Lambing Season



How do you make a living on a rock surrounded by water that doesn’t have a large employer, a bridge to the mainland or even a hospital?

Small businesses like a bike shop, bakery or pub is one answer and islanders often work at more than one of these places to make ends meet. Also people in rural areas whether it be an island off the Washington coast or a one-stoplight-town in the middle of America seem to be more resourceful. They can fix what’s broken, grow a salad, hook and fillet their supper and breed and nurture a years worth of meat and eggs – with a little left over to sell to the city folks. These resourceful Americans are the fading shadows of our founding fathers. Sadly none are running for president.

Lopez Island is a forty-five minute ferry ride from the Washington coast, is fifteen miles long and has twenty-five hundred full time residents. In tourist season its economy plumps a little. Shuttered shops let in the light while others that were only partially hibernating during the dark wet season extend hours, pull out the patio furniture and release a hopeful sigh that things will be better this month.

March is still early for tourists on Lopez but for Michelle and Audrey and their expectant sheep, now is the right time for lambing. Lambing is the time of year when ewes give birth to lambs, typically two at a time with a few sets of triplets thrown in to keep the shepherds from becoming complacent.

Version 2

That picture of Audrey and Michelle walking to the barn with a hot mug of tea in their hands to see who delivered last night is as heart warming as a Norman Rockwell painting. But totally out of touch with reality. It’s true that the women own, manage and nurse an expanding herd of sheep but they do it in addition to their day jobs on leased land that they have to visit before work, during lunch, after work and before bedtime.


Version 2

Actually the sheep don’t even deliver in the barn. They deliver somewhere in the fields. That means the women have to first find the ewe and lambs then move them into the barn for a couple of days of monitoring.  Getting a ewe to follow you into the barn is a slow, tedious process, especially when it’s pitch black and raining. Once the ewe and lambs are strong and healthy enough to return to the field they send them out to make room for another mother with newborns. The cycle repeats again and again for three to four weeks in the sunshine, black of night, rain and gale force winds.



If things go as planned Michelle and Audrey will conclude lambing season by adding forty-four lambs to their herd. The female lambs will be kept for fleece and breeding while the males will leave the island and become a delicious stew, shawarma sandwich or lamb chops.

The shawarma, a pita bread sandwich filled with grilled lamb and veggies is one of the most delicious sandwiches I’ve ever tasted. But like most people when I look at the runt of the litter being bottle fed my immediate wish is for him to survive and return to the field with his mom. That doesn’t mean I won’t order another shawarma sandwich when I get the chance it just means I’m not cut out to raise sheep for market.


Like many people I want to cuddle calves, lambs and baby goats but I also like grilled meats. I’m an omnivore that was once a vegetarian and before that a hunter (but I wasn’t very good at it). Call me a wimp but the truth is I just don’t want to see what happens between the barn and the bistro. My wife is similar but still calls herself a vegetarian despite enjoying an occasional burger or BBQ sandwich.


There’s a part of me that would like to live on an island in the Salish Sea off the coast of Washington. I’d like to test my self-sufficiency and taste the salty winds while adjusting to the tidal rhythms and muted isolation. But I can’t lie to myself, it’s not real island life I want, it’s the Norman Rockwell painting of it. The old sailor looking at the sea, the kids playing in the waves and the male lamb saved by bottle feeding then released with his mother into a spring green paddock to live happily ever after.



Categories: Travel

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25 replies

  1. Such an interesting post with some splendid photos, thank you!

    • Thanks! It was an interesting visit and I look forward to going back. By the way, I’m especially enjoying your travels to Thailand. It’s a country I hope to visit in the near future. Happy travels, Brick

  2. Good friends of ours here in the UP nearby raise sheep for a living. They normally have about a thousand new lambs this time of year. It’s a 24/7 operation for about 6 weeks of birthing. Needless to say we don’t get to see Eric and Penny at church much for a few weeks. Thanks for the well written post and pics.

    • Hey Jeff,

      It’s great to hear from you. A thousand lambs would be a huge job. He may not be making it to church but I bet he’s doing some praying during those six weeks. Happy hiking.

      • Most years MSU will send up a couple of ag student interns to learn and help out for a few weeks. Eric has 4 or 5 Great Pyrenees dogs roaming his pastures to help keep the wolves and coyotes from enjoying too many free meals. A couple of years ago he lost around 85 lambs over the year even with the dogs out there. He felt there may have been some humans involved. Next time you get up our way I would be happy to take you by for a visit.

      • That sounds like an impressive operation, I would love to visit it next time. On the island I’m told their only predator is eagles, they don’t even have coyotes, so the sheep have a pretty good life out there.

  3. Good Blog Tom. I’m with you however. It is interesting to see and learn about the process but I would not be able to take on the job. Lambing is just one phase of the whole. The injections, nail triming. shearing and all the other year long jobs rule me out as a person to raise sheep. My hat is off to Michelle and Audrey!!

  4. Lopez is probably my favorite of the San Juans. Such cute shots. I’m with you. I would love to live on Lopez or Orcas for awhile.

  5. Having helped take care of alpacas, I can imagine sheep are no easy job either. At least one doesn’t have the dilemma of having to eat the male alpacas, as they still produce the fleece that they’re raised for. I’m with you – I like the Norman Rockwell version of living in the San Juans. Nice shots of the lambs – makes one want to reach out and scritch their little noses!^)

  6. Hey traveler. Thanks, it’s hard to take a bad picture of such a cute creature. Sue has yet to join me in eating any of the lamb chops we bought. 🙂

  7. Terrific post Brick. Lovely photos and stories. And I appreciate your thoughts embracing both reality and the romantic. Your writing is always such a pleasure.

  8. What a great post. I saw many of my own thoughts reflected in it from our tour of New Zealand from not wanting to eat lamb any more to bring tall about that impulse to live the “simple life.” It’s not really simple!

  9. I meant being real not bring tall, sorry that posted before I was ready and for some reason the mobile app doesn’t give the option of editing.

  10. Oh the lambs are so adorable. I love how honest you are when you say that you still love a good schwarma sandwich. I can totally relate. I am a huge animal lover and sometimes I wish I stayed near the countryside. But my love for animals won’t probably stop me from enjoying a hearty meal 😆 hope that makes sense lol

  11. It’s such a heart warming post..withnessing the laid back lives of country side and sheep’s….oh they are such adorable creatures…michelle n Audrey r doing grt jobs

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