Thursday, August 11, 2011

just as she

My day started digging a grave. I had never had to dig a hole that deep before. I dug on the far right side of the barn, back by an old outbuilding I never use that used to house fighting cocks a few decades before. Roots and rocks were born again to sunlight as I prepared to show this girl the earth.

This lamb was my first dead sheep, ever. I did it by hand, with a shovel and pick axe. I got down as far as I could, a few feet. My back was really starting to hurt. I went back to the barn and grabbed the dead animal by the wool, something I have done before in haste with sheep, but instead of pulling her mass towards me, it simply ripped off in my hands. I was stunned for a moment by the rush of decomposition. Grabbing at wool was how I caught her less than 24 hours before. Now it couldn't hold dead weight. I sighed, grabbed the back legs, and drug her 50 pounds to the hole.

She was buried, and then for good measure I covered the grave with large flat stones. I would be late for work. I still had the entire farm to feed and water and prepare for the day. It is an oddly warming thing to do, preparing the living after a morning of preparing the dead. Hopeful.

Losing the ewe, and two more rabbits to the wasting disease, had me so angry and demoralized. To remove three bodies from the world of the living to the world of the dead is not the best way to pick yourself up. I was able to save half the rabbits, and had plans to set up their mobile rabbit tractor that weekend. I needed to do something right then to lift myself up, out of this sad place. So I assembled one of the pens I had ordered from Critter Cages, and set it by the barn. I put in four black kits and watched them hop, drink, and devour the grass I would mow later that night. I decided not to mow this area by the barn, let them do it instead.

I was tired today. I had stayed up with the ewe lamb rather late, and then stayed up worrying even later. Between sections of Ken Burn's Civil War and walking back to the computer to read blog comments, I couldn't sleep. I ended up falling asleep around 3 and waking up around 5:30. It was not enough sleep to wake up, dig a grave, and put in a full day at the office. I went, and I did my tasks, and came home to the usual chores and such. I did them all and am happy to say I am going to sleep shortly without an alarm clock.

I would not trade this long day for anyone else's. It must sound awful, but it was not. I am lucky to have a lamb to bury, as dark as that may sound. I dreamed of being a shepherd for years. Today I was one, in the saddest sense. I am grateful for how it shows me the world. And how I am vulnerable to it, too. Just as she.


Blogger shepherdkelly said...

she was lucky to have a steward of her life like you. You never know how long you have but trust someone loves you even a short time. Digging a grave. A brutal task. But we find out what we are made of don't we. We must pay respect as all life is precious. You did. We can only do the best we can.

August 11, 2011 at 10:05 PM  
Blogger Lyssa Kaehler said...

Being the caretaker for living creatures is hard sometimes. We all just do our best, and your best seems pretty damn good to me.

August 11, 2011 at 10:20 PM  
Blogger SWEETHEARTS MOM said...

I just read something. Is your wasting desease of the rabbit prion RaPrPC: rabbit prion protein disease? Please ask your vet as this is the same thing a CWD in deer and related to mad cow disease. I have been wondering if this is something that rabbits can get.

August 11, 2011 at 10:26 PM  
Blogger Billy said...

Others have given you good advice-acquiring animals in pairs or triples...quarantine, etc...but you did give it your best with this ewe lamb. One thing about sheep is that they are so resistant to troubles at some times and other times they are so darn fragile. They can withstand horrific injuries from a coyote attack and then yet perish in a few hours like your lamb - from something almost invisible. They are at once both vulnerable and hardy. Extreme animals. I do like your Scottish Blackface...we have 6 of them and they are growing on me. Keep up the good work. It is never easy to lose a sheep no matter how it happens. You move on, better prepared for next time but the next time is always different! ;-)

August 11, 2011 at 10:26 PM  
Blogger Christee said...

I honestly think that that was one of the most beautiful posts I have read. Everything does come full circle and sometimes we are lucky or blessed enough to be there to experience it.

August 11, 2011 at 10:27 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

SM: I don't think so, and only because a rabbit nearly wasted away from this in a hutch will turn around 180 from a week on grass. If it was a brain disease, such as those, it wouldn't matter what they ate!

August 11, 2011 at 10:34 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

And thank you all for the kind words, it makes all the difference. Your comments is why I write here.

As for the pairs/etc. A new lamb comes this weekend, and she will live in the pen with atlas and sal will be let out to heal on his bad leg (which is nearly better). I think being with a calm sheep, in a safe place she can hide, eat, and get used to everyone: will make the difference. Here's hoping.

August 11, 2011 at 10:36 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

You had exactly the kind of day you needed - one where you picked yourself up and got right back to the business of your farm. Good for you Jenna...the picking up is the hardest part, especially when you are in the fishbowl of a blog...

August 11, 2011 at 10:50 PM  
Blogger goatldi said...

Good and keep at it. Sleep deprivation, a worlds of what if's and how the heck will I pay for this.

Farming is expensive both emotionally and financially.Planned for ahead not in hind sight. That is what can get one in hot water.

Do your best, toss the not regrets. There will always be regrets. If there aren't you are not doing it by your heart.

Will be interesting watching you grow.

August 11, 2011 at 11:16 PM  
Blogger Erica said...

Just beautifully written. A fitting eulogy, of a sort. Thank you for sharing your experience.

August 11, 2011 at 11:30 PM  
Blogger Charlotte said...

Rest well Jenna, you have had a tough day and I can't even imagine keeping on top of all these posts. Give yourself a break, your honesty is piercing, but you don't have to tell us every single thing, take it easy on yourself, ok? Blessings

August 12, 2011 at 12:14 AM  
Blogger Jennifer Montero said...

