Lavender’s gifts

Last night Hester didn’t want to come inside right away.  She was limping.  I let the alpacas in and then I addressed her needs.  By the time the alpacas were munching their dinner, she was ready to join the other sheep in their stall.  I pondered the reasons why she was holding back.  I thought about her mom.

Two weeks ago when the rams were convalescing in the paddock and stalls of the barn where the vet had come and helped to surgically castrate them that day, the Cruise Ships, as I call the Cotswold group, and the alpacas, Mister K & Peter Pan, were all out in the park with the horses for the day.  I needed to have a space where I could let the rams out to exercise a little without worrying about them needing more attention if I’d turned them out to their regular pasture.  So they had the space for the day.

Out in the park, the merry band of horses, alpacas and sheep munched hay together all day long with no event.  Until that evening when I was putting everyone back where they belonged and was feeding the troops.  That’s when the bad stuff happened.

Ruger Jac, our paint pony, got very excited and started bucking and jumping up and down, anticipating dinner, and in his excitement he kicked Lavender, our big old Cotswold ewe.  She got kicked not once, but about 3 times.  Ruger is almost a thousand pounds, Lavender ran around 300 lbs.

I screamed at Ruger to stop, of course all of the animals were skipping about in the excitement and he didn’t register I was yelling at him.  I had to open the gate on the paddock, run through it, open the other gate and then I could intervene in the fray.  It was enough time for Lavender to be injured, to take herself off to the far side of the pasture.

I put all of the animals where they belonged, fed everyone, and then made my way out to retrieve Lavender.  Food was of no interest.  I saw a little bit of blood on the ground.  She didn’t go away from me, but she didn’t want to follow.  I tried to pull her and to push her to bring her in.  I suspected shock at the very least.

I tried a halter and lead.

Finally, after about an hour, I got her into the stall with the others.  She had limped the whole way.  She collapsed in the corner and I brought a bowl of grain to her, put the water near her, and checked her all over.  I couldn’t really tell if anything was broken, but I could see where she’d been roughed up and her shoulder had taken some bruising.  I imagined that in the morning we would know better how much damage she’d suffered because she was in such a terrified state that she needed quiet.

In the morning, the others clamored and climbed over her to get outside and she moved a negligible amount.  Later on that day she was up and walking around, albeit limping, but not as badly as I had thought she might.  So I took it as a sign that she was on the mend, maybe.  I thought I’d give her that day to recover her nerves before jumping to conclusions.

The next day, similarly, the others clamored and climbed over her and I thought I’d keep her separate, with just Hester for companionship, so as to protect her from being accidentally injured again.  She was not moving much at all that day, so I called the vet.

Dr. Kyle helped out as well as he could.  He didn’t think that anything was broken, we treated her for the inflammation and the bruising and though I thought, initially, that we might be having to put her down, we did not.  We decided that on the weekend if she took a turn for anything, he’d be on call and he’d come out.

By Sunday the temps were sub-zero, poor Lavender was not well off.  The entire Saturday she got up maybe twice and on Sunday I just knew that she was feeling horrible.  I just knew.  I didn’t want her to suffer any more and just had to troubleshoot my way to figure out the best solution to take her out of her misery.

So on Valentine’s Day I called the butcher and asked him to send his guy that would put Lavender out of her misery.  And being that it was 17 below and we couldn’t dig her a proper grave and I didn’t want her body laying atop of the ground where scavengers would find it, I had him process her and salvaged her hide to be tanned as well.

How many hard parts of farming are there for me?  Many.  If ever you wonder why this farmer loves lambing season so much, well, all you have to do is be with me for the other parts of the year that require life and death decision making, whether to bury or process an animal, when and how to handle manure & soiled bedding, parasite control, behavioral problems.  Writing letters to previous owners to tell of the sad news.

There is a “cut” sheet that you fill out when you work with a butcher.  It is an online form that has many categories and you check off how much and what kind of thicknesses and compilations of ingredients and etc. you want to have the butcher adhere to in processing your order.  And there is a part about the fat.  The tallow, in this case because Lavender was 9 years old.  I think, every time I’m in a position to put an animal down, how best to honor them in their passing as well as we did in their living.  I feel that a fiber animal, any farm animal that depends on you for comfort, food, a healthy life, has something to give back.  In Lavender’s case, her fiber was her life’s work.  So it was, in my mind, a good idea not to throw that away, to salvage it.  And her tallow could give back too.

