After two days of the Farm Survivor marathon, I was feeling even more sick and worn out. Antonio was still largely absent from the farm as he had to help out at his parents’ restaurant for a few more days.
Hopefully today would be an uneventful day. It didn’t seem possible that things could get any worse.
Protect and Serve at All Costs
It was sheep feeding time, once again. I had just finished bringing down some hay and was now onto the trickiest job of all — feeding the sheep their beloved corn and oats.
I was about to start filling the food pail, when I happened to turn around and spotted a tiny, dark brown lamb standing in the hay, baa-ing insistently to announce his entry into the sheep world.
“Oh, damn,” I said, quickly putting down the pail.
This was completely unexpected and yet, the only predictable thing about farm life was that it was decidedly unpredictable.
The lamb was gingerly taking some steps forward, trying to find a source of milk. But instead of turning to his mother, he ended up pushing his face into the alpha ram’s butt.
“No, not there!” I intervened. “Mommy’s over there.”
The mom, a sleek, brown-haired ewe, was nearby but looked startled, even panicked.
Strangely, the ram kept chasing the ewe away from her baby. Even though he had fathered most of the lambs, I had never seen him acting this way over any of the other newborns.
All I knew was that this lamb was not dying on my watch. I had to get baby and momma together soon, so they could have a chance to form their bond and feeding routine.
“Leave her alone!” I growled at the ram.
He persisted on trying to separate the pair. He would chase the ewe into the corner, and I would follow, yelling obscenities. A couple of times, I drew the mom close to the door that led to the other side of the barn, where the other moms and lambs were kept.
“Come on,” I insisted reassuringly. “It’s safe over here.”
I felt like I was trying to save a battered mother from an abusive domestic situation.
But the ewe would stop short of following me and her lamb inside, and the ram would chase her away again.
I eventually — and gratefully — managed to get the frightened mom through to the other side. Relieved, I closed the door, shutting out the ram.
But my troubles weren’t over yet. The momma sheep was completely stressed out at this point and also clueless on what to do as a new mom.
While the lamb instinctively hobbled over to her udder, the momma sheep would skirt away in response. And if I tried to come anywhere close to her, she’d full out run away.
I was perplexed, but knew I had to get them both into a pen so that I could get the lamb feeding. It didn’t go smoothly, but I was eventually able to do just that. With nowhere to go, the mom stayed still long enough for her baby to get its first taste of milk.
I decided to forego any further interventions and give the two some time alone. Lord knows that, at this point, I also needed some solo time to decompress from the week’s adventures.
By the end of the evening, I found myself sitting in front of the wood stove, exhausted and trying to warm up the chill in my bones.
The power had cut out earlier and I was surrounded by darkness, waiting for Antonio to get back to see what the issue was.
As I stared out the window, I was mesmerized by the glowing streaks of clouds across the night sky. In this calm moment, I let my mind wander to my decision to leave my career field and the city.
I reflected on how lucky I was to be here at the farm — yes, even despite the week’s Farm Survivor madness! Truly though, I knew that this was exactly where I should be.
I also thought about how incredibly dependent the sheep were on us for their survival. The last couple of days showed me just how much they needed us to stay alive — to have water to drink, and food to eat.
There was much in life that I was already appreciative of, but the level of autonomy we have to turn on a tap and have instant access to drinking water was something I had taken for granted.
If going through this winter challenge meant learning all of this, then the experience was worth it.
Alpha Face-Off: The Last Stand
For all the positive, feel-good vibes I had thought up the night before, the next morning was off to a rocky start.
It was time to serve the sheep’s breakfast. I greeted the moms as I walked into their side of the barn. Suddenly, I did a double take.
Squinting, I peered closer at one of the sheep that was standing in the middle of a group eating hay from a trough.
“Are you–? Are you the ram?” I asked it.
The alpha ram who had given me trouble with the new mom and lamb just the day before looked incredibly similar to one of the momma sheep with his orange-brown colour and big coat of furry wool on his back. But there were those telltale stubs for horns on the top of his head, giving away his identity.
