The Story of The Day I met Mama the Sheep

The day I met Mama the Sheep, it was a cold clear January morning. A man had called me and said he had sheep to sell, did I want a few.  So we hitched the rusty stock trailer to the red truck and went North.

The fancy new subdivision on the outskirts of Chicago was like entering another world. The man’s house was sparkly new, well appointed and palatial, his drive was sweeping and unmarked, the cars in the drive were European and expensive.  Each of these houses close by but not too close by, had long manicured winter lawns, bordered by beautifully crafted designer fences.  Though the indiscriminate ice clung to the fences, and the slush of old snow was disobediently sluggish and grey in the gardens.

Quite convinced we were in the wrong place due to a lack of sheep in the cold sunshine, John waited in the red truck, and I walked back past our rusty stock trailer to the door of the house. A stocky, very smart man speaking loudly on a cell phone erupted from the back door slamming the door behind him, gave me the time honoured -I’ll be with you in a minute sign, and awkwardly  pulled his farm boots over his suit trousers  with one hand.  Stomping and talking bosslike on the phone, he caught my rather surprised eye (where do these people get their manners) and pointed to a smart new barn sitting on the other side of the sweeping circular drive.  As we walked across, he on his phone talking about prices and lost shipments, John coasting behind us in the truck, six huge dogs erupted from little doors along the side of the barn, they all shot out of their individual dog doors into individual pens, and leaping at the netting tried to rip the fence down to get at us.

Ignoring the dogs and still on the phone the man opened a solid wood door into the most stunning miniature stables.  The barking  quieted as we entered the barn and he shut the door on the winter.  The vaulted ceiling echoed with the new sound of bleating sheep.  We had entered at one end of a perfectly proportioned Hollywood set. The floors were pristine polished  concrete, each of the stalls on either side of the generous walkway had grills of beautiful  Amish wrought iron, the hay feeders and the gates matching with stunning, precise balance.  The wood glowed in natural shades offset by the black and green of the trims.   There was a huge beautiful railway clock and next to it a large digital read out of the temperature inside and outside.  It was considerably warmer inside than outside.

The man waved me on and passed John with a nod as he hurried back outside, loudly gesticulating as he roared into the phone.

John joined me inside. The red truck idled deeply outside. A rolling drum below the baying of the dogs and the high bleating of the sheep. The man’s discordant exclamations introducing a rising tension.  The volume decreased again as the man shut the door and we walked from stall to stall. Now there was only the sound of the sheep. Each pen was about as big as my  bathroom, each area had clean green matting on the floor, and each pen housed a big Suffolk sheep. One sheep.  Two rows of them facing each other. Probably about ten stalls a side. Each of these sheep was screaming out into the swept and polished  corridor from either side. Their perfectly crafted  solid wood doors  not even allowing them a peek at each other.  Their bleating in that sanitised area was so incongruous that it battled at the senses. Their scent hidden and subsumed by a designer blend of alfalfa hay and oiled wood.

I did not know sheep were so loud, John said.

They are flock animals, I said. They think they are lost. They are afraid.

We walked to the end of the Stable for Sheep, peeked into a huge store room that housed a mountain of beautiful green alfalfa being moved around by a hired man who gently closed the door.   Where was the exit to a paddock. No other door. So we walked back up the other side to see more and more sheep standing crying alone in these tiny cubicles. The dogs increased their  descant below the high bleating as the front door opened and closed.  The man was back.

Then I saw Mama, she had her bottom backed straight into the back corner of her cell and she was braying wildly like a donkey.  Her big head pushed out in fury.  She was bigger than the rest and madder. Her eyes were wild and her tongue pushed pink at her lips as she cried.

I waited with  her while the man took two more phone calls, between which we bartered for Mama and her sister in the next pen.  He was not cheap so I could only afford two.   He told me he had sold their newborn lambs to a zoo but they were pregnant again. I looked at him sharply but said nothing.  I wanted to take them all home and set them free in a field of grass and let them raise their own babies.

Once we had decided on who and how much he suddenly turned his phone off and announced that he would have to trim their feet first.  Asserting himself  he took a rope and after struggling with her sticky gate, he chased Mama around and around this tiny space, trying to lasso her.  Shouting at her. She was having none of it. She was terrified of him. He eventually got this rope around her neck and proceeded to try and drag her bucking and fighting out of the pen. I was paralysed with shock.  Manners and polite behaviour kept my feet still.  We were in his home and technically the sheep still belonged to him.  For a moment my voice left me.

John who does not suffer from polite behaviour was visibly agitated, his jaw tightening and silently we decided to get this show on the road. Now. He went to back the trailer to the door and I got behind Mama and pushed her to relieve her of the rope  that was tightening around her neck.  The dogs started up again  as I heard the trailer being reversed at speed towards the barn door but the man tied Mama to a ring and proceeded to quickly hack at her feet.

