Hard Lessons

Your friendly neighborhood farmer has learned some hard lessons in animal husbandry over the past three weeks. Since I last posted, all of my ewes have delivered with varying degrees of success. Of the fifteen lambs born to Runamuk this season, two lambs perished, and I have two in the house at this very moment. All of the others are strong and healthy, growing just as they should, without care or concern. I invite you to join me on the farm now, as I share the story of this farm’s 2022 lambing season with all it’s highs and lows.

I Love My Finnsheep!

Let me start off by saying how much I love my Finnsheep! I thank my friend, Kamala Hahn at Johnny’s Selected Seeds, for indoctrinating me into the Finn fan-club. A hardy breed, originating from Finland, Finns are not the largest of sheep, making them easier to handle. Their wool is next-to-skin quality, oh-so-soft, in a wide variety of colors, and their meat is reknown for being some of the most flavorful lamb you can get. Finns are relatively easy keepers, friendly and personable, with lots of character. The ewes are generally good mothers, known for producing litters of multiple lambs without fuss. After two easy lambing seasons, I felt fairly confident as I came into my third year as flock-keeper.

Up til this year, my ewes had thrown only twins and single lambs. I was looking forward to a larger set, and hoped this would be the year. In that regard, I was not disappointed. On a Saturday night, two weeks back, one of my ewes by the name of Maleficent, gave me my first-ever set of triplets. An hour later, Fiona produced a whopping set of four lambs! The following morning upon waking, a visit to the Ewe-Shed found a third mum had produced a set of twins in the wee-hours of the morning. What a night! I was beside myself─overjoyed with the productivity of my flock.

Everyone looked good to this novice’s eyes. Mums all came through with flying colors. Babies were all in tact. Though the lambs of the litters of three and four were all very tiny, I’d had some smaller ewes produce very tiny lambs before, so I didn’t think much of it. I made sure each lamb got latched onto it’s mum’s teat for a good feed of the critically important colostrum, and checked on them frequently throughout the day.

This particular weekend happened to be the first in two years that my sweetheart, Deron, could not be with me for our regular visit due to a family crisis. Typically he spends Friday and Saturday nights at the farm. Then, on Sundays, I join him at his parent’s home for a family supper, then spend the night at his place in Solon. Since everyone seemed to be doing well, and with the lamb-cam to spy on any new deliveries, I caved to my longing to spend just one night with my huny. I left the farm late that Sunday afternoon.

Hard Lessons

Of course I checked the lamb-cam while I was off the farm that Sunday evening─repeatedly. I even woke periodically during the night, pulling the app up on my phone to make sure all was well. Unfortunately, with so many little lambs, it’s hard to see some of the finer details from a distance like that. It wasn’t until I was back on the farm the next morning that I realized one of Maleficent’s three babies was missing. I released the ewe from the confines of the lambing pen, and only two lambs tottered out after her. Where was the third???

I checked behind the water bucket, and under the hay-net, to see if the poor thing had gotten trapped there. No lamb. Panic welled in my throat─where could it be? What could have happened?

When I spied a telltale tuft of white fuzz peeking above the litter of the lambing pen, I felt sick to my stomach. What had I done?

The ewes will often kick up the bedding material in the shed, and in their lambing pens too, to make a sort of nest for themselves to lay in. This tiny, little lamb had gotten buried in the litter. Whether or not it was intentional on Maleficent’s part, I cannot say. Sometimes, ewes will reject a lamb if there is something wrong with it, or if they feel instinctively that they cannot provide for that mouth. Even if the lamb was destined to be rejected by her mum, I feel fairly certain that if I had been on the farm to check on the lambs in person, I could have at least saved it to be a bottle baby.

