Tuesday, October 21, 2014

My first-ever sheep were named Sal, Marvin, and Maude. They were a gift/barter, an exchange for fiddle lessons when I lived in a small rented cabin in Vermont. I picked them up from a farm over the state line in Hebron, New York. I loaded all three into the back of my Subaru station wagon. On the way home to Vermont I past a man and some workers loading hay into the back of a wagon along the side of the road. I needed hay and made the deal right then and there to return with an empty station wagon and buy a few bales. That man was Nelson Greene and I have been his customer ever since.

That was five years ago.
When I think of that first day driving home a shepherd, my eyes start to tingle.

Because of those sheep I started the adventure of acquiring a sheepdog, having fallen in love with the majesty and magic of sheepdogs and their trials. I visited trials, trainers, attended clinics and emailed breeders. I found a dog that needed a home and realized I was not the home for her. She was returned to the kennel I adopted her from, a failure on my behalf. Instead I moved myself and three sheep to a farm I bought, our own home. Gibson was flown from Idaho and I picked him up at the Albany airport in a little red truck I bought for 2900 with a check I earned writing a chicken book.

That was four years ago.
When I think of him asleep on my lap as I drove north to Jackson, tears start to form.

As novice farmer and puppy, we learned as a team of beginners. So many achievements and mistakes were made. Lambs were born on this mountain for the first time in a hundred years. With the joys of new lambs the flock grew and shrunk. A stretch of bad luck and mistakes as a new shepherd claimed the lives of three beautiful Blackface sheep. All through these years, the ebb and flow of the flock, my three sheep from Vermont remained. They never grew ill. They only grew old. They offered wool, warm backs to lean against while spinning wool or reading books. They escaped, they bleated, they danced, and learned my voice. Gibson grew into a scrappy and resourceful partner, if a little soft and naive when it came to being taken advantage of. I can't blame him, after all, I am the one who raised him.

That has been the last three years.
When I think of all I have learned, loss, regretted and celebrated, tears begin to fall.

Four days ago I stepped outside shortly after dawn and found Maude, my oldest ewe, one of the originals, cast on her back and bloated as roadkill. I was certain she was dead. A friend was with me and together we ran to her side and realized she wasn't dead. We righted her and sheep burped out some gas. We carried her into the barn with fresh hay, grain, and water. I treated her the best I could and she started to recover. She went from bloated to relieved. She went from refusing food to eating. She went from eating to eating well. I have been checking on her every few hours and I don't think she will be with us much longer. I found her on her side. She was barely alive. I sat with her, my hand on her neck. I thought of how many years she would not let me touch her. I felt her wool and stroked her head. So much has changed in five years. My entire life turned in circles, a past life left behind, heartbreak, mistakes, stories, five books...Maude has been there for all of it. I told her how sorry I was. She didn't flinch at my touch. That is how I know she is dying.

That was ten minutes ago.
When I think of how much I came to love that awful sheep, I can not stop crying.

40 Comments:

Blogger psoupbetty said...

Jenna,
I started out this evening watching vlog #13 on making raw wool into yarn, and I thought, I have to comment, I have to tell Jenna how much I love, love, LOVE her vlogs, how her voice is just what I expected, how I enjoy her caring, her warmth, her integrity, her grit. And then I read about Maude... Jenna, I am so sorry... I get it. I really do. You see, there was this ORNERY ewe named Beulah, who had a miserable don't-even-think-about-getting-close personality, but she was an AWESOME mother to her lambs, and she taught me how to be a shepherd. And I still miss her. Keep the memories. Feel the gratitude. Let the tears come. It is still worth it. Pauline in Ithaca

October 21, 2014 at 6:29 PM  
Blogger Ohiofarmgirl said...

oh i'm so sorry.

October 21, 2014 at 7:20 PM  
Blogger Megan Futrell said...

Through your stories we have all grown to love that awful sheep. We will miss her.

October 21, 2014 at 8:01 PM  
Blogger Mary Sue Gamroth said...

So sorry about Maude. I loved (and let go) my best-loved Katahdin ewe last year. She lived ten years and was a great gal. The vet came, she took one deep breath and was gone. I still dream about her sometimes. Sheep really have a way of working into your heart. Let the tears flow.

October 21, 2014 at 8:38 PM  
Blogger Mary Sue Gamroth said...

