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Friday, January 15 2016

Her name was Smudge.

I try not paint a picture of ranching that looks at the farm through rose-colored glasses, because the reality is that nature is cruel and ranching can be heartbreaking. You can find the adorable calf that was so friendly yesterday stretched out and gutted by coyotes today. It hurts, and it's expensive. There is simply no way to steel your heart and your wallet against ranching tragedies. The worst part is that even if you set aside the Rules Of Ranching, forgeting the cost and your responsibilities to the rest of the animals, and let yourself be guided by your heart, sometimes it just isn't enough.

I tend to be a soft-hearted sort and want to save them all, forgetting that the money I spend today on an animal that won't make it anyway, cannot be spent later on a animal that will survive. Other Half is more practical. He's been ranching most of his life. In addition to that, he can be brutally honest with everyone, including himself. Most of the time I don't like his bluntness because it flies in the face of the warm and fuzzy blanket I like to wrap myself in. I've seen enough Death in this world, and if I can cheat the bastard just one more time, I will. Another reason I don't like taking Other Half's less than politically correct advice is because he's my arrogant husband, and frankly, I hate that smug look on his face when he knows that I've realized that he's been right all along about something. Ladies, am I right here? Can I get an amen?

That said, if I want to be truly honest with you and myself, suffering is worse than death, and so is the heavy weight of responsibility when knowing that your actions, or lack of actions, caused their suffering. This leads us to the last 48 hours.

Last fall I bought some ewe lambs to rebuild my Dorper sheep flock. Unfortunately some of these lambs turned out to be pregnant. This was a case of babies having babies. My vet has pointed out that I should have given them a drug to induce labor just to clean them out, but not only do I not like to mess with nature, I thought they were too young to be bred in the first place. I was wrong on both counts. I hadn't even planned to breed them myself until next spring.

I knew I was in trouble when I looked around and realized I had seven ewe lambs pregnant. I had noted they were smaller than average. Now I know its because all their nutrition was going to developing fetuses. By the time I saw we had a problem, the only thing I could think to do was wait it out and hope my babies could have their babies. It is my nature. I always want to give life a chance. What I failed to take into account was the suffering.

The first ewe, my favorite little Smudge, went into labor on Wednesday. Not only was this a case of a baby having a large baby, but it was a horrendous butt-first breech birth at the vet clinic. The baby died within minutes of her birth. She also had a mouth so deformed that she wouldn't have been able to nurse anyway. The vet recommended aborting every one of the remaining ewe lambs. Here is where things get dicey. To do so flew in the face of my "let nature sort it out/give life a chance" mentality, and it wouldn't save my ewe lambs the labor of a late term delivery anyway.

Other Half then also pointed out the cost. I was facing losing 7-14 babies plus their mothers and facing a hefty vet bill for each delivery. The vet assured me that if I chose not to abort that I would be in the clinic for every delivery anyway. Not only could I be out the price of the ewe lamb, but I would also have vet bills double the value of the ewe lamb. If I lost the ewe and the babies it was a triple whammy. Other Half saw that pretty quickly. I still refused to acknowledge it. Even though I didn't breed them at such a young age, I still felt responsible for this little group of girls. Other Half's advice was to sell them for slaughter before they went into labor. My mind vomited at the thought.

I chewed on it all night. I prayed on it.

"God, please take this choice out of my hands. I don't want this responsibility. Make it easy for me."

Be careful what you pray for.

The next morning I started calling sheep friends for advice. Some were more diplomatic than others about my options, but there  were still only three - either send them to a humane slaughter or induce labor and hope for the best knowing that I would lose some or all of the lambs and possibly lose their mothers, or let nature take its course, knowing that I would still lose some or all of the lambs and possibly their mothers.

I didn't like the options but if I sold them for slaughter then at least I could spare them the suffering and spare myself the massive vet bills which my vet had already assured me would happen. A fourth option arose in which a friend of friend, who is familiar with sheep and goats, might choose to take the chance and buy them. Since he had no problems with shooting and butchering a ewe that wasn't having a smooth delivery it was a viable option. It would give the others a chance.

I still hated all the above choices and felt like I was somehow betraying the ewes in their time of need. The reality was that if I had not bought them as breeding ewe lambs, these girls would have gone to slaughter with their brothers anyway. But still . . .

The decision was made for me last night when I came home. Because we'd been helping friends work cattle, we'd been gone most of the day. It was dark and as the sheep filed into the barn, I counted. Smudge was missing. I started out with a flashlight but I didn't need it. Briar led me straight to the body of the ewe lamb. Without the dog it would have taken me forever to find her under the tarped hay.  I stared at her stiff body in the beam of the flashlight and remembered how she laid her head in my lap and pushed so hard as the vet wrenched that baby from her. At the end of all that suffering was a dead baby, a dead ewe, and a big vet bill, and I was staring at six more times of that.

In the light of day when you are watching a sweet ewe lamb chew her cud, it's easy to vow that you will give each girl a chance on her own, but when you are standing in the dark staring at the bloodstained, swollen rump of your 'pie in the sky' decision, you are reminded that suffering is worse than death. Other Half refuses to eat lamb, and we don't have the freezer space, or I'd butcher them all for the dogs. We made the decision to either sell the whole lot of them to the man who wants to chance it and butcher anyone having a bad delivery, or sell the whole lot to be butchered.

Be careful what you pray for. God can make your decision a little easier. I gave that some thought as I stood in the dark staring a dead ewe and a despondent Livestock Guardian Dog. Briar doesn't understand a lot of things, but she understands suffering, and she understands death.

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 07:58 am   |  Permalink   |  4 Comments  |  Email
Bless your heart, you've had a BAD week, haven't you. There are times I wonder where all the adults are and why I have to do the big girl stuff. But if I had been Smudge, I would still trust you. We do what we can.
Posted by Andrea on 01/15/2016 - 09:44 AM
God bless you, Andrea. I needed to hear that today.
Posted by Forensicfarmgirl on 01/15/2016 - 05:56 PM
Sad it is when we end up fixing someone else mistakes Hardest part of having to make choices is when we are large animal people with small animal mentality. Learning to look at the big picture is sometimes neither pretty or easy. Here is to the end of a "no good, very bad, awful week".
Posted by Terry on 01/16/2016 - 12:54 AM
Thank you! It's already getting better. We woke up this morning to the birth of an exceptional heifer calf from Delta the Flying Cow. :)
Posted by Forensicfarmgirl on 01/16/2016 - 07:26 AM

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