To make matters worse, another of Maleficent’s babies took a chill that night. Concerned, and not wanting to lose any more precious babies, I corralled the ewe back into a lambing pen with her two remaining lambs. Thanks to my two previous “easy seasons”, though I diligently monitored the situation, I did not recognize the danger the poor fellow was in. He was nursing periodically, but sleeping more and more. The following morning when I went out at sunrise, the lamb lay sprawled, all but lifeless, on the floor of the lambing pen.

Near to tears with the shame of my failures, I immediately took the lamb into the house. I made every attempt to rescue him, but it was already too late. He slipped away from us. It took a few days before Maleficent finally stopped crying for her lost babies, her eyes pleading with me to return her lambs to her.

Maleficent and her remaining baby are doing well now.

I know that it’s entirely possible those two lambs might have been doomed with or without me, yet the pain of those losses lingers in my heart. I blame myself. You can be sure, the hard lessons those two babies taught me will not be forgotten. Larger litters of multiple lambs are a wonderful thing, but just as triplets and quadruplets born to humans, multiples of sheep are so much smaller and frailer than a single baby, or even twins. They require much more diligence from the farmer. Finnsheep may be fantastic mothers, but that many mouths are harder for them to keep track of. Perhaps most importantly, newborns require my vigilance for the first forty-eight hours─minimum. I can’t be caving to the longings of my heart for the nearness of my boyfriend. No matter how sweet he is to me, nor how much I miss him. Farmers do not have that privilege.

Rejected

It was a little over a week following the loss of Maleficent’s two babies that my last ewe finally went into labor. “Baby” was last year’s bottle baby, whom I never really gave a name. Laughingly, I tell people that she was named after the main character from the movie Dirty Dancing (“nobody puts Baby in the corner”), but the truth is─she was my baby, and I’ve just always called her Baby, lol. She is a very small ewe, from a very small mother. I hadn’t intended for her to be bred, but I guess my ram had other ideas…

I worried about Baby’s birthing prospects, and stayed with her through the entire ordeal. Indeed, she did struggle to bring forth the single lamb she carried. It was a long labor, and the lamb’s legs were not in the right position. Once the little guy had emerged, Baby was less than impressed. It was hard to watch as she head-butted the tiny lamb, pawing at him with her front hooves, and attempting to cover him over with the litter at the bottom of the lambing pen. I toweled him off and tried to get Baby to allow the newborn to suckle at her teats. Unfortunately, Baby wanted no part of this creature that had caused her so much pain and difficulty. She was still very young, and not ready to be a mother.

The shenanigans start at an early age…

Fearing for the lamb’s life, I made the call to take the rejected lamb from the ewe. I refused to allow another lamb to perish on my watch. For the last week and a half, the little ram has been living inside the farmhouse. He eats from a bottle, and sleeps in a playpen I scored for $5 last year at the Embden Community Center’s thrift shop. After such an awful entrance into the world, I thought the little guy needed some kind of empowering name, so BraeTek dubbed him “Big Man”. Mercifully, this little lamb is thriving under the care of his farmer.

Perks of the Job

Our young CSA member, Saffron (in pink), shares her farm with her friends.

One of the perks of the job is being able to share bits and pieces of farm-life with the public. Initially, the lamb was eating every two hours, so when I left the farm last Friday to make my CSA deliveries, I couldn’t just leave the infant at home alone. I put him on a towel in a wooden apple crate and placed him on the passenger seat of my Subaru. He traveled that way, making the Madison-Solon loop with me, pausing at Deron’s long enough to feed him another bottle before we continued on to Harmony to make our final delivery. On our way back to New Portland, I stopped by the Solon Corner Store to pick up some weekend provisions. Reluctant to leave Big Man alone in the car, I tucked the four-day old lamb under an arm, and took him into the store with me.

My friend, Trin, finds spending time with the lambs to be very healing.

Since Deron’s home is located in Solon, I am frequently in and out of the Solon Corner Store when I go to visit my sweetie. The clerks there have come to recognize me, and know something of my farm. They all knew I’d been welcoming new lambs to the farm, yet these ladies fairly melted at the sight of Big Man! I wish I could have gotten it on video to share with you.

