Rarely does the death of a sheep cause more than distraction during the day, sadness for the lost life, but mostly due to the loss of a productive animal and a nuisance having to bury the animal. We generally place a higher value to the life and well being of our ewes, they are not only our greatest resource, lambs, but they are generally tamer and friendlier, less of a burden to maintain and care for. Over the years that we have raised sheep, there have been a few that have stood out, while I am very familiar with all of them, knowing their personalities and habits, a few have found a special place within the herd. One such animal was a ewe that we have owned for over 11 years, a very productive animal, and mother of several other productive ewes. She came to us early in our ranching, one of four ewes we bought from a couple outside of Flagstaff. She was a spooky little lady for the first few years, but shortly after we started to shear our own sheep she came to be a little more trusting, knowing that we didn’t have any desire to harm her. We think it is important that you shear your own animals if at all possible, while they do not like it, it does help building trust between and animal and a shepard. If you hire out the work it is far more difficult to develop a relationship with an animal. Simply put, sheep are not stupid, they are often incredibly intelligent, – I have found them more intelligent than many people I deal with… while they are suspicious of any human presence, the more contact you have with them lessens the fear they have, at least if you are deliberate in your dealings with them. One stupid act can undo a week of kindness, but over time, once trust is created, they can be very tame and friendly. At least it is possible with most ewes, – some are impossible to reach and this is surely because of past mistakes in your behavior as a shepard (sheep do not forget or forgive easily).
This long time matriarch was a leader of the ewes, she and two of the others she came with in 2007 were generally the dominate females. On December 30th 2018, after a rather brutal storm, she turned up lame, and after a day or so she would not rise to her feet. For nearly a month we took special care of her, building a special temporary shelter out of pallets where we could separate her from the others while feeding. Anyone who owns sheep will know why, sheep are no different than humans, they can be very callous and opportunistic with the weak, seeing another as an opportunity instead of a mother… any weak animal must be cared for, especially if it cannot stand, the others will mob the weakest even when plenty is available elsewhere.
She was bright and aware of her surroundings for nearly a month, never lost her appetite or the ability to sit, she simply could not rise and walk. In such cases where the animal can sit and shows no distress and maintains an appetite, we do not put them down. We kept her warm as possible and let her have some privacy during meals, but opened the shelter after she had her fill, because you never isolate sheep for lengthy periods. They have a need for companionship, even if that companionship is thoughtless.
On January 31st, 2019 she passed away in the morning, the night before when we checked on her, she was bright and alert, had an appetite (her last meal was some carrot slices and half a banana – they all love carrots and bananas!). I covered her with a blanket and she was covered in the morning when we discovered her. It was probably the saddest day we have had this year, enough to warrant a short blog about her life. Luckily we have several of her offspring to keep her in our heart, matter of fact she gave us our first female lamb last year, – Cocoa, who like her mother is a bit spooky and dark color with wool that is similar in appearance to dreadlocks (hence “Marley” derived from Bob Marley).
Her last picture taken on January 28th, 2019, she will be missed and we think of her every day.