In seconds her hoof began to bleed.  I recovered my voice enough to say, that will do.  That’s enough.   Here is your money, I said politely, my voice was quavering with reaction.  The man stood up from the sheep holding the cutters in his phone hand, automatically reaching for the cash I held out.  He raised his eyebrows at me as he pocketed the money.   I am taking the sheep now, I said.    The dogs heaved and barked with fury as we pushed and cajoled Mama  and her sister out of the fancy pretend barn and into the stock trailer.    Mama’s foot leaving little hoofprints of red blood on his white concrete pad as she limped reluctantly along.  With an interesting sleight of hand the hired man appeared and threw a fat slice of hay into the trailer as we closed the gate. The bossman lost interest in us again as his insistent phone called to him.   Not waving, we sighed with relief  and  drove our sheep back out into the country.

The man had told me on the phone that the sheep were bred, but they weren’t. So it was not until the following autumn that Mama met Hairy.  She was always flighty and wild eyed. She could not find it in herself to settle much. No-one could ever get near her and  doing her feet took three people, a halter and a long time, but no ropes, no blood.

Then in March of last year when she was huge with lambs, I went out to check her. There was baby Mia,  already born and on the ground already and bleating with her tiny lamb cry. Mama  then moved to the other side and easily dropped another lamb. After a while  as she moved about cleaning and giving birth she forgot I was even there. By the time we got to number four Mama and I were working as a team.  She became so quiet with me, that I was rubbing down a lamb that would not stand and felt  Mama  licking and cleaning blood off my jacket behind me.

She would not feed Mia, and the last lamb born never took a proper breath though I tried and tried to save him, for hours.  But we lost him.  It was a strange time. The temperatures dived down to way below freezing. The wind was howling and found more cracks in the walls to whip through.  It poured with icy rain for days. I put the lambs under a warm light and held them up to her to feed every two hours. Two of them were so weak they could not stand for  long.  They needed to be fed every two hours.  So I met myself going as I was coming, on the track to and from the barn.  I gave them all little sips of colostrum from my own frozen supply trying to get them up.  Mama’s milk did not come down for hours. Her lambs were small and would not suck. She and I worked through that night, and into the next day to get those lambs to feed.  Then every two hours all day and night for many days after that.

I was feeding Mia one time with Mama watching from behind and almost like a dream I felt Mama’s chin rest heavily on my shoulder and she sighed a big sheep sigh. I can not describe to you that amazing feeling.  I mean she is a sheep. But here she was leaning her head on me  as I worked with her babies.  Watching.  I could smell the musky heat of her breath right by my face.   I could feel the warm of wool against my back.  She is a big sheep.  My Mama Sheep. And she was resting her heavy tired head on my shoulder as I crouched on the floor of her pen feeding her lamb.

Never again was she afraid of me. Now, when I come into the paddock she will trail after the others and thoroughly sniff at my hands and then saunter off confidently.   She will come when I call her name.  If my hands are still, resting on a gate,  sometimes she will rest her head atop them. When I put her in the pen every night now she looks at me with such a sorrowful look.  She always looks into my face this sheep.  With her sheeps flipside eyes. There is something about this sheep.

….

Good morning. We have a dark stormy day ahead of us.  A bendy tree day. A barn door day. You all have a great day. I will go and say good morning to Mama for you.

celi

96 Comments on “The Story of The Day I met Mama the Sheep

  1. Well, that story did choke me up – yes, she’s a sheep, but how moving that she understood that you were caring for her and the babies and she learned in time to trust and care for you. You are a wonderful story-teller and I find myself walking in your shoes and feeling your joy and pain. Thank you for sharing . . . you are one of a kind!

    • Morning Lois. It is strange tho isn’t it how sometimes you just connect with an animal. Maybe a horse, or a cat or a dog. and in this case a sheep. It is hard to describe tho without sounding woosy!! c

    • Morning Mandy, have a great evening.. we have black clouds and wild weather, time to take the camera out side!! c

  2. This is a beautiful story. Is Mama the most loved sheep on the internet? Right now I feel like she is. Good morning Celi x

  3. She’s a smart one is Mama, a wonderful story (not the shiny house, sterile barn, shouty man bit). and it had never occurred to me that of course sheep are flock animals so if they couldn’t see each other they would yell and yodel their lungs off!

  4. A shocking, then uplifting story, beautifully told. That man should have been reported to the RSPCA or whatever the American equivalent is. Designer clothes are one thing, but the concept doesn’t belong in farming. It’s like the plans to have 3000-cow dairy barns in UK, which I hope have been given the kybosh.