I’d never made homemade tallow soap.  But I did.  And I will continue to.  I have processed 16 pounds of Lavender’s tallow into soap in two batches of processing so far.  I will be processing about 40 more pounds before I’m finished.  It is time consuming, yes, but it is also awe-inspiring to take a natural, raw ingredient and combine it with another natural ingredient to saponify and then to add an essential oil, a small amount of herb grown on the very property that Lavender grazed on and create a beautiful and useful product.

Her soaps are luscious and bubbly, a faint and farmy scent to the plain bars, a farmy, lavender-y scent to the lavender bars.

I will always wish it didn’t happen.  That she hadn’t been injured, that I had somehow foreseen that it could’ve happened.  The night before that, I’d carried a large, still lamb out of the barn and wrapped it for burying in the spring.  I was exhausted.  I’d worked with the vet to hold down rams and bucks during the day to be castrated.  I was grieving.  I just didn’t see it coming.

But now I know to not let something like that happen again.  But something else will happen.  Because life is just like that.  And it’s not that I think that it is funny, but I think that it is practical, that if life gives you tallow, you make soap.

Well, today Hester is letting me handle her hoof to check it for the limping.  I kept she and the other sheep in for the day so that I could control and monitor her.  She doesn’t mind but she definitely has an owie just above her hoof.  It feels a little raised, like a bump of some kind.  I tried to examine her but Mister K and Peter Pan were sort of crawling all over me while I was examining her so I’ll put them out later and examine her better.  I think she might have a stone or something, lodged between her cloven hoof.  She is up and eating, so that is a positive sign.

Use it up

Mother and Daughter Cotswolds, Lavender and Hester

Mother and Daughter Cotswolds, Lavender and Hester

Lavender & Hester make a pretty rug, don't they?

Lavender & Hester make a pretty rug

Lavender, full curls, with Hester behind her, the day prior to shearing all that wool.

Lavender, full curls, with Hester behind her

Lavender's locks

R.I.P. Lavender            February 18, 2007 – February 14, 2016

28 responses to “Lavender’s gifts

  1. Your post are always captivating, some sad, some uplifting but all told with honesty. This one was no different. Sending a hug and a sincere thank you for sharing such a sincere chronical of life in a farm.

  2. RIP Sweetest Lavender! You’ve had many hard pains recently Tammy! Lambing I pray, will bring you an abundance of Joy! You have a very sound healthy response to it all and I am learning that comes from experience!! Hugs! Carrie
    P.s. I just love your Cotswold!

  3. I’m so sorry about Lavender. Your posts are so full of emotion and when you have a sick or hurt animal it breaks my heart. You are amazing! Your animals are amazing! Love hearing about your farm and your day to day experiences! Take care.

  4. Your love for Lavender comes through loud and clear. I am so sorry Tammy. I think the way you honor her is right and true.

    • Thank you, Susi, you know not everyone will agree, but that would be true for anything. And I did love her, she was a big innocent, the type that would never harm a flea. And I often anthropomorphize my animals, and she was definitely my Grandma Brown, in the background, quiet, peaceful, taking everything in. It was the injustice of it all that had me awfully fraught. A more sweet and gentle animal would be hard to find here.

  5. Oh, Tammy, I am so sorry about Lavender. As I was reading your post I was struck by how much strength you have. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to have to make such choices. Thank you so much for sharing Lavender’s story.

    • Thank you, Lisa. It does require strength and I often question mine, but I feel like I only get as much as I can handle, clearly I’m up for it. Sometimes, though, I look up and say “Um, enough?!” Thank you so much for taking time to comment so kindly. It is unbelievable how supportive community helps make chores so much lighter.

  6. Oh Tammy, I know the loss of animals is the hardest part of your life on the farm, but I appreciate you for sharing honestly about those times. You’ve honored Lavender’s life in a wonderful way. I’m glad that it’s almost time for all the new babies to arrive and look forward to your photos that I know you’ll share.

    • Thank you, Lorrie, you’ve been so kind and generous to support me/the farm with your following and you bet I will share those baby pics!! Lord, watch out when I have real grandbabies! I’ll be unbearable!!!

