Beauty and Power of the Cold

I stepped out into the darkness.

The moon cast shadows of the hitch rail across the blue snow, a promise.

Below zero air tingled my cheeks and bit at the tip of my nose.

Silent beauty battled the power to kill.

I burned the image of the moon and shadows into my mind, savoring this gift I would need to help me through the morning, the day and the next week of unrelenting, bone-chilling cold.

It was time to ship some lambs.

I hold on to my lambs until January or February in an attempt to catch a market upswing. Typically, the seasonal lamb market bumps up in August and again this time of year. I gamble against the price of feeding hay and the coyotes to cash a little bigger check.

And I gamble that I can talk somebody into helping me sort, ear tag and haul those lambs when the mercury can’t find zero.

Fortunately, that’s a pretty safe bet.

My friend, Jennie, and my brother, Roger, showed up on Thursday to place scrapies tags in each lamb’s ear and document each tag number. We hoped we would stay warm with the effort of penning and catching each lamb.

This should not be a hard job, but it is.

The scrapie tags are free, government-issued, low-bidder tags. So is the tagger.

I got what I paid for.

About half the time, the tagger punches a hole in the tag before it pierces the lamb’s ear. The tag, along with the effort to restrain the lamb’s ear, is wasted. After years of fighting the tagger, last fall I had an inspiration – buy a better tagger. And on Thursday I even remembered where I had stashed it.

We bunched the lambs into a tight pen, Jennie kept the tagger loaded, I caught the lambs and Roger pierced each ear. Five minutes into our system, the new tagger misfired.

Bare-handed, we each analyzed the tagger’s mechanism, twisted a couple of brittle plastic parts and tried again. 50-50 success.

If I choose to keep using a tool that doesn’t work, that’s my fault, but I thought I had this problem solved. Frustration steamed the barn. We got the lambs tagged in spite of it, thanks to more diligent, patient people than I.

On Saturday my trucker friend, Lance, Roger, my daughter, Abby, and my friends Zane and Casey pulled up to the barn about 8:00. The thermometer registered -17 and low clouds had rolled in. We ran the lambs into the barn alley. The biggest lambs had a few days’ reprieve until I hauled them to the processor so we sorted the biggest ones to the back and let the smaller ones escape to the loading chute.

Lance, Zane and Casey shoved, cajoled and pushed lambs toward the chute while Roger, Abby and I kept pulling out the keepers, pushing them into a separate pen.

As the last lamb hopped up the chute to the top deck and Lance slid the trailer door closed, we all looked at one another. All of us were sweaty, but with frostbitten fingers. Abby and Casey are stunningly beautiful no matter where they are or what they are doing. The rest of us carried enough ice on our eyelashes to blind us and our noses ran until it froze on our upper lips.

But cracked lips burst into smiles.

Somebody said “I’d a lot rather be loading lambs this morning than sitting at a desk, staring at a computer.”

One more time, the beauty of a job well-done beat the power to kill.


From my ranch to yours, this is Lisa Schmidt.

Lisa Schmidt