    • It was an interesting concept, and when I write the longer version not for blog land tho) , you will be amazed at the detail in that mini barn. It was like a stable for horses shrunk down to fit sheep! The sheep were shown like pieces in a dolls house.. 3000 cow dairy barns is not farming, it is industry, it is frightening.. c

  5. Always good to read your blog with a happy out come. I was enthralled all the way through and again you have produced some terrific writing.I really do not know how you find the time but I admire you for it and sharing your trails and tribulations.

  6. What a story, and well-told. I can see and hear the man on his cell-phone, the designer barn. Those poor sheep. Wonderful that you rescued Mama and her sister and brought them home to live on a proper farm with salvaged gates and people who understand animals.

  7. What a sad beginning for Mama. I’m so happy you found each other! And how she rested your head on her shoulder? I could picture it perfectly in my head and it was just so sweet. She obviously loves you very much and is thankful SHE has such a good Mama!

    Can’t wait for those babies! I pray she’ll have an easier time of it this time around.

    Have a wonderful day and don’t let the wind blow you away! ~April

  8. Now I just love Mama to pieces too. Amazing how wild animals can be tamed with love, isn’t it?
    I can just imagine your closeness to all your animals Celi!
    I’m thinking that on this bendy tree windy day you may just need to start another good book! xo

  9. Lovely, lovely story, and beautiful writing Celi. Of course mama trusts you. You are one of the most trustworthy people I have ever known!
    Respect

  10. That was beautiful and bought a great big lump to my throat. What a horrible way to treat animals – it may have all been clean and shiny but animals need love and company not a production line. Dreadful. Lucky Mama….we´re still not looking at her though are we?!

    • NO! STILL not looking, i am going out right now to put her in the big pasture, so she can nibble all the fresh shoots after the rain last night. She did not want her grain this morning. She just wanted to be outside.. c

  11. Sheep may safely graze in the Kitchen’s garden.
    Nicely told.

    Now we all are waiting with baited breath for the next installment: this year.s lambikins.

  12. How lovely, and poignant and joyous that you found each other. Thank you for sharing this. My friend Melinda is still on babywatch as well. She is excited that she may be birthing her son when Mama births her lambs!

      • Well, she took her dog for a walk today. And I’m encouraging her to eat pineapple. Maybe that would help Mama along? Not that we’re watching or anything…

  13. I’m sitting in my office hoping no one comes in for a few minutes! What a tender, loving story…from the point where you and John take over! I cannot understand the insensitivity of the man, so obviously lost in his own world that he didn’t even feel a bit of discomfort at showing you the his harshness and lack of care for the sheep. I am sure you felt absolutely horrified. But you and Mama were destined to be together. I already thought of you as an “animal whisperer” and now I add “sheep rescuer” to your long list of wonderful accomplishments. You make a difference in the world, Celi. Debra

    • Stunned would be the word I would use. i was stunned speechless, but in the end we were able to pick up our sheep and walk out.. c

    • Steven you are brilliant, I have been to your pages and I am impressed! What a wonderful job you have promoting wool. Thank you for dropping in and alerting me to your blog! c

  14. I am stunned by the behavior of this man and heartbroken for the other sheep you had to leave behind. But the happy ending story of Mama is so touching. In the city where I live, I see cruelty and neglect of dogs, especially dogs, and cats too. Thank God for people like you and your husband who are true stewards of the land and your creatures.

    • The thing is that he would not have seen that as neglect, they were very clean, very well fed and even in a heated barn. But poor fellow did not realise that they were animals, and animals need more than cleanliness and good food.. Morning Patricia.. c

  15. You brought tears to my eyes! I so love sheep and this is such and beautiful story. You are a wonderful soul and she knows it and so do all of us that visit here. Sara, another sheep friend has a delightful blog you may enjoy also http://morefavoritesheep.blogspot.com/ like you she is a friend of all animals. You will have to read about Renny sometime on her blog.

    Linda
    http;//coloradofarmlife.wordpress.com

  16. What a wonderful story. I wish you could have saved all that awful man’s sheep :-(. When Linda (dayphoto) suggested I’d like your story, I knew I would and I did. Will be back to read more stories.

  17. I could feel my anger rising as I read about the boss man and his perfect barn and the penned animals. I am so thankful you and John rescued Mama. What an act of love and compassion for which you’ve been rewarded multiple times.

    • Morning Audrey and thank you and do tell your niece – what a wonderful choice to buy a worm farm! Clever girl! c

  18. I am hooked on hearing stories you tell and especially about Mama! Thank you. Love your tone and descriptions. Also… what everyone else said!

  19. Ceci – this is a stunningly beautifully told story. i kid you not – shocks of shivers ran over my body as i read this, and now, the tenderness of it all wells tears. i am so very touched i hardly have words! thank you from my heart’s bottom.
    (ps I wonder what it is in a person that wants to raise and “care for” animals when he clearly has no love of them.)

    • (i suppose it goes without saying, but reading your account of this gross man’s behavior and his mechanized, industrialized farming techniques was horrifying. You could not have conveyed the horrors more clearly! and your compassion and love rang throughout!)