  7. Thank you for sharing your days, your life. I have no idea what it’s like to live and work on a farm and I so enjoy learning about what it’s like for you and your animals. You have had some tough days. I hope spring brings you some joy.

    • Thank you, Laura, it is so kind of you to write and say such supporting things. I really appreciate you taking the time to share.
      I feel like a lot of the work on a farm is like being in the healthcare industry or in the school system where you get very close to your people/patients and so therefore you live with them/suffer with them/rejoice with them intimately. I am happy I work with animals, they give so much and ask relatively little.

  8. I had to take a deep breath after reading this, like I was holding my breath. I don’t know how you do it and I question my ability do it. Thank you for sharing.

  9. Thank you for sharing the grief and the joy of livestock farming. This brings back so many memories of my childhood farm upbringing. The times I would be so upset that my Dad couldn’t “fix” an animal and would put it down. I would wail about life not being fair. My father impressed upon us early on that the sooner we learned that life would never be fair the better we could handle real life. He would say “fair is what comes to town once a year”. You absolutely honor your animals everyday by caring so deeply. Lavender was obviously loved and cared for–many times the best decision is the hardest one to make. By making soaps, etc. you most certainly honored her and continue to remember her in the most loving positive ways. I pray more uplifting events will be around the corner.

  10. Thank you Tammy for sharing your life that particular weekend, when it seemed a perfect storm was at your farm. Your honest and candid posts that weekend touched my heart, as you navigated the fine line between life and death, loving and grieving. It’s a honour to know you. Sending big (((hugs)))

  11. Oh Tammy… I don’t know what to say, really, that hasn’t already been said. Farming is hard work, and not in the way most people assume it is, especially when we care so much about each being in our care. It’s exhilarating and exhausting, and sometimes heartbreaking. I’m so sorry to hear this news about beautiful Lavender. I think your choice to use the tallow for soap is beautiful. Spring lambs and kids cant’ come soon enough for me. Many hugs. xo

    • Can’t come soon enough, for sure, just for the endorphin-rush! And warm, sunshine-y days is nice, too!
      Thank you so much, Rebecca.

  12. Tammy,
    Your posts are always so lovely. I always struggle on whether or not to post the lows as well as the highs when it comes to farming. You make it seem effortless to post about the sadness that also comes with farming due to the way you continue to keep the spirit of the animal alive in these posts. I am so sorry about Lavender’s passing. It’s heartbreaking. I just lost one of my favorite ewes due to a lambing crisis and am still upset over her passing. I’ve unfortunately learned that it doesn’t get any easier no matter how long someone’s been farming.


    • It is true, Irina, it does not get any easier. Someone asked me once, was I sort of accustomed and therefore less bothered to losing an animal, because, by now, there have been many that have gone as well as come. And I said no, that it is always wrenching and hard and awful. Always. And I cry hard for a few minutes some times or I wallow for days and weeks some times. The one thing that is constant is that you have to keep doing the chores, you have to keep caring for everyone else, and so that helps you to be purposeful and heal. Thanks for sharing with me. I never enjoy writing about the lows, but I feel it is part of the story here, that there are losses and there are all ways of coping with them. I am SO sorry about your ewe. My condolences. It’s tragic. May spring come soon for you.

  13. I’m two days late reading this post. I smiled and I teared reading it. You give so much and hurt so much with passing time but that’s life. Just wanted to also say that part of Lavender, Hester and Custer (pre-“snip snip”) are in the book that I made you. The pocket page with the tag has a snip of yarn that was part of them. I’ve used that skein in two projects so far and cherish the remaining yarn. I will make certain to do them proud in the last making from the skein. Thank you so much for all of your sharing. It reminds all of us of the ups and downs of life but that in the end, it’s all worth it. LIVING in TEXAS, Julie

    • Do you know, Julie, that when I went through each page, I cried when I saw the yarn that was theirs because of that. I was SO touched, thank you so much. It was just unbelievably thoughtful. And thank you for sharing with me, keeping me in the love! See you soon, my friend!

  14. Oh, Tammy…my heart is heavy with yours. The breadth of the joys and love is always equal to the grief – and honestly it is a blessing to have that capacity. I pray your heart finds peace as you heal and know without a doubt you do what is the most humane and honorable in each situation. Sending the biggest, squishing hugs!!!

    • Thank you so much, Maureen, for the encouragement and for taking the time to write a note to me.

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