Thursday, April 10, 2014

A Very Tough Loss

Yesterday, in the wee hours of the morning, we lost Pancake the sheep. Worse still, we also lost her two unborn lambs - one male, one female.

It was a very hard, very sad day, and a very tough loss of three little sheep lives.

Pancake, left side with the brown markings, was pregnant when I took this picture.
I found her yesterday morning out in her pen. I had checked on the sheep last night, like I do every day (twice a day, for that matter), and she looked perfectly fine. In fact, I saw her tail wag as she reached up and took a few bites of wild bamboo leaves. She had shelter, water, food, and the company of her two sheep-mates.

She did not make it to the morning.

I took Brisket out after my morning milking routine, as always, and checked on the sheep. I saw the other two grazing away, but not Pancake at first. I didn't think much of it, since they were working in a pretty thick bamboo grove where it is difficult to see the other side of. OK, she's around the other side, I thought. After staking out Brisket, I started to head back and saw her lying on the ground. She look asleep, but even from a distance, something was just off.

When I found her, my first reaction was that she had died giving birth. One lamb was protruding half-way out of her, and both were still and lifeless. I gathered her up in a tarp and a wagon, moved the electro-net for the other two sheep to set up a new pen on fresh ground, called in sick to work, and began to figure things out. On closer inspection, the baby lamb was not coming out of the birth canal - it was protruding from her abdomen. The labia were bloody and swollen, and her skin inside her thighs was torn. It was a difficult sight to see.

Pancake, right, even as a lamb was the loudest and most colorful of the three.
I didn't want it to end like this.
I got in touch with the vet and described it in detail. She said that is sounded like either an ectopic pregnancy, a uterine rupture, or a hemorrhaged artery. In any of these cases, she said, the sheep will experience intense, localized pain, and try to "chew" the pain away. This explained it all - the location of the hole in her cavity, the high amounts of blood, and the rapidness of her death. It also explained why she was fine just 12 hours earlier - any of these events would have a very rapid onset and pass quickly into death. After some internet research, it seems that a genetic condition would be the most likely cause.

We were shell-shocked, to say the least. One initial reaction was to burn or bury. Burying, though, is practically impossible in our rock-filled corner of the earth. We ended up deciding to use what we could (after all, we bought the sheep with the intention of using them). I figured if we just burned everything, we'd regret not utilizing her once the shock wore off. The vet had confirmed my first instinct of trauma, and not disease - the meat was still in a condition to be used.

I quickly opened my book on butchering and gave myself a crash-course in lamb processing. Due to the trauma she had experienced, things didn't go exactly according to plan, but I was able to salvage the leg-of-lamb (both legs) for us, and fed what remaining meat we could to the pigs and chickens. I burned the remainder.

Wife noted that she finally understood the Indians. The respect they display at the life of each animal, unique on its own, is praiseworthy. The awe and reverence at God's creation is something we modern folk could work on emulating. I was certainly humbled through it all.

It was a very sad, very tough experience. I did not want my first butchering experience to be under these circumstances. I was hoping to start with a few purpose-bred meat rabbits. Alas.

We're all coping better today. Sheep are, after all, livestock. It was definitely unexpected, and we are still saddened by it. I'm still most upset over the loss of the lambs. Pot Pie and Meatloaf are doing well, and Pot Pie should be due to lamb soon. I've been monitoring them extra-closely the last 24 hours, and they are doing great.

The kids cried, as losing any life before its time is a sad moment. Thing #2 quickly moved into fascination at the butchering process, though, and we all learned a great deal about life and death. Maybe, in a way, this was good, since we have already experienced the first death of a farm animal (besides a chicken). The next time, when we intentionally butcher, the emotion involved will be easier to handle.

In any case, life goes on. Milk and eggs still flow. Chickens crow. Pigs oink, squeal, and play. Seeds sprout. Grass grows. We continue to move forward. But we will always remember Pancake.

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