I am typing at the moment because I was inspired by the sound of the birth of life outside the living room window, coming from the nearby lambing pasture.
A ewe is murmuring to her newborn lambs. Ordinarily on hearing the gentle cooing, I would go outside to make sure that everything was okay because a ewe will murmur to a weak or dead lamb just as actively as she will a vigorous and live one, but this morning I can actually see the ewe and her two new lambs right through the window. The two lambs are about fifteen minutes old and have been stumbling around the ewe looking for her teats as the ewe instinctively licks first one and then the next for the last five or ten minutes. Any moment now they will find the teats and start sucking. The ewe’s warm colostrum, the antibody and nutrient-rich first milk, will flow into the lambs’ bellies, warming and fortifying them, giving them both the energy and warmth needed for life, and, literally, a natural antibiotic force field that will shield the lambs from disease.
I just glanced up from the screen and looked out the window and saw too many lambs surrounding the ewe. I grabbed my binoculars to get a closer look, and sure enough, two colostrum thiefs, opportunistic older lambs from other ewes, were pestering the ewe, darting in between her legs as she attended to her lambs. Overwhelmed by hormones that trigger the ewe’s instincts to care for and nurture her lambs, ewes are often momentarily tricked by colostrum thieves. The sucking sensation is exactly one of the things the ewe is “waiting” for, so instinctively, she cocks her hips, which tips her udder and teats into a better position for access, and lets the thieves suck. But, just as instinctively, the ewe turns her head and sniffs and licks the back ends of the lambs that are sucking, and suddenly, she bucks her hind legs off the ground and spins around, facing the thieves as olfactory alarms ring in her head “Not your lamb! Not your lamb!” The thieves make a move to dive back between her legs. The ewe sidesteps, drops her head, and butts one of the offending lambs, sending it flying. Remembering her own lambs, she spins back around to make sure they are alright. The thieves return. The ewe throws her head at them, hitting one, missing the other. The thieves persist, the ewe hops and spins, keeping her udder away from them. She swings her head at them and nails one of the thieves hard, pressing it against the ground with her forehead, which is as hard and solid as an anvil. And then, just as suddenly as they appeared, the thieves disappear, having decided, perhaps, that the little colostrum they get for their trouble isn’t worth it.
Unmolested, the ewe returns to attending to her own lambs, who have continued to stumble around her while she fought off the thieves. As I type now, they are close. Both have figured out that the hind end of the ewe is where they should concentrate their attention. It will be only a matter of minutes, or even seconds, before they find the teats and latch on, securing their lives, for me as much as for them.
You see, these lambs are living to death for me on the farm. Their survival to death is essential to the farm economy. The instinctive theater being played outside my window is merely the first, and most important, act in the drama of the lives of not only these two newborn lambs, but all of the lambs and all of the ewes living on the farm. I make use and take advantage of, perhaps nefariously, all of the sheeps’ instincts, to eat copious amounts of grass, to drink water, to lick salt and minerals, to flock together, to breed, to give birth to and attend to newborn lambs, to fight off thieves, to stumble around relentlessly to satisfy an irresistible first thirst.
Through various manipulative interventions, I hold captive and encourage these instincts so that “I” can “produce” meat on the farm for people to eat. I encourage and urge the ewes to give birth to lambs, and I encourage and urge the lambs to live.
And the lambs? They are happily suckling, wagging their tails madly as the ewe sniffs and licks them, her nose and tongue saying to her head, “Mine, my lambs. Drink. Live,” while I say the same. “Live. Live to death for me on the farm so that I might prosper.”