Easter Lambs


The black lamb in the photo is a single. The white lamb is one from a quintuplet birth, a rare event in a shepherd’s life. The guy is Brad, my brother-in-law, the shepherd involved. Note the much larger size of the single lamb which underscores the opinion of many shepherds that singles are really preferable, all things considered, than multiple births, especially in this case since two of the quints died after their mother laid on them. Many shepherds, including myself, prefer singles even to triplets and don’t mind singles rather than twins because invariably a single lamb will grow faster without any problems. And, as shepherds rarely admit, if everyone got lots of triplets every year, the price would just go down.


Brad and my sister Berny are super-shepherds and this year have an excellent lambing survival rate of 69 lambs from 35 ewes. The other photo of Brad and Berny watching a pasture birth unfold, was taken by Dennis Barnes who, in addition to being a professional photographer, just happens to be another brother-in-law and owner of part of the pasture Brad and Berny use along with their own part. That pasture with its hills for sledding, creek for wading, trees for climbing, and sheep paths over which we, as children, galloped our make-believe horses, has been the playground for our family for four generations now if I count Mom riding her real horse over it in the 1940s. It has actually been a sheep pasture for over a century. With sisters, Berny and Marilyn, going over it constantly with hoes, and Brad and Dennis with mowers, and the sheep roaming over it with their teeth, I bet five bucks you will never see a weed go to seed on it.

I spent an afternoon in the lambing barn with Brad and Berny recently and it turned out to be a wonderful visit. Having sold my own flock— too old to handle them anymore— I was lonesome for sheep and shepherd company. B and B are remarkably disciplined shepherds, rising constantly through the night to check for ewes in labor and using  all the skills of midwifery to save as many lambs as possible. Mothers and new offspring go into individual pens until they bond. Then, and this is a new trick to me, two or three ewes and their young are put in a pen together for a day or two. The sheep families learn how to sort each other out this way much better than if they were just turned loose in the whole flock. Berny calls this pen the “halfway house.”

No ewe was having lambing problems as we sat there watching, and so we just talked on and on about all the memories that old barn holds for us. At one time I thought I would spend my life working there.  What a wonder to be able to return so many years later and find it still a working barn on a real farm not much different than it was 80 years ago except it is a whole lot neater than when Dad and I did the chores.

Not all the memories that place holds are sweet and lovely. Where we sat and talked marked almost the exact spot where Mom fell from the mow, broke her neck and died, shattering the faith and almost the resolve of Dad and his nine children— a family that was ultra-close then and still is. Mom’s spirit is still very much alive all over the place. Five of my siblings live right there on the farm in their own houses. I am only two miles away and the other two (one has passed away) only about 8 miles away. Berny and Brad live in the home place where Berny was born some 70 years ago, a rarity today. I told her that her cousin, David on the other side of the county, has her beat. He lives in the same farm house where he was born 86 years ago. She arched her brow and replied: “But does he still sleep in the same room where he was born?”

A palpable peace settled over the three of us as we talked through the quiet afternoon. The ewes lay there chewing their cuds, dozing off, the lambs nuzzled up next to them. Why can’t humans find such peace and contentment instead of constantly shouting and shooting at each other? As four o’clock approached, the ewes knew feeding time was approaching without clocks. They stirred, arose, looked expectantly at Brad, then crowded up to the mangers after he threw down the hay.

 The sound of sheep munching is more soothing than listening to trained monks sing Gregorian chant. The ewes also make little gurgling sounds of contentment as they eat. The lambs go wild, with plenty of room away from the mangers now to prance and dance. It is impossible to watch them and not feel good about the world no matter how awful it seems to be.


Your comments about the serenity of the barn and its occupants complement your friend Wendell’s recitation of his “The Peace of Wild Things” to begin GMO OMG. We went to the screening Sunday in Columbus. I very much appreciated your part in the movie. You balanced contrariness, passion and thoughtfulness in a meaningful way and I thought your observations were spot on. I particularly liked the scene where you were sitting in the shade reflecting while scratching in the dirt with a stick. The movie itself was engaging and thought provoking coupled with cinematography and music that definitely exceeded my expectations. I recommend it to all followers of this blog and the chance to see you and Carol at home in your little piece of heaven should be a deal clincher.

