Have you ever fallen in love with your newborn baby? Or visited new parents who are so in love with their child they can hardly talk about anything else? Like sheep, we tend to fall in love with our babies. Each time I’ve witnessed a young ewe (female sheep) have a new lamb, becoming a mother herself for the very first time, I’ve seen a sheep fall in love.
I’ll never forget the look of complete astonishment on her face, when Joy gave birth to Justice, a little ram lamb (a baby boy sheep), becoming a mother for the first time! (Yes, that is one of the things about sheep I never expected to learn: occasionally they do have facial expressions. So far, surprise, joy, and anger are the most easily identified). Joy just couldn’t let the little guy out of her sight. For days, she didn’t only clean him up and look after him, she gazed at him as though she was so in love she couldn’t take her eyes off of him. When they would lay down, Joy wouldn’t cuddle close to him to snuggle. Being farsighted she wouldn’t have been able to focus on him were he that close. Instead, she kept her baby lamb at the sheep’s equivalent of “arms’ length”: close enough to be near him, but far enough away to keep him clearly within focus of her amorous gaze. She would stare, and stare at him, endlessly.
Hope, Grace’s lamb, did the exact same thing with her new lamb Lily that year, when Hope became a mother for the first time.
When Agnus’ first lamb was born, she fell so in love, she nearly caught fire! I walked in the barn one evening to check on the sheep and make sure all was going well with the new lambs. The first thing I noticed was the smell of burning hair. I didn’t see any smoke or flame, so I was sure the barn wasn’t on fire. But I found Agnus in her stall, standing under the heat lamp we had carefully hung and secured on the side rails to ensure it wouldn’t fall and start a fire. Our efforts proved effective for keeping the heat lamp well off the ground where it wouldn’t ignite the hay, but low enough to warm the lambs. What we failed to anticipate was that Agnus, overcome with affection for her new little one, would stand under the heat lamp, so admiring the beauty of her baby, and so heavy in wool, she couldn’t tell her own fleece was on fire! There were no flames, but her beautiful white wool, was definitely melting, and singed black. I turned off the heat lamp in time to save Agnus, but she never even felt anything was wrong. Since it was only a month or two before shearing time, her wool was so thick, she could not feel the heat of her wool burning near her skin. Agnus was too busy making goo goo eyes over her baby, Bucket, to notice her wool was burning. He was a scrawny little guy, but nothing short of perfect to his mom. Agnus wasn’t being a stupid sheep, just a sheep in love!
But like people, sheep don’t only form strong, emotional bonds with their children. One sheep may show preference for the company of another sheep, either a sibling, mother, or even just a friend. They choose each other and stick together, often grazing together; and choosing one another’s company when they lay down at “sheep nap time” in the middle of the day. In large flocks, often all the daughters, granddaughters, great-granddaughters, etc. of the oldest matron sheep of their lineage, will stick together, forming a social sub-group within the larger herd. Keep in mind a sheep may be a grandmother by the time she is three years old! If she reproduces regularly, there can easily be at least ten surviving generations before she is too old to lamb.
Sometimes when a sheep is in labor, instead of going away from the herd on her own to deliver her lamb, her best friend may go along with her for company. Recently, Mercy and her daughter Pride, each delivered twins not only on the same day, but within minutes of each other. A couple of weeks later, Hope and her daughter Lily both delivered single lambs within a few days of each other, but in the uncomfortable days right before delivery, kept company only with one another, away from the rest of the herd.