So sorry about Maude. I loved (and let go) my best-loved Katahdin ewe last year. She lived ten years and was a great gal. The vet came, she took one deep breath and was gone. I still dream about her sometimes. Sheep really have a way of working into your heart. Let the tears flow.

October 21, 2014 at 8:38 PM  
Blogger Mary Sue Gamroth said...

So sorry about Maude. I loved (and let go) my best-loved Katahdin ewe last year. She lived ten years and was a great gal. The vet came, she took one deep breath and was gone. I still dream about her sometimes. Sheep really have a way of working into your heart. Let the tears flow.

October 21, 2014 at 8:40 PM  
Blogger Cris said...

Oh Maude. You will forever be my favorite Queen of the Flock.

October 21, 2014 at 9:23 PM  
Blogger Ngo Family Farm said...

Oh Jenna, I'm crying with you! I'm so sorry...you've done right by her and have honored her with the place she has forever taken in your heart. Sending a prayer to St. Francis for you both.
-Jaime

October 21, 2014 at 10:20 PM  
Blogger Tiffanyk10 said...

I'll be thinking about you tonight. Sending you peace and comfort.

October 21, 2014 at 11:07 PM  
Blogger Sara said...

Oh Jenna, I am so very sorry my friend. That is absolutely heartbreaking. That ol' girl had a good long run, and I know deep down in her grumpy heart she is thankful...well, as thankful as sheep go. I really hoped she would recover from her spill. :(

October 21, 2014 at 11:54 PM  
Blogger kim anderson said...

jenna , I am so sorry , here I am in Canada crying for you , and a sheep I only met through your stories and pictures, that nasty ole gal got around,thankyou for sharing her life with us.

October 22, 2014 at 12:40 AM  
Blogger kim anderson said...

jenna , I am so sorry , here I am in Canada crying for you , and a sheep I only met through your stories and pictures, that nasty ole gal got around,thankyou for sharing her life with us.

October 22, 2014 at 12:40 AM  
Blogger Erik said...

She'll always be part of our hearts. The gnarliest, stubbornest, Maude-iest part. We'll all miss her and hope her last little while on earth is as wonderful as her whole life has been with you, and that the rainbow road is paved with the greenest grass she ever did see.

October 22, 2014 at 12:53 AM  
Blogger Vicki Alderman-Watt said...

So sorry

October 22, 2014 at 1:27 AM  
Blogger Coco said...

I´m so sorry for your loss. Her little miracle lamb must be all that more precious.

October 22, 2014 at 3:53 AM  
Blogger small farm girl said...

Sometimes, farming just sucks.
I'm so sorry.

October 22, 2014 at 5:28 AM  
Blogger Sonya said...

Oh Jenna..my heart brakes for you..she will be missed.

October 22, 2014 at 5:34 AM  
Blogger daisy g said...

The heartbreak of losing loved ones, be they human or not, is so challenging. Know that she has served her purpose with you well. She came and did what she was intended to do. Praying comfort for you today, farmer. May she pass peacefully.

October 22, 2014 at 6:31 AM  
Blogger Kathryn Jones said...

Peace go with you Maude...blessed be for having Maude in your life Jenna....

October 22, 2014 at 7:19 AM  
OpenID T. Crockett said...

I hope you know we'd all come and give you a hug if we could. We're with you and Maude in spirit if not in body.

October 22, 2014 at 7:21 AM  
Blogger Cath Miller said...

So sorry to hear that Maude is sick, I am thinking of you

October 22, 2014 at 8:16 AM  
Blogger Karen said...

Sending comforting thoughts to you.

October 22, 2014 at 8:20 AM  
Blogger The Kelly's Adventures in KY said...

I'm so sorry to hear about Ms. Maude. She has been a grumpy, feisty, well loved foundation at your farm for quite a while. You've given her a wonderful home.

October 22, 2014 at 9:58 AM  
Blogger Tanya T said...

I'm sorry for your loss Jenna. :(

October 22, 2014 at 10:23 AM  
Blogger Jessica said...

Oh, Jenna, I am so sorry. Crying right with you. I'd give my ewes hugs if they would let me. Fare thee well, Maude, and hugs to you!

October 22, 2014 at 10:32 AM  
Blogger jules said...

I'm so sorry Jenna. It is a heartbreak for sure. Hugs to Maude.

October 22, 2014 at 11:50 AM  
Blogger Mel Baker said...