“Why can’t humans find such peace and contentment instead of constantly shouting and shooting at each other?” Oh Gene, I think you know the answer, at least in your heart, as you write to eloquently about your own loving large family. When the foundation isn’t there, ppl build on whatever rocky outcropping they find themselves in, and such buildings aren’t very stable. When the house falls, what support is there, and where does one find solid ground – for self, for children, for society? But I think your blog is a beacon and I share it often, hoping that it will light its way into the minds of those adventurous unrooted souls searching for a new way. We can only give what we have, and you give us so much. Many thanks.

so good to read you and your mix of family life . In New Zealand here for a while we concentrated on multiple lambs on the farm. But then now we sell milk to China, so the sheep have gone away , we just want girl cow milk for China

My stock of choice are goats, but ditto what you said. I love listening and watching them eat. I love the babies. Twins are ok. I had a set of quads born during a blizzard last year while I was at my off-farm job. Lost one, saved one that was cold and limp, the other two were in good shape. Lots of work making sure the three were ok. I hope I never have another set of quads!

When I read in your book that you sold your sheep I had a good cry. The thought of it just breaks my heart. Glad you got to get a fix. On a lighter note, I often think if the world’s politicians and CEO’s could go out to a barn every morning to feed some cattle sweet-smelling hay and listen to them eat, the world would be a better place.

Great post, Gene! I’m with you on the multiple births. Like Steve, we raise Katahdins (as well as cows, pigs, horses and chickens). The only thing I have against them is their habit of producing multiples as they get older. Not only do you have more lambing problems and deaths, but you’re either dealing with a bottle lamb or they simply don’t gain as well since mama is older and can’t produce enough milk. I’d much rather have healthy singles that gain well, with an occasional twin.

Time and time again I fail miserably when trying to adequately explain to folks why we farm, why we live this way, and why we raise Katahdin sheep. Now I can just share this brilliant and beautiful essay with them. What a blessing to know and appreciate this kind of life. Thank you. Steven Martin, Church View Farm, Three Churches, WV

Oh my goodness, this piece is why I admire you and your writing so…..that barn- what a tragedy you described out of the blue. Yet it all comes full circle, you bring us along as you spend time with your memories, your family and sheep. Wonderful post Gene! xoxoxo

As usual your blog takes me back to my childhood. My father raised sheep, had 300 at one point, a rarity in southeastern Pennsylvania in the fifties. I can still smell the warm stable and sometimes yearn to hold a new born lamb. There were bottle babies due to multiple births or confused mothers and the feedings fell to me. We kept them in high sided cardboard boxes in the “shop.” He claimed one year our many sets of triplets came from all the birds foot trefoil growing in the pasture which perhaps contained estrogen? Thanks for great memories!

Gene; I can relate: with seven goat kids born within the last two weeks. Somehow watching them nurse, gambol and climb any possible object reminds one that, no matter how desperate the world or personal situations or relationships may be, the constants of birth, life and death keep circling. It is a privilege to watch and participate in and quite possibly the real reason I keep critters, certainly I don’t keep them for any real hope of becoming wealthy.

In fact your story reminds me of 55 years ago when as a child shepherd I was carrying in newborn lambs from the field to put the lambs and the closely following ewe into a “jug” (the small confinement pen you mentioned) just like I learned from a local Basque Shepherd. I also remember my Father looking for me, then finding me in the barn , which we had built from lumber we had milled from salvaged logs, where I was putting the finishing touches on “jugging” the ewe and lambs. I can still hear his voice telling me: “Good Job Son”. Nowadays allowing a seven year old child such responsibility might be considered risky or dangerous. But to me it remains as a precious memory. Thank you Gene; again you’ve helped me remember some really precious moments.

Thank you my dear brother- I am weeping here.

Reminds me of my home farm. Makes me wonder if I’ll ever get my new farm going the shape i’m in.

Just lovely Gene, brought tears to my eyes. Memories of my own childhood, the soft liquid crunch of sheep chewing cuds, the smells of the barn, the living and dynamic peacefulness of that life. So much lost now that it’s a deep treat to be reminded by someone who still walks that path. Sigh… Thanks man, just thanks. 🙂

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