Just a query: we're obligated by law to dispose of dead livestock through the Knackerman (Fallen Stock collection services) in accordance with our Agricultural Dept (DEFRA). You pay a minimal amount for collection. Dead stock is incinerated; stock that the knackerman puts down can go on for pet food, if deemed suitable. Hunt kennels will also take some stock to feed their hounds.

I don't know if there're groups like either of those near you but it would save your back digging graves, and prevent scavegers like coyotes excavating a free meal. I'm sure it's hard enough putting your lamb in the ground without seeing it reappear the next morning from animal activity. And, if there was a disease risk, incinerating a carcass away from your farm would minimise future problems.

Not a criticism, just another possibility in case you're interested.

August 12, 2011 at 3:52 AM  
Blogger Holly said...

Boy Jenna, I can't help but feel responsible for contributing to your pain. If it wasn't for me you wouldn't have had to deal with a sick lamb. I am sorry you had to go through that, I know you have so much on your plate and it can be very dragging on your soul. As far as some of the negative comments on your post I would be willing to bet that these people have never owned farm animals and don't realize the life of a farmer. Animals do die, and when in large numbers, quite often. I loose chickens more then I care to admit, but it's not from neglect. Just cirlce of life as you have said. I am very sorry you had to go through that. But chin up and move forward!

August 12, 2011 at 6:54 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Holly, it was a sad but good lesson, and you certainly had no part in it! I am grateful for the lamb, and your offer, and look foward to trying it again.

Charlotte! I don't!

August 12, 2011 at 7:12 AM  
Blogger Sylvia said...

My cousin 'owns' a chicken farm for Tyson Foods. She picks up at least 10 dead birds (sometimes more!!) a day in the quest to grow the perfect grocery store chicken.
They no longer eat chicken.
Jenna, you live on a farm where you eat your animals. Sounds gross to the uninitiated. This is a place where animals are lovingly cared for, roam free to be whatever their natures incline them to be.
You should be proud. In a recent post, you said your farm/life is all about birth, death, and sex. Well, this week was death. In a few weeks, it will be about sex as you breed your girls. March/April will be about birth. It is a constant cycle and one that never should give us anything but awe and gratitude for our time here on this good Earth.

August 12, 2011 at 7:16 AM  
Blogger Jocelyn said...

You closed the cycle. That's what you did today. We are responsible for all aspects of life, so all you did was finish they cycle you are the caretaker of.

I say to my husband that my job sucks sometimes--and that's true. When there's a death, either caused by me or not, it's a bad day. But most of the time my job doesn't suck, so it's fair to have the bad times to balance all the very good. Again, we are caretakers of the cycle of life, and have to take the bad with the good. There's sacredness in there. There absolutely is.

August 12, 2011 at 8:33 AM  
Blogger Bonnie said...

Thank you for sharing this. Caring for an animal and having to say goodbye is a terrible thing. I hope you get plenty of rest and soon feel restored.

August 12, 2011 at 9:18 AM  
Blogger Rachael said...

It is tough losing your animals, but a sad reality with farming. We've lost our share as well, and in those times we stand back and ask ourselves too, "what did we do wrong?" Sometimes we never get a clear answer. But we can rest assured that we did the best we could and are wiser for it. It's all a part of learning and farming.

You're right though to be glad for even those days, as that means that you are working for a solution and for that life that many people only dream of.

It's comforting to know that others have these trials as well - to know that we're not the only ones. And for that, I'm thankful that you share not just the good, but also the bad.

August 12, 2011 at 9:20 AM  
Blogger Diane said...

I was wondering how you would handle the body of the dead lamb, but didn't want to be insensitive and ask. When my old horse died last fall, I called Greener Pastures in Saratoga, which is owned by a very nice guy. My farm is on almost solid rock in the foothills of the Adirondacks, so burying him was out of the question, and cremation at Cornell costs a fortune. I don't know what he'd charge to pick up a smaller animal, especially one small enough to be brought to his place. He composts the bodies, which I find comforting in a circle-of-life kind of way.

August 12, 2011 at 9:56 AM  
Blogger Tara said...

And this is why you will succeed. Because you love it enough to keep getting up, brushing yourself off and going again no matter how bad it gets.

Not to sound too grim, but I hope she stays buried. We learned the hard way not long after we moved here that around here, NOTHING does (no matter how deep you dig). Finding your beloved German Shepherd (!) above ground days after you put her below ground is, um, NOT GOOD FOR THE PSYCHE.

August 12, 2011 at 10:13 AM  
Blogger Melanie J. said...

Thanks for this one. Just came back to reread it. The wheel turns, and lessons open to us, the beauty of life.

August 12, 2011 at 12:46 PM  
Blogger Kimberlie Ott said...

Your last paragraph is just heart wrenchingly beautiful! So full of exhaustion and hope. You are a wonderful shepherd. Go to sleep in the knowledge that your loved and supported!

August 12, 2011 at 3:48 PM  
Blogger Mayleen said...

A difficult time and a huge part of farming. Perhaps the next step in your endless pursuit of re-skilling will be skinning and tanning - and a lovely lambskin pelt would honor the memory every time you snuggled down with it wrapped around you.

August 12, 2011 at 4:38 PM  
Blogger Michelle said...

The circle of life is an interesting thing. Sometimes happy sometimes sad. I think the lifestyle you are leading is wonderful and wish that I would have had the courage to follow my dreams at your age. I am making a 5 year plan and will then follow mine. By then I will be 56 too old for serious farming, but not too old to live in the country. I am planning on moving to an Amish area. You are an inspiration!

August 12, 2011 at 7:42 PM  
Blogger Charlene said...

love to you Jenna...

August 13, 2011 at 10:07 PM  

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