Jenna - I am so sorry. Maude will be missed by many.

October 22, 2014 at 12:23 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Maude has always been such an integral part of the Cold Antler experience, it's very sad to think of her dying.

I'm sorry, Jenna, so very sorry.

October 22, 2014 at 12:39 PM  
Blogger Heather Knoll said...

I'm so sorry Jenna! We farmers spend a lot of time with life & death but that doesn't make it any easier. She's had a great life with you! You & your flock with be in my thoughts & prayers.

October 22, 2014 at 2:25 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

Thinking of you tonight. It's hard and yet the best thing ever to be alive and connected.

October 22, 2014 at 5:53 PM  
Blogger Holly said...

Oh Maude:( She was such a part of scrappy farm life at CAF. I named a complaining chicken after Maude. Every time I saw a sheep with a grumpy look on her face I thought of Maude. Always loved her attitude that only she could exhibit. She will be missed. Hugs going out to you through the distance as you weather this tough time.

October 22, 2014 at 10:24 PM  
OpenID sheepyhollow said...

The truth about farming! It's not all fun. I feel your pain... she will give you warmth for years to come!!

October 23, 2014 at 5:56 AM  
Blogger hart said...

I've always loved reading about Maude. Wonderful sheep's name. Hope you can take some comfort in how good life she had.--hart

October 23, 2014 at 10:25 AM  
Blogger beccaWA said...

Maude needs a vet ASAP, or a bullet. How can you let her suffer like that?

October 23, 2014 at 8:46 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Becca, I understand your reaction, but please understand she was sitting up and chewing cud a few hours earlier (the last time I checked on her) and I thought she was recovering. I didn't want to shoot her as long as she was upright and eating/drinking/medicated. When I wrote this it was when I found her on her side, eyes shut, barely breathing. Yes. I could have walked down the hill to the house and grabbed my .22 and ended her life 5 minutes sooner by shooting her, but I didn't. When I saw she was practically gone I came inside and wrote because I was a mess of tears, alone, and scared. After I published it and walked back to be with her she was gone.

I don't know if Maude suffered or not in those last hours between check-ins. I think her body just shut down. When we found her Saturday morning I was certain she was already dead. She was on her back, and had probably been on her back most of the night. I do not walk outside and check my sheep in the night, and found her around 6AM. When I saw she was still alive Riley and I righted her and saw she was keeping herself upright and burping out the bloat gas. At this point I chose to keep her alive.

She held on for three days. Then she died.

I would not call a vet for a 10-12-year old ewe (even if it is Maude). I just wouldn't. Calling a vet over the weekend to travel to the farm and medicate and work on the sheep would be hundreds of dollars and that is not something I can afford, I don't know any shepherd who would call in a vet for a ten year old sheep they found in that state. I know plenty that would have shot her on the spot though, and perhaps I should have.

So that's that. I don't mean to come off as defensive, but explaining what was going on and why I did what I did.

October 23, 2014 at 10:03 PM  
Blogger English sheep gal said...

I was so excited to read a sheep post, the history of the flock, which sheep you had where.... then so sad to read Maude's chapter was ending in the story of CAF. How fantastic she got to live to 10+ yrs. We all had a soft spot for that grumpy girl!

October 24, 2014 at 11:44 PM  
Blogger renate said...

i'm so sorry, jenna. i know it's a sad time, but you did right by maude. that girl had a good life with you.

October 25, 2014 at 12:14 PM  
Blogger Karen Rickers said...

So sorry to hear about Maude. I do think our companion animals (even if they're simultaneously FARM animals) help to teach us about the cycle of life and therefore prepare us for our own passing. It's natural that people are moved by Maude's plight and therefore question the actions that were taken, but only you were there, only you knew her, and could make the right call at that time. Hopefully, her spirit is still soaring. All the best to CAF.

October 25, 2014 at 1:33 PM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

Oh no! I was just catching up; I fell behind on your posts as I was on vacation, finishing Cold Antler Farm. So much change, and Maude that obnoxious constant the whole time. Thanks for sharing her life with us. I pray for a peaceful departure for her at the right time, and a good goodbye.

October 25, 2014 at 5:02 PM  
Blogger Stefanie DePugh said...

So sorry about Maude, Jenna. Grumpy old girl or not, I'm sure you always did right by her.

October 28, 2014 at 8:37 PM  

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