Heedless of the other customers waiting to check out, Gayle came around from behind the counter to get a closer look. I placed that bundle of legs and wool in her arms for a few moments, allowing the cashier to gush over the lamb. She brought him close for a handful of other shoppers to pet him, before relinquishing Big Man back to my care. Needless to say, there was quite a line behind me once I’d finally checked out with my things, lol. And then Gayle offered to carry my bags out for me hahaha!

No one complained though…it’s not every day you get to see a teeny tiny baby lamb in the grocery store.

Quasimodo

It was the day following the grocery store scene that I realized something was not right with one of Fiona’s quadruplets. Again, with so many mouths to feed, it’s harder for the ewes to care for their offspring appropriately. Concerned about the runt of the litter, who was all hunched over and pitiful looking, I’d taken to bottle feeding him in the Ewe-Shed. Over the course of the week, I was trucking out there several times a day with a bottle for the lamb I called Quasimodo, the hunchback of Runamuk Acres (I know─not funny, but funny. What can I say, lol, I have a perverse sense of humor.). I had hoped that the bottle feedings would bring an improvement in the little guy. Unfortunately, on that Saturday morning Quasi was looking particularly cold and pathetic, so I made the calldecided to bring him inside for some extra attention.

That’s when I realized just how much Quasimodo struggles to move around. I did some research and found that sometimes babies of large litters can be born with under-developed hind legs. This can be due to a nutrient deficiency, or because of the cramped quarters in-utero. I believe that is what is going on in Quasimodo’s case, and have given him a selenium/vitamin E supplement, as well as an injection of vitamin B. Though I have seen some improvement, and overall he is content enough to keep Big Man company here inside the farmhouse, it will take time and exercise for his muscles to develop properly─if at all. Another of Mother Nature’s hard lessons in animal husbandry this year.

New Donate Button!

Pan, the Lamb.

On a completely separate note, I would like to take this opportunity to point out to followers the new Donate button in my website’s sidebar. I’ve fielded a number of requests for a Wish List on Runamuk’s website. Folks want to know what it is we are needing here, so they can donate items if they have something they’re no longer using that might help our cause. I have had one listed, but it’s rather buried amid the other pages listed on the drop-down menu under the “About Us” tab. This Donate button will now take visitors directly to that page. Woot woot!

Donations have come to Runamuk in many forms─monetary donations, yes, but also donations of materials, equipment, and supplies. I’ve even had folks volunteer their time and energy to lend a hand on the farm for a day. I also barter for the things we need, trading farm-goods at a fair market value for the item being traded to the farm. There is a PayPal button on that page for those who are able and inclined to donate funds to this farm, but donations come in many forms, and cash is not the only means of greasing the wheels here. Every donation makes a big difference in this mother-and-son driven farm. I am always grateful for every gift or trade, small or large, because they allow me to keep doing what I do─nourishing and educating my family, and my community. That’s what it’s all about, my friends.

The Life of a Farmer

Mother Nature is a beautiful─but sometimes ruthless─mistress. With these hard lessons, She’s reminded me this year that it does not do to grow complacent in Her presence. As a farmer, I must always be vigilant for the lives I am responsible for: human, plant or animal, vertebrate or invertebrate, fungal or microbial, wild or domesticated. This is the life I have chosen to live─the life of a farmer. While there are certainly a great many blessings to be thankful for, there are equally as many burdens associated with it, and I must bear them. Come hell or high water, this farm must thrive.

Thank you for following along with the journey of this female-farmer! It is truly my privilege to be able to live this life, serve my family and community, and to protect wildlife through agricultural conservation. Check back soon for more updates from the farm, and be sure to follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram or Facebook! Much love to you and yours, my friends!

