Saturday, 11 August 2012

The Lows and...well, no, just the lows

Ewe Two died yesterday.


Waiting for handouts

She contracted pneumonia. When I called the vet I could tell by his voice that there was little hope. Apparently it's the weather patterns: lots of wet followed by a hot day acts as a trigger factor to allow the infection to develop in a sheep. I dosed her with antibiotics and painkillers, but nothing worked. All the sheep are vaccinated and wormed so there's not a lot else I can do but accept it.

Or in my case, sit on the couch and sob my heart out. 

Ewe Two, my little orphan Texel

I realise it's a sheep but I also realised she's been a companion to me. I've spent more time recently in her company than in Mike's. She responded to basic training, and to affection. She wanted to be with me even when I didn't have food. She wagged her tail like a dog when I stroked her.

I had to swallow my tears because I was due to meet a farmer taking delivery of pheasant food. I didn't want him to see red eyes and have to explain that I was crying over a dead sheep. I used a bag of frozen peas as a compress, then slapped on a pair of sunglasses to hide the rest. Delivery done, I called the hunt kennel. 

The hunt kennel is an approved dead stock handler. They take "fallen stock" to feed their hounds. I had to deliver the ewe to the waiting kennel man, which meant getting the 90kg ewe into the back of my truck. I weigh 61kg. I didn't do the maths. 

Lifestyle magazines have a lot to answer for. Pictures of outdoor tables with teapots and bunting, piebald cows, ladies in aprons throwing scraps to hens with shiny conker-coloured feathers. Do you know what the reality is? A woman in sunglasses, dripping in sweat and tears while she tries to lever her sheep companion's bloated carcase 3 foot up into a truck. And fails. Then tries a rope. And fails. Then tries strength and sheer willpower. And fails. All the time being bitten by horse flies. 

There was no one else but me to do this. I don't have a big extended family on my doorstep, and I'm not 'in' with the locals well enough to ask dead stock-moving favours. Of all the situations I've been in since I started this life, I think yesterday was my lowest point. I have never felt so alone or disheartened. 

Well, I did get Ewe Two in the truck eventually, and I did get her to the kennel, and I have stopped crying now. And when a farmer tried to give me some well-meaning advice that I should stop keeping sheep if I couldn't cope, I decided that he was wrong.

I coped. OK, I needed advice, sheep meds, a bag of frozen peas, sunglasses, a rope, a hurdle, and some itch relief cream for fly bites, but I coped. 

I'm not giving up my sheep. 

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go and bury Nell's ashes on the hillside, walk the dogs, and check on MY flock.


24 comments:

  1. Janice Bendixen11 August 2012 09:43

    Oh Jen. How sad. Now I'm crying. I can relate to the "not physically strong enough" annoying aspect of life. But she was the only ewe who wagged her tail for you! I'm so sorry but I would feel the same. And the feelings of aloneness and isolation? Got them too. Thank God for sunglasses, I say

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  2. Janice Bendixen11 August 2012 09:44

    But I shudder to think what you do w those frozen peas. I have them in my freezer also but I hate those things.

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    1. Good chicken stock, frozen peas, and mint. cook, whizz up, et voila: pea and mint soup. It's pretty good. Also sprained knees, crying eyes, cold compresses...

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    2. Janice Bendixen11 August 2012 12:49

      Hmmm... Good on you. I just happen to have some fresh mint in my bedraggled garden. I'll try it. Pls share photos of Nellie's final resting place so I can wish her a happy crossing over the Rainbow Bridge

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  3. When I moved to Quar, Mike went sailing for 6 weeks (you have to understand that this wasn't a holiday!! - no kids, flat blue sea, sun shine, no phone, no I had to remember it was a hardship for him)

    Back home I lost a sheep, I sobbed, I cried, I didn't know who to ask for help, I dug a hole with two toddlers trying 'to help'. I then discovered what blow fly was with two bottle lambs, tiny, sweet, little lambs.

    I cried, I found that Jeyes fluid is wonderful with the back of a pair of scissors, I didn't eat rice for a month!!

    So no, don't listen to your well meaning farmers advice,carry on with your flock.

    But PLEASE promise me something, pick up the phone next time, I am what 10 minutes away and would have come straight over, brought tissues, RING ME!!!

    xx

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    1. Damn. Had I been thinking straight I might have thought to try your number. Between us two strong'uns we could have lifted that ewe straight in. Next time I'm paying the extra for collection instead of delivery.

      You've taught me the jeyes fluid trick, and I second the 'no rice after maggots' rule. I can't eat pine nuts during tick season either.

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  4. This post almost had me crying, too.

