This is the true story of how I lost my lambs.
The Background Info
Let's start from the beginning. My lambs are Willie and Nelson (shhhh I know, we also have a willow tree called Willow Nelson, it is a thing), and we got them as bottle fed lambs because their mama passed away when they were three weeks old. Wilf and I brought them home in the dog crate in the back of the van and I started bottle feeding them three times a day. Gosh, thinking back to those early days, I would get so stressed with every feed because they would guzzle their bottles right down and then get so bloated. I would try pacing their feeds or spreading out their feeds, but they always got bloated. And for those that don't know, like I didn't before I had lambs, bloating can kill lambs because they can get so bloated that they actually suffocate. Crazy and scary. So of course I was a wreck about it on a daily basis, but they grew up and started to eat more grass and such and were off the bottle after a couple of months and were totally fine. Anywho, back to the story...
Where They Live
Willie and Nelson live in the lower field and have a pen that they are locked up in every night. The lower field is fenced all around. The lambs used to stay in the backyard, when they were little, and we didn't have the lower field fully fenced. Honestly, they preferred it and I preferred it. They only wanted to be around me and I always wanted to have an eye on them. They just seemed to little to be off in a field by themselves. So they stayed in the backyard during the day until they ate all the grass, destroyed the back porch, and pooped on everything. Let's just say that by the time they were moved in to the lower field, they were ready and we were ready. Well, they WERE ready, except when they wanted out and would escape by all means necessary to come back in to the backyard and poop on the deck again. It took another few weeks to find every single spot they were squeezing through in the lower field and to block their exits. Honestly, I had no idea lambs were such escape artists, but let me tell you, they are smart and persistent, and should not be under-estimated. More on that later.
The Dogs Go Berserk
So at this point, Willie and Nelson are basically pets. Yes, they stay in the lower field away from the house, but I have bottle fed them, they have become attached to me and my family, and have these interesting personalities that make us laugh. The plan was to always raise them to butcher and eat them, but we were clearly bonding to these sweet animals. And then the other day I heard our dogs going bananas over something by the lower field. And I mean BANANAS. Hadley, my basset hound, caught a smell of something and she is breaking in to the lower field and running around like mad. Jack, our yellow dog (I call him that because he isn't a lab, but looks like one, so we'll just call him yellow instead,) is also going nuts and has made it in to the lower field as well and is running around like a maniac. Now, you would think I would go in there and check out what was wrong, but honestly, the dogs do this ALL THE TIME right now. Bears are active in our neighbbourhood and coyotes too, so I just figured they smelled one of the millions of smells they always smell and were barking at nothing, or something, but I didn't think there was an eminent threat. Hindsight is everything and I should have checked on the lambs at that point. I did not. I went back to the house with Wilf. And that was around noon, I think.
The Lambs are MIA
At around 6pm, Wilf and I went down to hang out with the lambs and the chickens (who are also in the lower field) and check everyone's water and feed. When we got in the lower field, everything seemed normal. All the chickens were accounted for, but we couldn't find Willie and Nelson. Wilf was on my back in the carrier, so we hiked around the lower field and couldn't see hind nor hair (wool) of them. While searching the far far back of the field, we found that the fence had been ripped down. YEAHHHHHH, so that isn't good. When I saw that, I thought it could only have been a bear that could rip a page wire fence off of fence posts. But the thing is, I couldn't imagine how a bear could catch the lambs. So I figured that the lambs must have escaped when the fence got ripped down. I hoped they were close, unless they really got scared and went further away. Our property goes down to the river, and it is a good hike to get down there, so it felt like they could have gone a good distance. Wilf was already on my back, so we hiked around and called the lambs for almost an hour. Oh, with the dogs in tow. I asked them to find the lambs and they were pretty useless just running everywhere and being so excited because I was calling for the lambs at the top of my lungs. I could see there had been a bear laying in the grass here and there because there were some areas of flat grass. No sign of the lambs though, other than one tuft of wool I found just outside where the fence was ripped down. After an hour I headed back to the house and asked the neighbour if he had seen the lambs since they used to hit up his lawn when they were escaping the lower field on a daily basis. He said he had not seen the lambs. Oy.