Livestock on Pasture and New Lambs at Runamuk!

new lambs at runamuk acres

I love that my forever-farm came with so much open acreage that I can run livestock on pasture. Approximately 12 acres of pasture out behind the farmhouse, and maybe 3-4 acres surrounding the house itself. The pasture, in tandem with investment in electric net-fencing and solar chargers, has opened the door to new opportunities for Runamuk. I’m using chickens and sheep to improve the condition of the soil here, and creating superior food-products by allowing my animals choice grazing all season. It’s everything that farming should be, and I am loving every minute.

Chicken Tractors

For a good 12 or 15 years now, I’ve been keeping chickens. I like them; chickens are fun and interesting creatures. They’re curious, and sociable, and they can be surprisingly clever at times. Having eggs when honey is scarce has been a key strategy in keeping my farm afloat; eggs are a household staple and are always in demand. Produced on a diet of organic and fermented grains, and rotated on pasture, mine are high-quality eggs, and I’m damned proud of them.

livestock on pasture with chicken tractor
“Flock A” is comprised of last year’s birds; they’re doing good work on the site of my future high-tunnel!

The chicken tractors I designed and constructed last year have held up well. The A-frame roosts inside a hoop-house style coop allows roosting space for about 50 birds, with nesting boxes on the sides, and wheels on the back. Using my utility dolly I can roll the structure across the field fairly easily. Before going out on pasture this season, the chicken tractors are each getting some minor modifications.

The lightweight standard blue tarps I’d used last year hadn’t held up very well, and the chicken wire covering my hoop-coops pierced the material in so many places that by the end of last season the tarps were, essentially, perforated. This season I’ve invested in a pair of heavy duty tarps in white, with the thought that the white will reflect heat from the sun better and keep the ladies a little cooler when they’re out there on pasture all summer.

nesting boxes on chicken tractor
The modified nesting boxes on my chicken tractors.

I also made some modifications to the nesting boxes. I removed the pink material (whatever it is!) I’d initially repurposed for the side-walls of my nesting boxes, and replaced it with plywood. Onto the roofs of the nesting boxes, I’d originally planned to install hinges, yet due to the design of my hoop-coops, trying to affix the tarp so that the wind could not take it was “awkward”. Screwing a long strip of plywood to anchor the tarp to the roof of the nesting box, and then using anvil clamps to keep the roof of the nesting box in place, solved both the wind-issue and the hinge-problem at the same time. I have a tarp that isn’t going anywhere unless I want it to, and nesting boxes that keeps eggs in place, allowing for collection of eggs with relative ease.

Sheep Tractor

In order to get the sheep out of the hoop-shed where they’d spent the winter, I had to first construct a shelter they could use out on the pasture this summer. I wanted it to be moveable─like the chicken tractors─but also rugged enough to stand up to the sheep, who sometimes like to rub against and lay against the walls of their shed.

In the barn I found a few landscape timbers that had been left behind by the former owners of my farm, and opted to use 2 of them for skids. I started much the same way as I had with the chicken tractors: by making a bottom frame 5 feet wide by 8 feet long, with the rear wall inset 9 inches to allow for wheels. Then I used 2x3s for the framing and created a salt-box style structure.

salt-box structure sheep tractor for livestock on pastureUsing 2x3s and 1x3s rather than 2x4s, helps keep the weight of the structure down, allowing me to move them around the property by hand.

“Mill-felt” is a material that’s fairly common in this area, having once served as the conveyor belt in one or another of our local paper mills. I happened to have been blessed with several large swaths of this stuff, left behind by the former owners. I’ve used it for smothering new garden plots, keeping drafts out of the chicken coop, and now the sheep tractor. It’s a bit of a PIA to cut, and heavy as all hell to work with (especially when wet!), but I really like it for certain purposes. And so, I cut it to fit the shape of the structure, and tacked it onto the sides as my walls.

mill-felt on sheep tractor for livestock on pasture
Mill-felt as walls.

