I didn’t know I would be putting Nessa down tonight. I didn’t know that when I fed the animals this evening I’d find her thumbing her nose at her bowl of grain. She didn’t want it.


I didn’t know that I’d sit in the stall with her and she’d lay next to me and cuddle and put her head in my lap while I took her temperature. 97.7 Low. I took it again and again. She just lay as still as could be while I kept poking her with the thermometer.

It was then I noticed that she had a tiny bit of mucous discharge. She was probably due in 3 weeks. No udder yet. But getting big.


I watched her move away when Paisley came over to be cuddled. She just changed positions and lay against the wall facing the other way. It was ok, I needed to do a few things and get going. I watched her strain a bit and then realized that maybe she was in labor and that she was just small.


I kept an eye on her. I watched her from inside the house on my camera that was trained on her stall. She shifted only occasionally from one side of the stall to the other to sleep.


At about 9:30 she began to writhe and flop from side to side, extending her neck, contorting her body and twisting. I ran out to the barn thinking she must be in severe pain, perhaps responding to labor and would need assistance if it was not too late.


I got to the barn and contained her, cradled her head and stroked her neck on the ground, moving her into the aisle space where I could have plenty of room and light. My hunch was not that she was in labor but that she was choking. Her breathing was strained and slow and she had a bit of spittle. I concentrated on trying to keep her calm and called the vet.


The vet could be here in 45 minutes and so I stroked her neck and her chin and her breast over and over, trying to give her some comfort and keep her from thrashing. I attempted to give her a pelvic exam but her flopping and flailing were preventing me from having any success, and as far as I could tell there were no advanced stages of labor exhibited. No fluids, no dilation. Her abdomen was distended as though maybe she suffered bloat, though I knew she was pregnant. My mind was racing through possibilities for her discomfort and erratic behavior.


When Dr. Jason arrived, I told him I thought she was choking and I had been feeding a stomach tube into her mouth as well as I could on a few occasions to see if I could loosen any matter that might be lodged in her airway. He set to checking her eyes, gave her a pelvic exam and determined she was not dilated. He took her temperature and it was 101, normal. He noted her thrashing behavior.


He didn’t like her eyes. He could tell she was fighting something besides choking behavior and when he stomach tubed her with a larger, more rigid tube, he got all the way to her rumen and we just heard normal gas. The one thing he noted that I had not paid any extra attention to was that we couldn’t open her mouth.


Her jaw was locked, lockjaw. We reviewed her vaccination history. She was all up to date on her tetanus, her rabies vaccinations.


We reviewed the list of things that could be leading to her behavior without clear diagnosis, just many possibilities.


The valium did not relax her jaw, her tension. She still struggled to breath.


I told Dr .Jason we needed to let her pass. I wanted him to euthanize her.



We brought her expired body into the tack room for the night, wrapped in a towel as well as we could. She was big with babies. We lay her on the floor and closed the door so I wouldn’t worry about anything getting at her in the night.


It was going on midnight. Dr. Jason helped me attend to another lamb that had been born about 5 weeks prior. Mary. Mary had gone to see him on Day 2 of her life for an Entropion eyelid condition, which he’d helped remedy by injecting penicillin along the bottom lid. I told him I had been having to dose her daily with Teramycin and trying to “train” her eyelid out so it wouldn’t curve in, irritating her cornea. He took a look at her and said she definitely should’ve been farther along in progress so we fished out the penicillin from the medicine cabinet and he tucked her under his arm and gave her a fresh application. Little Mary looked like she’d been in a neighborhood brawl afterward, but the job got done and she now has a better shot at recovery.


And now it is the next day.


This morning Dr. Jason texted me early to ask if he could come by and take her brain for a necropsy.


It seems he didn’t sleep well last night, either, for wondering. He wanted to rule out rabies and I understood. I also wanted to rule it out. For safety’s sake. Even though Nessa was vaccinated and the whole farm is vaccinated, we don’t want to wonder.


He came by and we moved her body out to the other side of the compost pile. I am still trying to figure out how I can get back there with a tractor to make a grave for her. The earth is so wet that everything is sinking in at this point and I know I can’t dig it by hand or I’ll wreck my back.


I couldn’t not let him take her brain to test, though, because I wasn’t sure what my grave-digging timeline was.



While we’re at it, I asked if we could get her brain checked for Scrapie as well. Not a condition I wanted to think would be on this farm, but it is not a day for pretending I’m above it all. It is a day for being a humble farmer.


I’ve reached out to my Vermont Sheep & Goat Association in an effort to share my experience in the hopes of possible enlightenment, but also to educate. Often I have found the network to be so supportive and the best resource for troubleshooting agricultural problems.


They’ve been so kind, offering condolences and descriptions of similar experiences, wishing for the best outcome for the necropsy testing. Beautifully written letters detailing similar losses of beloved ewes or does, brief responses of concern and care.


Cheering words came from dear Carol, a local knit night friend, “tonight Ness will romp with the great Aries.”


And as long as I can look up into the night sky, I will have that to remember her by.


