lambs!

I was pleased beyond reason to discover that two of the three lambs were girls. It’s a rare sheep that can successfully raise triplets — fortune had smiled upon me. Now all I had to do was make one of the girls into a bottle lamb and I would finally have a tame Icelandic sheep for the milking.

Often a ewe will outright reject one of her triplets, butting it away when it tries to nurse. Some will even do that with a twin. If the ewe does take all three lambs, since she only has two teats, there will usually be at least one lamb that stands around baaing out hunger pains signalling the shepherd to break out the bottle.

Rowdy turned out to be a rare sheep. Of course she did. I should have known. She not only bonded enthusiastically with all three lambs but for the first few days they all thrived under her care, their plump little bellies full of milk and not a ravenous baa in the bunch.

“It’s not fair,” I told anyone willing to listen and some who weren’t. “They’re even all the same size. Not a runt in the litter.”

Then one of the ewe lambs looked over at me, let out a small baa and lay down. That was all the encouragement I needed. I swooped in with a bottle and after chasing the lamb several times around the corral (she was surprisingly agile for a starving animal) I managed to corner her in the shed.

It took almost a week to convince the lamb that she needed extra bottles from a two legged mama, but she has finally warmed to the idea. More importantly she runs up to me instead of away from me, and likes it when I scratch her behind her ears. Having a sort-of bottle lamb also turned out to be a bonus when the nest emptied of children once again. There’s nothing like a cuddly little lamb to help banish those childless blues.

When I picked up the lamb yesterday I was reminded of an old story from back when I was a kid about a farmer who had a bucket calf he fed in a little corral without a gate in it. Don’t ask me why there wasn’t a gate – my guess is that if there had been one there wouldn’t be a story.

Anyway, three or four times a day he would fill the calf’s bucket with milk, attach it to the side of the gateless corral, and then lift the calf over the fence so it could drink without being jostled by the other cows and calves. As the calf grew so did the farmer’s strength until by weaning time he was hefting a 500 pound calf over the fence with ease.

Maybe if I lift up my bottle lamb up a few times a day I can strengthen my wonky shoulder.

And who knows? By the time the kids come home for another visit I could be tossing a hundred pounds of lamb around with the greatest of ease and have the physique of a body builder.

Hey, anything is possible.

Shannon McKinnon is a humour columnist from Northern BC. You can read past columns at www.shannonmckinnon.com

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