The roof is made of sheathing plywood that I’ve painted fairly generously. I even embellished the structure with my farm name.

sheep tractor_2019
I was lacking 1 sheet of sheathing plywood for the roof, and with Home Depot an hour away opted to cover the roof with a tarp til I can make the trek to buy materials.

I’m pretty pleased with how the sheep shed turned out. It’s heavy enough that the wind can’t take it, rugged enough to stand up to the sheep, and still light enough that I can move the thing with the dolly. Most importantly, so long as I keep the back wall to the west, the structure protects the sheep from the driving winds that come down off Mount Abram, and gives them a place to get out of the sun, as well as any inclement weather.

sheep livestock on pasture for rotational grazing
Lily and Ghirardelli are excited to feast on fresh green grasses!

Lambs!

Finally the time had come to pick up the lamb that I’d reserved back in March! I made the trek on Friday, an hour and a half southwards to Chelsea, Maine, where Olde Haven Farm is located. Pam and Kelby Young have been growing their farm for the last 5 years, and being there and seeing their operation, I couldn’t help but hope I’ll have as much accomplished at Runamuk in 5 years as these folks have done at their farm. 2 large barns (they said 1 was there when they bought the property), 1 greenhouse, 3 high-tunnels, a commercial kitchen attached to a farm-store, 2 other livestock sheds, and they’d cleared about 30 acres to establish the rolling pasture now in existence there.

tunnels at olde haven farm
2 of the 3 high-tunnels at Olde Haven Farm

If you’re looking for commercial-level production, Finnsheep are not for you. These are a smaller breed, with a hanging weight in the range of 45 pounds. It’s some of the best-tasting lamb-meat you’ll ever have, however, and their fleeces are incredibly luxurious. I especially like that Finns are an old-world heritage breed, which has largely retained their natural instincts for mothering. They tend to produce multiple lambs with every pregnancy, and can produce a variety of colors in their fleeces. Olde Haven Farm is one of the top 10 breeders of Finnsheep in America, and after seeing their stock and talking with Pam and Kelby, I can see why. These farmers really know their stuff. Their animals are all premium livestock, and they won’t let any animal go if they don’t have supreme confidence in.

2nd barn at Olde Haven Farm
The newer barn at Olde Haven currently houses the myriad lambs.

I had a hard time picking out just 2, but Pam and Kelby were patient with me. They took me around to see the Mamas and the Papas to get a better idea what the babies might look like when they grow up. We toured the farm, checking out the high-tunnels, and the back pastures. Much of the infrastructure in existence at Olde Haven is thanks to various NRCS programs that the Youngs have taken advantage of. Kelby strongly advises beginning farmers to develop a relationship with their local NRCS office; he says once you’ve been filing your “Schedule F” with your taxes for 10 years, the opportunities for funding decrease significantly, so he urges you to utilize those programs while you can.

finnsheep lambs livestock on pasture at olde haven farm
Lambs living the life at Olde Haven Farm in Chelsea, Maine!

It was a tough choice, but in the end I managed to make my selection: a rugged little ram lamb, and a dainty little ewe─both brown and white marbled in color. You’d think out of all the choices I’d have selected 2 different colored sheep for the sake of variety, but Kelby said this guy was one of their best ram lambs this year, and I could tell just by looking at him that he is strong and healthy, and will sire some beautiful babies in the future. The ewe I chose is a little on the small side, but something about her struck me, and so I brought her home too!

new lambs livestock on pasture at runamuk acres
New Finnsheep lambs at the Runamuk Acres Conservation Farm

Changing the World

I really enjoy having livestock in my life. It’s rewarding to know that I am providing my critters the kind of existence these animals are meant to have: foraging on green grass under a blue sky. The electric net fencing allows me to move them around the field, so they always have fresh grass and forage available to them. These are some happy and contented animals; they greet me with enthusiasm, asking of my attention and love, and I give it to them wholeheartedly. We’re a team─these animals and I. They may not realize it, but the work they’re doing on the pasture is important to Runamuk’s long-term success─and important for the ecosystem we’re a part of. These critters are changing the world just by doing what critters do, and I am the facilitator─steward of animal, plant, and land at Runamuk Acres.

