FREEPORT — What kind of society would we have if more people decided to do something completely foreign, something different from their everyday life, like watching a fat, waddling ewe drop a soft, spastic lamb?
Just 30 minutes from Maine’s biggest city, that’s one farm’s goal.
When Wolfe’s Neck Farm put out an invitation on Facebook for Mainers to come join in the “lamb watch” taking place there, those who showed up got a first-hand introduction to one of nature’s biggest shows. The birthing season at the farm requires a round-the-clock watch, so it has been the custom at the farm to invite locals to help.
But this year when Kaitlyn Gardner, the farm’s teen agriculture coordinator, put out the query on social media, she said it drew a few new to farming. And the experience turned some urbanites into fast farm friends in about two shakes of a lamb’s tail.
“It sounds like it’s a self-driven experience for the sheep. But we were told what to look for and what to expect in case we were needed. I was just really impressed with the farm, in this unique setting on the ocean, that it was so open to the public,” said Ben Guerette, 29, of Portland, who signed up to watch sheep last Saturday with his girlfriend.
“We definitely hope to get back in some weekends ahead. We’re rooting that everything will go successfully.”
A Bangor native, Guerette recently returned to his home state after living out West. Guerette had no bent toward agriculture before his scheduled lamb watch Feb. 22. Now knowing how close, accessible and eye-opening such a natural experience is, he plans to visit his local working farm again. The fact a birthing did not take place when he was there didn’t matter.
After watching over 15 ewes for three hours, Guerette was hooked.
“I wasn’t disappointed at all. Kaitlyn is very knowledgeable and she gave us a lot of information. I felt I had a good grasp on what was going on,” Guerette said. “We got to see some lambs running around; to hold them briefly; to keep an eye on the pregnant ewes to see if they were doing all right. It was awesome.”
Before volunteers get to the farm, Gardner sends lamb-watch participants an email explaining pre-birthing behavior so they know what to look for when a lamb is born. Among the signs of lambing: If the ewes are panting; standing apart from the group; discharging mucus; pawing the ground.
“The thing that’s great about the farm, you can talk about the anatomy and it’s not strange,” Gardner says with a laugh.
She also speaks openly about the farm’s purpose for breeding sheep.
“The girls over there, most will go to slaughter,” Gardner says of last year’s lambs. “We will save three ewe lambs to breed next year. There is a huge market for lamb.”
So the focus this time of year in the dark barn full of chickens, pigs and goats is on the tiny lambs. Animal noises fill the rafters as the foot-high baby sheep hop, scramble and teeter around the ewes.
What hay the ewes don’t eat, Gardner throws down for them, building up a thick bed that promises warmth and layers of hay the ewes can dig down into when the time comes to drop their lambs. This can also make it tough to find newly born lambs.
That was Katie Joseph’s experience.
The Falmouth High School junior had an edge over other lamb-watch volunteers, being a nine-month veteran of Wolfe’s Neck Farm. But nine months ago when Joseph was looking for a summer job, she had no experience with farming, no real knowledge of agricultural practices.
She saw an ad for the farm’s summer work force, and on a whim joined Gardner’s teen agriculture crew. Now she wants a career based in farming.
But when lambing season began last month, Joseph had one farming experience yet to live through.
“I had pretty much done everything with sheep: shearing, cleaning their hooves, castration and docking their tail,” said Joseph, 16.
“But I had not seen a lamb being born. Finally I got to do it. Kaitlyn texted me (Feb. 23) and said, ‘One gal’s water just broke!’ So I ran over.”
Joseph got to the Freeport farm in time to see one lamb come out and the ewe clean it. Then while she had her back turned, she looked around to see that lamb’s twin lying in the hay.
“We try to let the animal do it on their own unless they need help. But the baby just came flying out,” Joseph said.
Joseph watched as the ewe ate the placenta. And then Joseph got to snip the umbilical cord and dip it in iodine to sterilize it, officially becoming a part of the lamb’s birth.
“I took biology as a sophomore and didn’t really pay attention. I did but I didn’t. I didn’t know it was useful,” Joseph said. “I’ll probably end up taking biology again now.“
Deirdre Fleming can be reached at 791-6452 or at: