Monday, November 21, 2011

Counting Sheep, Part III

Nearly a full year of shepherding passed before I was confronted with "the first rule of livestock farming." To put that a little differently, a full year passed before I ever heard of the "first rule of livestock farming." When you raise livestock, that first rule is simple and stark: Livestock Dies. It's not exactly like losing a beloved pet, but for me, it was not exactly not like that either.

We had this vision, you see, of growing our flock of babydoll sheep in the time-honored way: through breeding our ram, Farley, with our ewes each October, and eventually, in a few years, trading Farley with another nearby breeder to bring in some genetic diversity. By the time the first lambing season was over in Spring 2007, we had 4 ewes, two unrelated to Farley and two born to Farley's son Tupper. The two experienced ewes were a "given" for continued breeding, Agnes would be bred for the first time later in the Fall, and baby Sylvia would be kept apart from him for another year while she matured. And so the flock would grow...

Farley, doing the lip curl that indicates he's... um, interested.  
[Note: We neutered our other two new ram lambs, Roy and Todd, 
leaving them free to grow and happily graze, but not free to sire
any new lambs or challenge Farley for dominance. We also sold the
other 3 "intact" rams acquired in our original flock to prevent fighting.]

So we had a happy summer with the 7 sheep, and sure enough, when the number of daylight hours started noticeably decreasing by late September, Farley started spending a lot more time sniffing around the ewes. One morning I witnessed the mating dance between him and Lana. I have to admit that it was simultaneously fascinating and repulsive. Who knew, when I said "I Do," that I'd become a barnyard-peeping Deb? The two consenting adult sheep kept at it for a while, and I was pretty sure there had been a successful coupling. A day later, I saw Farley and Una seal the deal, and two weeks later, Agnes was bred by Farley as well.

I've always thought of this photo's caption as "Agnes Ha Ha,"
her reaction when I told her what was about to happen to her!

Even prior to all of the barnyard "activity," there was a concern we had with Farley; more specifically, a physical condition he was sporting. Farley's scrotum was huge (and that's an understatement), and hanging very low, practically dragging on the ground. He waddled when he walked, and there were several scrapes on the bottom of the scrotum from hitting rocks. When breeding was over, I had a vet come out to take a look. 

This veterinarian was a nearby guy who typically treated horses, but he told me he had experience with sheep too. It's still painful for me to tell this story. So to make it easier than relating all the ugly details, the vet injected Farley with an anesthetic to do what should have been a simple surgical repair. Unfortunately, he overdosed the drug, and Farley died within about 30 seconds. The vet calculated the dosage based on animal weight, but he did not take into enough consideration the difference between horses and sheep. I screamed, then bawled, but it was over. The vet clearly did not do it purposely, but he did truly f*#k up. He called a service to come remove Farley, and at least had the sense not to send me a bill. But Farley was gone, and we were now down to 6 sheep and no ram.

Here's Farley the day before he died. He was the center
of attention for a troop of Girl Scout Brownies that
visited us as part of a project they were working on.

A new ram came to us a month later, through a woman I'd met a year earlier in one of the online sheep discussion groups. She was downsizing her flock of babydolls to focus on her alpacas and also on her soon-to-arrive baby daughter. John and I drove 150 miles down to Gilroy, CA, where we met Kimberly B. and purchased Gus, a nearly 5 year old ram. We saw pictures of several of Gus' offspring, and they were beautiful animals. We brought Gus home, kept him separated from the rest of our sheep and the dog for 4-5 days, and then let him go free with everyone else out in the vineyard.  

Gus, December 2007

Gus was very friendly, and soon became the most popular sheep with us and our visitors, in large part because he loved to be petted and fed handfuls of grass or spare leaves of our garden crops. He never made a sound, but he did burp a lot. He never ever butted me, but he did frequently come over to rub his head on my knees.
In the barn with my buddies, Gus and Francesco

So at the end of the first full year with sheep, we were back to a population of 7: the 4 ewes, 2 wethers, and Gus the ram. Winter was now upon us, and the new year would be bringing plenty of "storms" and accompanying stories.
To be continued, for better and for worse...

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