    I think what you did sounds really brave, and really hard. I think it's amazing that you can keep going and even find the strength to write about something like this. And Thanks for writing this, it's such a valuable antidote to Lifestyle Magazines: Telling It Like It Is.

    I hope you had a big ass brandy and an early night after all that.

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    1. Dinner was a takeout chinese at 11pm, dessert was a sleeping pill :). I was up at 5am doing therapy baking and now I have a muffin mountain, but I'm ok to face new challenges again. Thanks for the kind words of support.

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  5. sunglasses - necessary equipment around these parts. And those old farmers have just hardened into bits. To me, being able to Both feel and carry on = way far stronger.

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  6. What a good idea, Janice. Of course I will. All the shoot dogs - Mike's and the underkeepers' - are buried on the hill, together, with a view of the estate. Nellie will have company.

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  7. Janice Bendixen11 August 2012 13:03

    I can see her smile. And bossing from her home on the hill. Good.

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  8. It takes loads of courage to attempt a daunting new task. The old buggers probably grew up with sheep -- no big deal for them. I applaud your bravery.

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  9. This made me cry, too. But I have to agree with Megan- It is far stronger to feel pain and loss and soldier on than to simply go about your day feeling nothing at all. Those wizened old farmers aren't tougher than you for not caring about their livestock beyond the bottom line; they're just lacking emotion.

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  10. Marthaeliza & Seester - I think you're both right, but in the farmers' defence I think they can't understand why I would want to take on any kind of farming with all its hardships and disappointments, not to mention financial insecurities. I like to assume that their heart is in the right place when they advise me to quit now, while I still have a strong back and money in the bank.

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  11. I’m very sorry for both of your losses and I certainly understand how you can get attached to farm animals. I don’t eat beef today because I became so attached to the cattle on my mom’s farm. I had a vegetable garden next to the pasture and a few would always come up to the fence for a treat. I would sing to them and talk to them just like they were human! All of them had names and when they saw me they came running. I applaud your compassion. After all, they are God’s creatures too and should be treated with love and respect!

    Wanda

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    1. Wanda - So many folks have said to me how individual animals, even from big flocks, have had a personal impact on their lives. Even the toughest oldest farmer types. I understand your choice. Our neighbor has a commercial suckler herd of beef, and there's one old dairy cow in his herd from their milking days. It was the wife's favorite and she couldn't bear to part with it.

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  12. Tell that well-meaning farmer to go suck it. You are my new hero. Keep writing - it is therapeutic for you. Remember the next time you feel this way, we are right there with you in spirit - willing you the strength that you need. Empathy, strength, support - always with a side of humor. You go, girl!

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    1. I believe my actual words were "You can poke that up your ass", but I think the sentiment is the same.

      Thanks for being part of the cheering squad - it helps me through the lows!

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  13. The reason you should NOT give up keeping sheep is because you care, because you cry, because you needed frozen peas and sunglasses.

    Our capacity to love the animals who will break our hearts is what sets us apart.

    And as someone else said, writing can be very cathartic, so please don't stop.

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    1. Writing is cathartic, but what's most helpful are people's comments: ideas, thoughts, better ways of doing something. I belong to a great community of interesting, skilled people - it's just an online one.

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  14. Janice Bendixen15 August 2012 01:05

    Hi Jen. Still thinking of Ewe Two and you too. I work for the Alaska State Fair and just happened to be on grounds this afternoon delivering whale jaw and rib bones. (I'll send my email privately for the story and photos.) We were directed to the Farm Exhibits building where there are, oh, farm animals. There is also signage I never noticed before depicting profiles of goats and sheep. I thought of you immediately. I hope you're finished sobbing on the couch, at least for now. Sending you some Alaskan sunshine, my dear.

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  15. That sounds like a really bad day. I am very sorry about Ewe Two, and I think I absolutely understand crying over dead livestock.

    In a way, though, I don't think you and the farmer are that far off. If you thought you genuinely couldn't cope, you would give it up. But you are coping, and coping well -- it's just that crying over dead livestock is part of the way you cope.

    I will defend that way. I think it is better than the other way, in which the death of a sheep is not affecting. We all need to continue to be affected, and the world is a better place. If I were a sheep, I'd prefer to be your sheep than that farmer's sheep.

    Since I am not a sheep, I will offer condolences, and wish you an excellent replacement for Ewe Two.

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  16. Jennifer, it sounds like you coped like a champ! I've lost and cried too, doesn't make us unable...it just makes us amazing for having the ability to feel for our livestock:) Hope the rest of your flock stays well.

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  17. I have been traveling and just read of Nell's death and now Ewe Too. What a tough few weeks you've had. I'm so sorry.

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