Searching and Waiting/Waiting and Searching
At this point I wasn't sure what to do. It was seven o'clock, Cam was at fire practice (volunteer firefighter) and should be home within the hour, and Wilf needed to eat dinner. I thought when Cam got home we could take the quad out and cover more ground searching for the lambs. It was getting dark at around 8:30/9, and I was nervous to take Wilf to far from the house because it was close to his bedtime and I didn't want to be far from the house if it got dark. I am still a scardey-cat and if there was a bear out there, I didn't want to meet him let alone with a child on my back. So we ate some food and waited for Cam. His practice went a bit longer than I had guessed, so he didn't get home until 8:30pm. Wilf was exhausted at this point, so Cam went out on the quad and called for the lambs. It was almost pitch black by 9, so he couldn't look very far. But either way, he didn't hear a peep from them. And if you know our lambs, they are noisey when they are stressed. If they are hungry, they cry, if they are lonely, they cry, if I don't put them to bed before dark, they just walk around and cry. So if they were close, he would have heard them, unless they were too scared to make a sound.
We barely slept that night because we were so worried about them. I kept thinking that if they got spooked that maybe they got separated and were scared and alone. Cam thought they were dead. We were just a wreck. I left their pen open in case they came back in the night, but at first light, they were still gone. Cam had to head to Kamloops (two hour drive) for work and so I put Wilf on my back and with the dogs in tow, we went searching for the lambs. We looked everywhere and called out (even Wilf) for Willie and Nelson until we were almost hoarse. After a few hours, Wilf was getting tired from the hike, so I brought him home for his nap.
You Won't Believe What Happens Next
This is where it gets crazy. While Wilf is sleeping, I call my mom to tell her the story. We talk about our days, and this and that, and then I hear a sound in the backyard. To be more specific, I hear a lamb cry under the deck (where the lambs used to go on hot days when they hung out in the yard.) I quickly hung up on my mom so quickly she probably thought I had some sort of emergency and I went out and found not one, but two lambs under the deck. But here is the crazy thing, the yard was closed; both gates were locked and there was no way for the lambs to get in. It had been locked since the previous night, and I knew I had locked it because I have guinea keets in the chicken tractor in the yard and I didn't want t bear to get them so I made sure to close the gates. And I had also checked to see if the lambs were under the deck earlier that morning. Crazy, right? I was so happy to see them; I had goosebumps about it. It was just so messed up. They were fine. Hungry, thirsty, and upset and covered in burs, but fine. And yes, I could tell they were upset because they just kept crying and wanted nose rubs. Eventually they settled down and had a nice nap under the deck. I kept them in the yard until bedtime and then tucked them in their pen to make sure they were safe. They were very happy to be home and we were happy they were home. Ugh.
Am I Bo-Peep?
So what happened? Well, I don't know what tore down the fence or certain, but it had to have been a bear. But where did the lambs go and how did they get back in? Well, the next day I met up with our house sitter who had watched the lambs and chickens the week before. I told her the story of the lambs missing and return and she looks at me and says, "Well, you know you have a hole in your fence, right?" Um no, I didn't! She said that while we were gone, Hadley, kept escaping the yard and it drove her nuts because she would be trying to leave for work and she would have to chase Hadley around for twenty minutes because she was running around like a maniac. So that was it. No magic, the lambs must have found the hole in the fence and snuck in. Silly animals.
We are very happy they are back safe and sound. I haven't kept them in the yard again, since they pooped on the deck the second they were back, but I have let them out on some supervised trips to a small stand of poppler trees they like to eat.
Will They Still Be Dinner One Day?
I bet you are wondering if we will still eat them after this adventure? And the answer is yes. I don't like thinking about it since I love them. But I also know that there isn't any more "happier meat" out there. These lambs have had the best life and were raised in the most ethical way possible. I don't know that I can say that for certain about the meat one might buy from the grocery store. So even though it will be really hard for me to let them go, I can feel better knowing I did my best to make sure they were happy and healthy animals while they were alive.
And that is that. Willie and Nelson are home and are currently tucked in bed as a write this. They will be with us here for another month or so before we take them back to the ranch where we got them. For now, they will be loved and cared for as our crazy pets, and will be dinner another day, and not a bear's dinner, but ours!