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.