My 12-year-old daughter, Abby, and I were walking up the hill from the barn when she stopped, looked me in the eye and asked “Mom, do I have meconium on my cheek?”
Abby stayed home from school a couple of days last week to help me with lambing. I didn’t get turned in to child protective services because Conrad’s education system does not require students to be in their seats for a specific amount of time, only that they learn and prove that they are proficient. Abby has already finished her class work for the school year so I decided some ranch education – and an extra pair of hands – was in order.
After all, lambing is in full swing here.
Abby and I have nine orphan lambs that get hungry morning, noon and night.
New lambs might arrive in the corral at night or on the pasture during the day. Every new family gets to spend at least one night at the Resort and Spa de la A Land of Grass, with a personal Uber ride via a pair of hands every time and, sometimes, a 4-wheel-drive and a horse trailer.
Room service is delivered morning and night, and each straw-filled room gets cleaned between guests.
Still, the fun never ends at the Graham Ranch.
On Abby’s first day of skipping school, we cruised the pasture with the horse trailer, on the lookout for ovine Uber passengers.
Between opening gates, Abby turned cartwheels, avoiding sharp rocks and cactus as she flipped through the air.
I haven’t turned a cartwheel for about 20 years, but I told myself I could still twist myself up and over. How hard could it be?
A pulled hamstring answered my question and landed me in a moaning pile.
It turns out, a person uses her hamstring to push on the gas pedal. I got the truck moving, but it wasn’t easy. The next morning, I learned all about the anatomical functions of a hamstring – and the lack thereof.
On top of morning and evening chores, we needed to saddle our horses to gather the yearling heifers so we could take them to rented summer pasture. Two friends brought their horses to help. Trotting across the sunny prairie with the smell of leather and green grass wafting up was a welcome change from muck boots and dirty straw.
Four of us brought the heifers to the corral and loaded them in trailers without a hitch.
But all of that fun took time, a precious commodity even as the days lengthen.
The sun set as we fed and watered our dependents at the barn.
When we stepped into the house about 10 p.m., my phone buzzed with suddenly returning cell service. My neighbor had left a message at 9:30: Two big grizzlies had left her place and were heading toward mine.
I was at the barn by 5 the next morning, on bear watch and celebrating Mother’s Day in high style. Only three ewes had lambed in the corral so maybe the workload would be light today. I gambled by postponing a few chores to visit a greenhouse for hanging baskets.
I lost that gamble.
We gathered 11 new families from the prairie and ate supper at 9:30. Abby never quit. She made hamburgers while I cleaned milk bottles.
On Monday, Abby’s education expanded again. A two-year-old ewe didn’t have a lamb by her side at dawn, but she stayed with the new mothers in the corral all day. Her body language said she was thinking hard about motherhood.
She thought so hard that feet emerged behind her.
Unfortunately, that’s all that emerged.
Abby and I moved her to a pen and Abby grabbed those tiny, slimy feet.
“Pull down,” I coached.
A nose appeared.
Abby pulled harder. The tiny feet slipped out of her hands.
The ewe groaned.
Abby pulled again. She spied movement.
A white head emerged and shook itself.
Abby grinned. The ewe mewed.
We left them to themselves with a bucket of water and a flake of hay.
Then Abby asked: “Mom, do I have afterbirth on my cheek?”
Only a ranch kid worries about such a problem.
Every kid should have such worries.