March is my favorite month, my power month, because it brings with it the official start of spring, and my birthday – which I milk for all its worth, pretty much all month long. The month is made even more joyous because I also get to celebrate T’s birthday. This we did last week, with a bunch of carrot cupcakes (recipe below), dinner out, and a movie (Rango – laugh out loud funny for adults and kids). Our punk rock farmer neighbors (we’ll call them Sid and Sarah here) joined us for the cupcakes in the afternoon, and brought T some sprigs of forsythia and a jar of homemade chow-chow from last year’s harvest (apparently a Southern delicacy – a type of relish – though I had never heard of it).
We finished our mini celebration, and Sid returned to work outside while Sarah lingered with me on the back porch as I asked for advice about our chickens. Suddenly, we heard Sid shouting for Sarah. Sarah hollered back “Just a minute!”, and continued to talk about the chickens, but Sid kept yelling, with some obvious urgency and alarm. As this registered, we both froze for an instant and Sarah’s face turned white. Sarah leapt off the porch yelling “I’m coming”, and I followed quickly after her, thinking Sid must be hurt. T bounded out of the front of the house as we rounded the corner.
Sarah reached the front yard facing her pasture, and suddenly reared back as she took in the scene. The energy in the air dramatically changed again as she exclaimed “Oh! Its a lamb!” I squealed and started to jump up and down while Sarah sushed me and said, smiling, “Let’s try to be calm.” She slowed her pace and breathed deeply as she approached her pasture, but then she nearly swooned and said in a loud whisper “Oh my god! It’s TWO lambs!” In the 45 minutes that we were stuffing our faces with cupcakes, one of their ewes had delivered twins!
S & S mated their ewes with a “rent-a-ram” in the late fall, and 3 or 4 are pregnant. Though they knew that the ewes might deliver any time in the next several weeks, Sarah had just told me earlier in the morning that they almost always birth in the middle of the night, often during a storm. The theory is that they instinctively know that predators are less likely to be around if it is raining or snowing. Sarah was already planning to set her alarm for the wee hours of the morning to go out to the pasture to check on the ewe’s every night this week. Last year they lost a lamb (also a twin), who may have been stillborn, but also may have been neglected by the ewe, who may not have realized that she had two. So Sarah wants to be present this year, if possible, for each “lambing”, so that she can encourage nursing or bottle feed any babies that are struggling.
Though it was a little bit of a surprise to be greeted by the lambs in the middle of the day, Sarah did tell me that she had recently felt the lambs kicking while they were sheering. Apparently they shave the belly and nether-regions to make the birth cleaner and help the lambs find the udder more easily. The kicking was a surprise, and made S & S realize that at least one of the ewes was further along than they expected. Just that morning they had moved the lambs from an outer pasture to one nearer the barn for the lambing period. It may have been the move that stimulated her labor – or perhaps she delivered earlier than the other ewes because she was carrying two.
We looked on as the little pair stood and stumbled about on tiny, shaking legs, and I marveled that they can stand and walk within minutes of birth – how must their brains be wired differently from human babies, who take months and months of growing and kicking and feeling around before their brains can make sense of how to use their legs?
The delivery was so recent that the ewe was still passing afterbirth, and thin brownish umbilical cords still hung from the bellies of the babies. Yet mama was already chowing down on grass, clearly trying to refuel, taking small breaks to check in with each lamb and help them both find the udder, to everyone’s relief. We heard the ewe make a low, rumbling growl of a “baaa”, and Sarah explained that this is her unique call for her lambs. She will use it from now on to call them to her; they will be able to recognize it out of all the other ewes, and she will always sniff the lambs to be sure they are hers before letting them nurse. A few of the other ewes approached the lambs in curiosity, and mama wasted no time in head-butting them away, causing Sarah to croon “What a good mama, good girl, good job!”
Though they had invited me to participate, S & S were so moved and focused on their new arrivals, that after a few minutes I felt I was intruding on a private moment, and I started back to the house. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Sarah approach Sid with her arms spread wide, and then lean into his chest with a long, warm and happy embrace. Proud parents. When I got back to the house, T joked “Its a good day to be born”, and I couldn’t agree more.
So far, the other ewes have not delivered, though Sarah has been waking every morning at 3 am to check. Brother and sister lamb are much more sure of their feet, and watching them pounce and play makes me chuckle. Sarah says they’ve already gained a pound.
Oh yeah…the cupcakes. These are a fantastic low fat carrot cake with the best frosting I’ve ever had – and they will forever be linked in my mind with this special day. The recipe is below. You might want to play with the amount of carrot – I thought there wasn’t enough carroty texture. I think they might also be good with a 1/2 cup or so of shredded coconut mixed into the batter, though I haven’t tried that yet. I like spice, so next time I might add twice the cinnamon and nutmeg. But they were a hit as is, both last year and this year, with T and our guests.
Stay tuned…we’ll soon have more fun with baby animals – we’re getting chicks! Also, T and I attended the Organic Growers School last weekend, and have lots to tell about that.
Carrot Cupcakes Recipe
1 & 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 cup canola oil
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 & 1/2 cups carrots shredded (consider a little more)
1/4 cup + 2 Tablesp chopped walnuts
1/4 cup golden raisins
4 oz light or low fat cream cheese – the soft spreading kind works best
3/4 cup confectioners (powdered) sugar
1 tsp orange and/or lemon zest
1 drop orange essence
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F
Sift together first 6 ingredients in a medium bowl
In a separate large bowl, whisk oil, brown sugar, and eggs together
Add the applesauce, vanilla, and carrots to the egg mixture and stir well
Gradually stir the dry ingredients into the egg-carrot mixture
Stir in 1/4 cup walnuts and raisins
Pour into baking cups and bake 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Let cool completely on a wire rack.
Meanwhile, using a mixer, beat the cream cheese, confectioners sugar, zest, and orange essence until creamy. When cupcakes are cool, dollop a tablespoonful of icing on each cake. It may spread out on its own, or you can use the back of the spoon to smooth the frosting around. Sprinkle the top with the remaining 2 Tablesp of crushed walnuts and a bit of orange zest or shredded carrot (use a vegetable peeler to get a pretty thin curl of zest or carrot).
Makes 12 cupcakes.