Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy Birthday to Us

Happy Birthday, Misters Darwin and Lincoln

You guys have chalked up 200, I just 65; certainly no comparison in any respect. Still, I suppose that some words are in order to commemorate the completion of one’s 65th year on this planet, no matter how inconsequential they have been. Once you start hitting birthdays that sound like speed-limits, thoughts naturally tend toward death and impermanence, but mine seemed to be focused on killing.

I have killed countless things over the decades: dreams, ideas, and hopes as well as living creatures. Some were dispatched inadvertently, by accident, some carelessly or thoughtlessly, and some with premeditated, deadly intention. Gwendolyn’s death was one of these.

Gwendolyn ready for her close-up, or shearing

Gwendolyn was a beautiful white Wensleydale/Cotswold ewe that began her life in Colorado in 2002. Along with Wallit, the black Wensleydale/Cotswold ram we had purchased a few years earlier, she was to be the foundation of our new flock of luster longwools. She was friendly and charming, with the most wonderful spinning wool. After a year or two we bred her to Wallit, and in the spring she produced a big, black single ewe lamb that was named Precious, after the character in McCall Smith’s wonderful #1 Ladies Detective Agency books. Being an only child, she was everyone’s delight. Though we had other sheep and other lambs, she was the favorite.

When Precious was a few months old, and starting on solid food, she somehow ingested a piece of wire that was hidden in the hay, and died of peritonitis. It was a sad day for all of us. We had hopes or repeating the breeding the following year, but Wallit sickened and died before that could be achieved, so Gwendolyn was bred to another ram. The lambs were cute -- white twins, Gwynneth and Gwain -- but just not the same as our beloved Wensleydale cross.

Gwendolyn introduces Gwynneth (behind her) to one of the Kangal pups.

We took a year or two off from having lambs, but the springs were too quiet and the fields too empty without lambs bounding about, so last summer I bought another black Wensleydale ram and three lambs. They were shipped down from Oregon, and arrived after quite a long and arduous trip, but the ram was feeling well enough to get busy with all of the girls, including Gwendolyn.

Unfortunately, once that job was done, he focused primarily on eating, and on being the first in line, even if it meant bashing his ladies out of the way. Unfortunately, gentle Gwendolyn was one of his victims, and suffered injury to her hip, which left her severely lame. Still, we had hopes that she could carry her lamb(s) to term with proper care, so set her up in “the infirmary” (see the picture below under the Mattie story) and gave her daily special attention until one day last month she finally lambed. There was one huge lamb, dead in the sack, but another sprightly little black one happily bouncing about… and it was a girl! The good news was that Gwendolyn seemed to be feeling better (wouldn’t you?) and was dutifully standing so that the lamb could nurse. Such a good mom, such a lovely lamb. I should not have named her Precious, but I did.

The little family did surprisingly well. Despite the fact that Gwendolyn seemed to be growing steadily weaker, she could still stand when the baby wanted to nurse, and both ate like champs. We put them back in with the other sheep so that the lamb would have playmates, but Gwendolyn's increasing frailty and several days of icy rains led us to finally put her in a separate pen, so that she and the lamb would not be unduly jostled by the rest of the flock. It was just a day later that we found Gwendolyn collapsed on top of the still-warm body of her lamb, unable or unwilling to get up.

It was clear that the kindest thing would be to put her down, but I just could not do it on my birthday. Or the next day, or the next. Eventually I was ready, so husband and I went out to the sheep pen. He started digging a hole while I gave Gwendolynn some grain and thanked her for her life and her lambs and her wool. Then I gave her a good dose of Banophen, and put a bag over her head, holding her until she quit breathing.

We burried Gwendolyn with her lamb at her side, and only later did it occur to me that they both died the same way: smothered by someone who loved them.

Requiescat in pace et in amore.


jennylewin said...

hi there: i enjoy your blog. i have a question: why do you smother the sheep? is that the best way to prevent their suffering as they die? what does the banophen do? curious, jenn

Mary Kay said...

I hope the releasing of life filters back to you so that next birthday will be very happy. In life there has to be death. Your story and pics are so heartwarming and well written, I think you submit it to Spin Off.

Kathy said...

Thanks, Jenn and Mary Kay. If you find that Spin-Off is looking for material, just let me know! (gggg)

Jenn -- regarding smothering the sheep -- I have long sought a kind and gentle (if that is the right word) way to put animals down, but vets don't let growers have access to the good stuff that really works, and they charge a small fortune to come out and do the deed. As my flock (and I) age, I just can't afford hundreds of dollars each time an animal is ready to pass on, and the thought of using violence (knife or gun) just doesn't sit with me.

I actually got the idea from watching an episode of Big Love on HBO -- it was one of those strange, Ah-HAH! moments, and I realized that I COULD take care of my animals by myself without the scary and expensive visit from the vet.

Gwen was very weak already, and the banophen (a pain killer) helped her to relax. I suspect that she did suffer some, but hopefully not too much, and certainly not as much as she would have in days to come if I had not released her. (Thanks, Mary Kay, I like that term.)