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Sick Sheep Seldom Survive

miracle the sheep

Sick sheep seldom survive; that’s what Gordon Blauvelt told me this week when I stopped in to retrieve 2 more bags of grain for the sheep. Miracle’s second round of antibiotics and all of the extra grain and alfalfa cubes I’d been feeding her had not improved her health or conditioning. Her breathing was fast and shallow, she continued to lose weight─and she had this sickly sweet smell about her. It had gotten to the point that I felt her quality of life was decreasing by the day, and I knew what needed to be done.

Before I could let Miracle go, however, I needed to line up a new sheep to keep Lily company; sheep are gregarious animals and always want at least one or two companions. Thus, I began the search for new sheep to bring to Runamuk.

Finnsheep!

Miracle and Lily are romneys that were given to me by the Blauvelts, and they are beautiful, wonderful animals, but the breed I really want to work with are known as “Finnsheep“. As a conservation farm, I like to focus on heritage breeds and old breeds that are in need of preservation. Finnsheep are a breed of native Landrace sheep of Northern European origin, with major flocks in Finland and Denmark. The breed is several hundred years old, adapted to Finland’s harsh climate and available rough forage. They are hardy creatures with strong maternal instincts that produce a very fine, lustrous wool, and superior meat.

Personally, I prefer breeds that are derived from climates similar to the conditions that I face here in Maine, and I always like to hear the word hardy used when describing an animal or plant. Even still, it was my friend Kamala who sealed the deal for me.

Kamala and her husband Ken, have a flock of Finnsheep that I’ve cared for on occasion for the family, and I’ve found the sheep always to be engaging, full of quirk and personality, enthusiastic─and very outspoken. I also like the way the animals look, and their variety of colors. Ask Kamala why Finnsheep are a good choice and she’ll gladly launch into a matter-of-fact run-down of all the reasons why Finnsheep are the best choice for the small, homestead farmer.

And so I decided that if I were going to invest any money in sheep, Finns were the breed for me.

Unfortunately, they’re not an especially common breed, and time was against me. Miracle was still eating and moving around fine, but her health was going downhill faster every day, and I felt she was really only hanging on for Lily’s sake. I needed another 1-2 sheep as soon as possible so that I could relieve Miracle of her burdens─preferably ***more than 1*** new addition, so that I would never again find myself in a position where someone was sick and needed to be put down, but had to wait for me to find a replacement companion.

Between calls in the Call Center at Johnny’s on Friday I scoured Craigslist, the Uncle Henry’s, and facebook sheep-groups for listings of Finnsheep; I came up with few options. At the urging of another co-worker (thank you Daria!) I checked out Olde Haven Farm of Chelsea, Maine, and beheld the pictures of their beautiful flock of Finnsheep and all the baby lambs.

I was smitten.

A registered purebred is not something I necessarily need for my purposes (mowing and meat), but I like the idea of having just one reliable, high-quality breeder for my little flock of sheep. On impulse I reached out to Pam and Kelby Young at Olde Haven Farm, and reserved myself one of their baby ewes for a June pick-up.

That was super exciting, but it still didn’t solve my urgent need for an immediate companion for Lily, so that Miracle’s fight could be ended.

new ram
Finn ram on Craigslist.

