September . . . .
I took a break during afternoon chores to visit with Leucadia, my favorite ewe lamb (named for the southern California "surfdom" where my brother lives). Time to catch my breath and reflect on recent events in this bizarre and busy month.
Labor Day Weekend - I celebrated by tending to a ram lamb who had cast himself and nearly died out in the field. A sheep can become "cast" when resting on a hillside or in a dingle or on any uneven terrain. While reclining, this little guy had turned too far onto his side and ended up flipping completely onto his back. I found him late afternoon in that postition, weakly struggling to right himself with four legs flailing in the air. Clearly he had been inverted for some time. Even when I stood him up, his legs would instantly collapse and he would pitch himself onto the ground again. I could see a bulge in his side - his rumen was distended. In the process of flipping, his gut had twisted causing trapped gas to build and put severe pressure on his diaphragm. His breathing was quite labored. Had I not found him, he would have died a slow and painful death.
After ferrying him back to the barn and forcing some Gas X down his throat. I brewed a special blend of peppermint, comfrey, chamomile tea to soothe his stomach. Since he was too weak to drink, he "sipped" his tea via a 5 cc syringe. I was able to get 4 - 6 oz into him each hour that way.
He spent the night propped up between two straw bales. I checked hourly to be sure he hadn't flipped himself again. When he was still too weak to stand the second day, I had my doubts about his ability to recover. A friend suggested injectable vitamin B, which I happened to have on hand. Within two hours of an injection, he was on his feet and showing interest in the hay. When I saw signs that things were moving through his system once again, I became cautiously optimistic. Maybe he would be ok.
We continued the hourly tea ceremony, which he clearly began to enjoy. After swallowing a mouthful of hay he would politely turn to me for "more tea". On day three I released him into the pen with the Cormo girls and lambs to keep him mobileand see if he could maintain coordination. He brightened right up to be outdoors with other sheep. I began to think I had dodged a bullet, but continued to watch him closely.
Day four: When I caught him in the act of mounting a Cormo ewe that morning, I knew we were out of the woods. Back to the pasture he went.
The following week was consumed with haying. Making the most of a window of clear-skied, warm days, we put close to 1300 bales in the barn.
Mike and Holly riding the wagon back to the barn . . . .
Welcome rain arrived near the end of the second week. I say welcome for two reasons: the grass in the pasture was turning a toasty brown, and we were sick of tossing hay bales and glad for a little break.
I was feeling pretty good about September, having saved a ram lamb and putting up most of what I needed for winter feed - until the morning of September 11.
I was at the barn when Mike frantically called me back home. We keep a group of Cormo rams and wethers in a large pasture enlcosed with electronet behind our house at the top of the hill. When I arrived, we could only find three of the seven boys and they were clearly stressed. After shutting them into their shed, we began searching the pasture for the missing boys. Steady rain and a heavy mist prevented us from seeing very far. At the pasture's edge, we made the grim discovery that two of our Cormos, Trumpet and Phaeton, had been savagely attacked and killed during the night. Not far away, we found Jack, another wether, had also been killed. There are no words to describe how truly aweful we felt. To make matters worse, Cosmos, one of the wethers, was missing. Armed with baseball bats and fire extinguishers, we searched the brushy thicket and woods surrounding the pasture for hours, with no luck. Either he was on the run or had been taken down elsewhere.
This was easily the saddest and most distressing incident we've ever had on the farm. "The boys" were the sheep who lived closest to our house. We watched them graze from nearly every window, said hello to them whenever we stepped outdoors. It was inconceivable that a predator could take them down within 50 yards of our back door without any sound of alarm. Trumpet, the biggest, meanest ram we've ever had, weighed close to 250 pounds. The wethers were solid, at least 225 pounds. We were in a state of shock.
A biologist from Mass Fish and Wildlife arrived the next day and after doing some tracking, located our missing sheep. He had been killed in a similar fashion in the woods downhill from the house. Tracks found at both kill sites revealed that the damage was done by a very large, single canine predator. To this day we do not know if it was a domestic dog, a large coyote or a wolf hybrid.
Since then, we have beefed up security for the rest of the flock. No one stays out in electronet at night, although we do need to rely on it for grazing during the day. With our confidence badly jarred, we realize that there's only so much we can do to keep the sheep safe. Hopefully, our woven wire fence with hot wires at the top will keep whatever is lurking the woods away from our flock.
Our "big wooly boys" - taken just a few days before the attack. That's Jack with his chin resting on the feeder. . .
Copyright 2007, Barbara Parry, Foxfire Fiber & Designs. All images and content property of Barbara Parry. Please do not use my words or images without written permission.