The ram looked at me innocently as he continued to munch on his hay.
“How the hell did you get in here?” I demanded after gathering my wits.
I looked around and spotted one of the fence’s wooden slats partially broken. I still didn’t know how the ram could have fit through, but surmised that he had perhaps jumped over.
Either way, he wasn’t staying.
The last thing I felt like doing in my weakly state was hauling a belligerent ram from one side of the barn to the other. There was even a moment of contemplation to leave him in there until Antonio came by later.
But Antonio wouldn’t be back for several hours. Not only that, but I knew that the ram knew that I knew that he shouldn’t be in there. And if I were to back down, that would make me one thing, and one thing only: his bitch.
It was time he learned who was alpha of the herd.
As much as I had hated using it on Jay, I had no qualms about dog-leashing the ram.
But the ram was not as docile and as he vigorously pulled away from me, the leash tightened around his neck and he began to choke.
Crap. As much as I wanted to subdue him, I definitely didn’t want to kill him.
I slipped the leash off and managed to tie it around his leg. With one hand pulling on the leash and the other arm trying to manoeuvre the ram towards the exit door, I battled furiously with my obstinate foe.
I dug into the deepest recesses of my voice and growled out messages that clearly conveyed to him: You are going down, son.
As the alpha face-off raged on, a wave of silence fell over the entire barn. For once — possibly never to happen again — the sheep didn’t make a sound.
I eventually got the ram back on the other side of the barn. I was completely exhausted, but it had been worth the fight to establish that I was Sheep Barn Alpha and he — well, you know what he was.
Break Down, Build Back Up
At the end of the day, I stood in the kitchen, feeling depleted as I ate a piece of the bread and cheese Antonio had left for me earlier.
Just then, bright headlights turned into the driveway. A few seconds later, Antonio popped his head in the door and greeted me, holding out two paper bags.
One was small and I immediately knew it was an egg tart, one of my favourite snacks. The larger paper bag was holding sandwiches that Antonio and his mom had made for me at the restaurant.
I was overwhelmed, not having expected hot food that evening. I was so grateful to know that I wouldn’t have to cook dinner tonight while I was feeling ill.
“I can also take you for a hot shower,” he said, grinning. Antonio lived just a few minutes away and I would sometimes take a nice, long shower there instead of using up the water in the tiny home.
A. Hot. Shower.
“Oh my God,” I said tearfully, fanning my face. “I think I’m gonna cry.”
Then suddenly, all of the emotions I had been suppressing the last four days while I battled frozen hoses and a cantankerous ram rushed up like an overflowing well.
“Oh no,” I said, fanning more furiously. “Now I’m crying.”
Antonio laughed, then stood there patiently listening while I rambled through tears about the seemingly never-ending frustrations of the past few days.
“Okay, I’m done,” I said, taking another bite of my bread and cheese.
I asked if we could go fill up the water now. The sheep didn’t have enough. As much as they had driven me crazy, I still cared about them and their wellbeing.
Antonio showed me another well I hadn’t known about. It was holding plenty of water and we filled up several buckets for the sheep and birds. I had never been so overjoyed to witness free-flowing water from a hose.
Now that everybody had enough water for the night and the birds were safely tucked away in their house, I could go for my hot shower, eat the sandwich Antonio had brought me, and even do an impromptu grocery trip to stock up for the next few days.
By the time I got back to the farm, I felt rejuvenated, both physically and mentally. I also felt really appreciated for my efforts and that I had a friend in Antonio to listen to my woes and understand the challenges that farm life can throw your way.
I don’t know if it all meant that I had passed this round of Farm Survivor, but hey, I was still here and I was still standing.
Sometimes I think being tough means breaking down a little (or a lot), then getting back up stronger than ever before.
Bring on the next challenge! (Well, give me a day or two to recover first …).
>> Read the next post in the #farmlifebestlife series: Minimalism: #FarmLifeSimpleLife