Initially, I’d intended to avoid having a ram on the farm because it adds another level of fencing strategy that I didn’t necessarily need to deal with. Since I have friends with in-tact Finn males, I can easily avoid keeping a ram for my small flock’s reproduction needs; however, I had been eyeing this handsome 1 year-old Finn ram listed on Craigslist, and decided that it really wasn’t a far stretch at this point for me to step up my sheep operation to include a ram, and so I responded to the ad and set up pick-up for Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Saturday morning dawned, and as I worked through the usual farm-chores, I noticed that Miracle was spending an increasing amount of time lying down and was seeming to seek more and more comfort from me. I was really feeling like her quality of life was really going downhill faster with each passing day, and I did not feel good about making her wait any longer to end the suffering, and so I left work early to make the trip to Hartford to retrieve the ram.

New-Sheep Expedition

Historically, expeditions for new livestock are always something of an ordeal, involving confusing directions, several wrong turns, and then the ride home with critters packed carefully inside the car with me. This sheep-mission certainly lived up to that tradition.

I don’t pay for an expensive cell-phone package, instead opting for a low-cost tracfone and sacrificing signal coverage to get by. Often, if I am not near a strong signal or wi-fi access, I will not have connection or phone capabilities. With that in mind, I printed the Google maps and directions to the address provided by the woman from the Craigslist ad, and set out from the office bound for Hartford.

I managed to keep the wrong-turns to a minimum, but the directions to the address turned out to be incomplete, and I’d neglected to get a contact number for the woman with the sheep, so it took longer than anticipated to find the location. Eventually though, I made it there and heaved a sigh of relief.

The trials of this quest were not over, however.

Go to any Maine farm during the spring thaw and you will find a similar scene: muck and manure, ice, mud, and snow in varying stages of decomposition. At the farm this ram came from, the gate to the enclosure he was kept in was frozen fast in the ice and effectively immovable. In order to retrieve him, the farmer’s 16 year-old son and I had to corral the animal, and heft him over the fence. The young ram, who was unaccustomed to wearing a halter and being tethered, was already stressed and distraught, and bolted at the first opportunity.

It took a few tries and a fair amount of slipping in the soft, squishy manure (for both humans and ovine) til we were all three covered and smeared in the sweet, pungent smelling stuff. I admit I almost left without him because I was concerned that he would be too wild to be contained at Runamuk, but the teenager wouldn’t give up and we eventually managed to get the sheep over the fence and up the path to my Subaru, where we loaded him into the back of the car and celebrated our accomplishment with a fist-bump.

finnsheep
New Finnsheep ram on his way to Runamuk!

Rather Offensive

The ride home went smoothly enough─aside from a pit-stop at a McDonald’s in Jay to use the facilities. I stood there waiting for my order, when a white-haired little old lady came up beside me to retrieve napkins and uttered something inappropriate as she walked away, I realized rather belatedly that I probably smelled rather offensive. Looking down at myself, I saw that I was covered in sheep-manure up to the knees, my sweater and vest were both smeared with manure, and my fingerless gloves were infused with manure too. I was a sight to behold, yet I couldn’t help but laugh as I walked out of the restaurant to see my car with the sheep poking his head out a window.

Miracle’s End-of-Life Procedure

It was about 6pm by the time I arrived home with my new treasure. Unloading and escorting the young ram to the sheep-shed was a much smoother process than it had been to load him, and the sheep had a brief introductory period before my friends Rick and Megan came with Rick’s shotgun to help me with Miracle’s end-of-life procedure.

Coyotes yipped and barked from the forest at the far end of the back-field and I was a bundle of nerves as Rick, Megan, Murphy and I went out to the sheep-shed in the dark. I was determined to do the Deed myself─Miracle and this farm are my responsibility, afterall. But at the last minute, standing there in the narrow pathway alongside the sheep-shed as Miracle feasted on a bucket of grain, I caved and decided to allow my friend make the shot. Rick obliged me without judgement, and it was done in the blink of an eye.

Miracle’s fight was over, but the job was not finished yet. I still had to move her carcass away from the sheep-shed.

Coyotes

To allow Lily time to recognize that her friend was gone, I left Miracle’s body where it lay as I thanked and bade farewell to my friends. Then I returned to finish the job, bringing with me a tarp and a stout rope; I found Lily standing over the dead sheep, mourning the loss of her friend as the coyotes sang their eerie songs under the starry night sky.

