Small time town with big time drama.
Eli stood in the dim light of early morning watching Cullen prepare bottles for the latest residence in the lambing. The low tones of profanity drifted toward him and he started to step in to help. But a second later Cullen solved his problem and filled the bottle with warm milk for one lamb.
As he watched, a chilling predawn breeze slipped through the door. He pulled his denim jacket tighter around. His movement signaled Cullen to his presence.
Cullen grinned as he readied another bottle. “It doesn’t do you much good to have hot water installed in the equipment room if you get up and watch me mix the formula.”
Eli smirked and bumped his fist against Cullen’s shoulder. “I was already awake. I was going through the records to see where we could do better.”
He stopped what he’d been doing and locked his eyes on Eli. “What do you mean we need to do better? I thought the ranch was doing good.”
Eli chuckled as he relaxed against the doorframe and slipped his hands in his pockets. “Don’t get all twisted in knots. I said I was looking for ways to improve, not that we are about to go under. That’s why we have the sheep. They’d help maximize our forage use.”
Cullen studied him for a few seconds before he nodded and turned back to the task at hand. The dim light laminated the room as he heated the milk substitute. Once they were both warm, he grabbed the two bottles and headed for the door where Eli stopped him. Cullen looked up to find a smirk across Eli’s face.
“Give me a bottle. They’ve never nursed from it on their own and will fight you. It’ll be easier if I feed one of the little monsters.”
Cullen studied him but then sighed and held out the other bottle to Eli. “Okay, I give. It would make it simpler for each of us to take one.”
He took the warm formula from Cullen and grinned. “I’m glad you agree. I’m not the most reasonable person at ungodly hours.”
Cullen rolled his eyes but kept his comments to himself. They flipped on the lights in the barn and every animal housed inside cried for attention. Eli found the early morning cacophony deafening as they made their way to the small enclosure holding the ewe and her twins. As they moved closer, the mother gathered her offspring around her, faced Eli and Cullen and stomped her foot at them. When she repeated the action a second time, Cullen looked toward Eli.
“What’s up with her? I don’t remember a ewe getting so aggressive before,” Cullen said.
Eli shrugged, “Some of them get protective of their babies. Usually about all they’ll do is make threats though. Not like some cows I’ve had before who would try to crawl into the pickup to get you if you mess with their calf.”
“You’ll let me know which ones those are—right?”
Eli chuckled, “Those cows go to market in a heartbeat. But we’re getting off track. We need to get more food down these two.”
Cullen stepped into the pen, snagged one lamb and held it against him as he tried to coax her to nurse from the bottle. But all he accomplished was to irritate the lamb and have a squirming pile of tiny sheep in his arms. He had spent far too long when the distinctive sound of nursing filled the space.
Eli’s lamb was enthusiastically nursing at the bottle. Frustrated, he grunted toward Eli. “You want to share your secret? All this little shit does is clench its teeth and fight me.”
“You have to show it who’s boss. Shove that nipple into its mouth.”
Cullen shot him a sullen glance before refocusing on manhandling an eight pound lamb. But he was losing the battle. He’d struggled with the little sprite for several minutes to no avail. But he refused to quit, even when the other lamb finished its meal. Eli knew it was time to step in before Cullen’s frustration ruled his good sense.
He stepped closer and laid his hand on Cullen’s shoulder. “Here, let me help. That little shit is a fighter like its mom.”
Cullen tensed, but then the tension disappeared. “Yes, before the knot-head hurts itself.”
Eli took the bottle and waited until Cullen had a tight hold on the trouble maker, then carefully pried its jaws open. After a brief struggle, Eli slipped the rubber nipple into its mouth.
The lamb fought before swallowing several squirts of milk. It frozen place, then suckled again for a second as if it were sampling the goods.
The animal looked up at Cullen for a long second, then nursed with all the ferocity of a piranha after raw meat. After a few seconds of furious nursing, Cullen turned to Eli.
“I think she’s got it now.”
Eli chuckled and squeezed Cullen’s shoulder before heading back to the house, his cozy bed and a few more hours of sleep.
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