On a sunny day in April, my husband purchased a flock of sheep that he had found on craigslist. 21 pregnant ewes and 2 rams were dropped off at the farm by a local livestock hauler. We were now shepherds. Scott was ecstatic, the kids were very excited, and yet, I was a tad hesitant. I felt like I had just gotten the hang of dealing with the beef cows and calves, and now all of a sudden I was going to have to learn something new. At least this something new, was smaller than me and didn’t kick – though the thought of rams around had me nervous.
Our first few weeks of this new endeavor has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride. Some highs and lows during lambing has been stressful, but we are getting the hang of it. Seeing the kids interacting with the animals and stepping up to help with the chores has been amazing. I’ve already dealt with the full cycle of life, which was an unexpected surprise for me. Some of the things that have happened I blame on myself and others I know were out of our control. It doesn’t make the loses any easier, but I know we are learning from this and will grow from all the experiences.
When the flock arrived, 4 of the ewes didn’t appear to be in good health. They were much skinnier and smaller than the others. One of Scott’s farmer friends agreed to be a mentor and checked them out for us. He said that they were old and gave us a few tips on what to watch with them. He said that maybe if we get some good feed and mineral into them, they will start looking better. All of them were acting as part of the herd, chewing their cud happily, and not really acting out of the ordinary, so we had high hopes. One of them was so skinny that we could see her bones and I was feeling very bad for her. Scott had been surprised that she had even made the trip to our place. You could see her bones, and there was no way she was pregnant. While Lilly would point to her and say she looked yucky, Isabelle would pet her. Unfortunately, she didn’t make it more than a couple days with us. On the day she passed, she had gotten at least an hour of petting from Isabelle. We were all very sad, but knew she was in a better place. One hope that I have out of this whole farm adventure is that our animals all get treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. Whether they will stay around for years, become dinner, or even just visit for a few days, I want them to enjoy their time with us and not be stressed.
Our next loss was a stillborn lamb of one of the old, skinny ewes. It happens and especially since the mother wasn’t in top shape, it wasn’t a surprise that her lamb had suffered. I can say that the other two skinny ewes are looking better and we are doing our best to make sure they successfully lamb.
The next day, we lost a set of twin lambs. This loss has been the toughest on all of us. We had spent time up at the farm and everything appeared to be going well with the mom and lambs. The rest of the weekend we had been distracted with First Communion, Prom, and a host of other events. Even though we were still at the farm during feeding time and were checking on all the new lambs, we had made our visits quick and ended up failing them. We weren’t diligent about making sure mom still had milk and the little babies starved. Scott was crushed, I was angry, and the kids were very sad. It is a tough line to walk between being overbearing and actually causing more stress to the new moms and babies versus just making sure things are ok. As my friend, Jodi, recently shared when she lost an animal, “When it comes to my critters, I believe in a less-is-more mentality. I believe that 9 times out of 10, babies will enter the world just fine without any help from us… I believe that if a baby doesn’t survive, it’s part of God’s plan… I believe in just letting them be; animals out in the pasture, chewing their cud or what-have-you.” I share the same mentality, and also remind myself often that animals (and people for that matter) have been having and raising babies without a lot of intervention for centuries. It is just really tough when there is a loss and you know that you maybe could have done something more or different and saved that life. It is part of God’s plan and I know this was a lesson.
We’ve become shepherds and are working to improve our skills everyday. We’ll have to take the good with the bad. Scott’s found an additional mentor who has shared some great knowledge. I’ve been reading books about sheep, grazing, and hobby farms like crazy – you won’t find me without a book these days. We have big plans and big dreams and are sad at the losses, but hopeful of the future. Farming is tough, not only physically, but emotionally too. But, very similar to parenting, watching these creatures grow and turn into something amazing, and also realizing how much you are growing through the journey, easily outweighs the tough times.
If you are interested in learning more about sheep and having your own sheep, here are 2 books that have helped me immensely. I highly recommend finding someone experienced to talk to too!