The Story of Your Food
by Nina Linton
Donna Clark is on call 24/7. Some nights she gets no sleep, working around the clock helping mothers deliver healthy little ones. She lingers by their sides for as long as it takes—some minutes, others hours—ready to jump in and help during the most difficult and intense births.
With two grown children of her own, Clark’s mothering instinct remains strong. She’s delivered triplets, quadruplets, and even quintuplets- often giving overwhelmed mothers a hand, coaxing impossibly tiny multiples to bottle-feed up to four times daily. She spends months monitoring her delicate wards, including some premature arrivals that demand special care. She fawns over every newborn: tracking growth, cooing over first sounds and relishing first steps. She beams after each birth, and cries when the little charges she fights so hard to save don’t make it.
Clark isn’t a midwife or neonatal nurse, although she routinely practices many similar skills; she’s a passionate sheep farmer with a love for lambs. “Most people will say it takes a woman to help run a sheep farm. You have that mothering instinct. When the babies are born you get them nursed and get them started,” says Clark, besides, she smiles “how can anybody not love a baby lamb? They are so cute and cuddly.”
Six times a year, she and her husband, Steven, welcome a new crop of wool-clad lambs onto their 220-acre Belmont farm. (The couple also has a herd of beef cattle.) For them, rearing lambs is more than a job. It’s a lifestyle. Days are long. Countless hours spent in the barn or in the field, ensure that the sheep and lambs lead stress-free lives as close to their natural existence as possible. “We take so much pride in raising them,” she says. “A lot of hours go into feeding them, looking after the animals, and growing feed for winter. That is our life.”
Sick days and time off don’t exist. Family vacations are an impossible dream. “We can’t go as a family because someone has to stay behind on the farm.”
Which is not to say they couple don’t enjoy their work. “You have to love what you do.” On a crisp winter morning, Clark scoops an armful of bottles and slips inside the lambing pen. A few of her adoptive ovine bound towards her at full tilt; they know she’s got breakfast. The small sheep clamour over each other, tails twirling like propellers, as they push their gaping mouths forward for the first drops of milk. “I love raising little babies, you know, but it takes patience when you’ve got 16 lambs coming at you and only two hands,” Clark laughs.
But no matter how charming they are, the seasoned livestock producer never looses sight of the fact that these little lambs will be going to market in a few months. It’s a bittersweet parting for the dedicated farmer and the animals she so diligently nurtures. “It’s farming. Everyday is a challenge. You take the good with the bad. There are days with lots of disappointment but the joys of going out to the barn and seeing a new set of baby lambs makes it all worthwhile.”