  20. A truly heart-rending story, I’m so glad it had a happy ending. I’m amazed at your self-control with that exceedingly rude man!
    Christine

  21. You can tell a lot about a person by the way s/he treats animals. We know far too much about this guy! They say that rescue dogs make better pets because they know you’ve saved them. Mama’s no pet but she is your rescue sheep. (Rescue ewe sounded too weird.) Have a great day, Celi.

  22. I do hope you have contacted NZ Gardener magazine about them buying your stories?? Send them this one… XO

  23. When you began your story I expected a clean barn.. not the nightmare that ensued.. Well told, as always, c.. your story made me cry a bit today.. xo

  24. What a bad start in life for Mama, but you saved her from that idiot with his immaculate, sanitized farm – you were meant to have her. Now she has the life she should have had – she couldn’t have picked a better farm to live it in!

  25. This story is actually beautiful my friend
    It was like reading a book – you wrote it fabulously. I even got the hint of a tear in my eye (I say a hint… ;))

    Cheers
    Choc Chip Uru

  26. Such a beautiful and emotional story, C. I was really moved reading it, particularly the passage when you formed your true bond with Mama. I know it sounds sappy, but you’ll always share something no one else has or understands!

  27. What a wrenching story, but Mama sure hit the jackpot when she found you, celi, and methinks you hit the jack pot with her, too! 😉 Happy Day!

  28. It is funny how animals and humans can have such a strong bond that many people would never understand. Hopefully both Mama and you will have an easier time this year.

  29. Celi, the only way I can respond through these tears is to say, “Thankyou! ILOVEYou for being so dear to animals!”

  30. I love reading your stories and this one brought tears to my eyes. I was thinking it was going to have a sad ending and this was your way of telling us. So relieved all is well. We are so fortunate to have bloggers like you in our lives who take us into their world – on the other side of the world in my case. Joy

  31. A well told story. These sheep are live creatures – ones who live in flocks – not little robots…not “product”. Not “profit”. But maybe he wouldn’t recognize “live” if he saw it (he had that phone glued to his ear) So sad.
    Mama is home now and safe and a recognized a kind friend. Hugs to you and that big old sheep. (who isn’t so dumb – she caught your eye!)

  32. I’m so thankful Mama has you. One of my granddaughters was at a petting zoo, and a sheep “adopted” her. She spent the whole time petting this huge sheep as it leaned against her like a big wooly hug.

  33. How utterly cruel! Mama and all other animals should be as nature meant them to be, even if they are destined for slaughter. It is bendy tree wind here today as well 🙂

  34. What a dramatic and nerve-wracking story! and what a happy, cosy ending. I wanted to cry when you got to the bit with Mama resting her head on your shoulder. You are bringing humanity back into farming. What a marvellous thing to do.

  35. What a great story Celia. Mama received her miracle when you came to buy her. What a lucky reprieve. A shame the miserable idiot wouldn’t let you take more deprived animals with you. But you have done so well with her and now she feels she is loved and that no one is there to do her any harm and she has a HOME. That is indeed a story with a very happy ending! xx

  36. I agree with Misty Maples Farm some are in this world just for the dollar and that is it. People are treated like animals and animals even worse. I have seen it in the plumbing world too. Yes we need money, but I will not gain it at others or animals expense! Take time, smell the flowers, watch the animals and talk with your fellow man.

  37. Dear Celi,
    As you know, English is not my first language, so is a bit difficult for me to express how much I enjoy every single one of your posts. Every day I read what you have to say and it amaze me your ability to transmit so many feelings, emotions and images with your words.
    Thanks for open a window to your farm every day for us 🙂

  38. I’m always so captivated by your stories Celi. You have such a gift. I’m glad you met Mama. She’s got a much better life now. 🙂

  39. I missed this post when it was first published. Thank you for sharing the link.
    What an ugly corporate farmer, and a shocking story. I’m glad you saved them, Celi, they are so much better off now. (this one made me cry)

  40. Oh you are such a good person. You are an animal angel. You saved that poor, poor sweet sheep. And she thanked you. Big hugs to you!!!!! I would have been screaming at that man and probably hitting him also. Throw politeness out the door when it comes to helping animals.

  41. I just found your blog via Old World Farms and it is wonderful. In three years, my husband and I will move to a plot of land in tennessee and begin our simple life. I am so looking forward to it, but to be honest, I am a little scared by all that there will be to do. One thing at a time I tell myself over and over. Thank you for your blog, it is truly inspiring on how to do the right thing.

    • One thing at a time is an excellent mantra, I started with the chickens and built from there.. you must be so looking forward to your simple life.. c

  42. (((sigh)))—You really, really should put your blog together in a book. You have such a way with descriptions and words. I’m so glad you were able to rescue Mama from that man!

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