I held her and we grieved together for a moment, the sheep and I, then I set to work tying the rope onto 2 corners of the tarp and spreading it out on the pathway. Trying not to look at the devastation of a shot-gun round to the sheep’s head, I took Miracle’s body by the feet and hauled her onto the tarp before taking up the rope and proceeding to drag/slide her carcass out onto the snow that still covers the landscape at Runamuk.

I was feeling a bit fearful about the proximity of the coyotes as I paused to strap on my snowshoes, but leaving the sheep’s dead carcass where it fell was not an option, so I began dragging it out across the snow-covered backyard, deeper into the dark of night. Even though Miracle’s disease had ravaged her body, leaving her alarmingly thin for a sheep, she was still a good hundred pounds or more and heavy enough that I had to lean into the rope, putting my weight into it to haul her away.

One step at a time, I moved out across the snow in the direction of the tree line about a hundred yards behind the garage. Lily maaa’ed from the sheep-shed as I took her friend away and I knew she knew what was going on; my heart hurt for her. Pausing to catch my breath, I listened to the coyotes─were they closer? or was it just my overactive imagination?

I was halfway between the farm and the forest─halfway between the safety of the farm’s infrastructure and the dangers that loomed within the darkened forest. The coyote noises were definitely closer than before, I decided, and called for Murphy to accompany me.

To my chagrin, Murphy refused to follow me out into the black night to face the threat of coyotes in his master’s defense. He was as scared of the coyotes as I was! In a last-ditch effort, I yelled out into the darkness at the coyotes, “Go away! I’m out here and I don’t want to meet you! Baaaaaaah!”

The coyotes were undeterred. In fact, only seemed encouraged, as their yipping and barking increased, drawing ever closer.

From across the road, the neighbor’s small dog began barking, almost as though communicating with the coyotes, who barked back at him. I couldn’t help but imagine the little pomeranian was informing the coyotes of my location, “She’s over here!” and fear liquefied the blood in my veins, turning my limbs to jello. But I had a job to do.

Firming my resolve, I once again leaned into the rope and moved Miracle’s body farther away from the garage and closer to the treeline. I watched for the glint of eyes inside the forest as I approached the trees, hauling the sheep-carcass on the tarp behind me. I was shaking now, trembling harder with every snowshoe-step closer to the trees that I took. The snow was softer here than it was out in the open, and when my snowshoes began to sink more than a foot into the snow, I pictured coyotes leaping out of the forest, seizing the opportunity to attack.

None did, and at length, I came within range of the trees beyond the garden area. Quaking with fear─almost a hundred yards from the garage and the sheep-shed, and maybe 10-15 feet from the trees─I decided that was close enough, and I left her there for the night. Turning, I made my way back toward the farmhouse, looking back to make sure there were no coyotes sneaking up behind me as I fled.

Surprisingly, Miracle was untouched the next morning; the coyotes had not bothered the carcass. In the early light of day I hauled Miracle’s body farther down the field and into the forest where nature could take it’s course.

The Tough Call

It’s not an easy thing to do to end the life of an animal you care for─but it is sometimes necessary. You can give them every possible advantage: quality food, medicine, time and attention─and lots of love─and sometimes they’ll recover, but sometimes they won’t. When it reaches the point that medical treatments are proving to be ineffective and the animal’s quality of life is degrading with every passing day, it is love that must drive you to make the tough call to end the creature’s suffering.

miracle the sheepMiracle was this friendly and affectionate, graham-cracker-loving, woolly love-a-bug that you couldn’t help but fall for. She taught me more about caring for sheep than I could have learned in any book or YouTube video, and she is the reason I now feel that sheep are an important part of the Runamuk Acres Conservation Farm. Miracle will always have special place in my heart; may we meet again on the other side.

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