I didn’t know I’d be saying goodbye to Nessa last night, nor her babies that I had not met. But I do know it’s not the end of the world. I know there are many things to be thankful for in her life. She was the friendliest sheep I think our farm has ever seen. Her presence will be missed. Her legacy of love and enthusiasm live on in her lambs of last year, Nieve & Noche, who wag their tails when you pet them, dash to you for cuddles, climb into your lap in the same way their mama did.

Nessa, April 23 2014



44 responses to “Nessa

  1. Thinking of you and Nessa, my dear. It’s very hard, and you did exactly what you should have done, which I know is little comfort, but all I can offer. xo

  2. Tammy, my heart breaks for you. My mom had to put down a ewe last month due to lambing complications, one of her favorites; a 2012 farm-born-and-bred ewe named Suzie. I fully understand the heartache you’re going through at the moment. I offer my condolences, but am also interested in the necropsy results. Her symptoms seem odd, but I too would have suspected bloat at first read.

    All my best,

    Flying Fibers

  3. A sad day for all of you who loved and were loved by Nessa. Prayers for all of you. Linda S.

  4. Tammy, my heart is aching for you today. Perhaps Nessa in her own way needed all those cuddles yesterday knowing that she would soon leave you. It was beautiful to watch her in your lap, soaking up all your love and caresses. Yes, I’ll be looking at the night sky. I’m sure she’s with all the other stars looking down on her home and her family. Hugs and love. xxx

  5. Oh Tammy… so sorry… can’t stop crying and I only met her for a weekend! I can’t imagine the loss you feel. Sending hugs and lots of love your way.

  6. So sorry .She was a strong gal.Like you said she is so sweet. Nieve and Noche our blessed with Nessa’s beautiful personality.Hugs

  7. Oh Tammy…this is why I could not do what you do. Every time I have had a pet die, a part of me has died as well. I’m so sorry about your sweet Nessa. You are one of the kindest, most gentle farmer women I have ever known, and Nessa was blessed to have you as her shepherdess.

    Much love,

  8. As I read this through my flowing tears I comment here on your strength Tammy. I see a sheperdess who above all protects her animals with such love and devotion as their own mother would. In that love, brings the ability to find such strength and fierceness at a time when needed. We grow fond of the animals and the stories you tell. We share the pain of your losses. Nessa will be missed. ❤

  9. I am sitting at work reading this with tears in my eyes. God bless Nessa, you and the rest of your farm family.

  10. It pains my heart so much to hear of Nessa leaving you. May you know lots of love is surrounding you. I passed a beautiful cat that had been killed on the road this morning and just burst out into tears over it. Thank you for sharing with us.

  11. Tammy. I am so sorry about Nessa😢 My heart is breaking for you and her babies ❤. They are so fortunate to have you to love and care for them. Sending hugs and positive thoughts💖

  12. My heart breaks with yours. Will light a candle for her and the babies that couldn’t be born. I am so saddened by this news, but I have never seen anyone more lovingly dedicated to their animals than you, Tammy. Take comfort in that. She lived w/an angel before you lost her. She lives w/them, now, too.

  13. Thank you for sharing your world with us Tammy, both the joys and the hardships. Our sweet, loving animals teach us so much about unconditional love. As a shepherdess, you have shown us how to give that back.

  14. Oh Tammy, I am so sad to hear of Nessa’s departure from this world. She was such a very lucky sheep to have lived (and died) in your warm embrace. All the animals at Wing and a Prayer Farm are blessed by your devotion and love. Please be gentle with yourself, friend, and know that all of us out here in your virtual fan club are holding thoughts of you close to our hearts. xo

  15. So saddened to hear of your loss of Nessa last night. I remember one of your most
    recent stories that you had pointed her out and mentioned that she was due soon. I tune in daily most days, but looked for a story last night and did not see one, just assumed you were occupied, but so sorry for what you were enduring. I hope that you will find answers, and peace and solace in your seven little beauties and their good fortune. You are a loving shepherdess and your herd abides with you with adoration, just watch your stories. All of your herds perk up and are as attentive to you as you are to them. I hope you get extra time to cuddle your newest lambs in the next few days before the warm weather comes and they begin to play outside in the sunlight.

  16. Ohhhh… so hard to lose her! I’m just so sorry. It’ll be good to have the brain tissue tested but in the meantime I hope your heart will be filled with the wonderful memories of this sweet girl.. and therefore lighter soon.🕊💛🐑💛🕊

  17. I am so sorry, I had a dog that died suddenly as a puppy and they had to do the same thing to rule out rabies due to the way she died, it was awful, your situation much worse but it hurts so much. I was so sad reading the post but smiled at the photo at the end, what a pretty and happy girl she was

  18. Oh Tammy, I am broken-hearted and I can’t imagine what you must be feeling. I remember Nessa so well from last year’s lamb cam and how relentless she was in the pursuit of pets and cuddles whenever you were around. Thank you for the love and care that you gave Nessa and that you give all the animals entrusted to you. May God bless you and give you comfort.

  19. I’m so sorry for your loss, sweet Tammy. To love and be loved was Nessa’s life. She’s up there being a sweet momma to a nursery of lambs I’m sure. Big hug. Love, Julie C

  20. Bless every one of your hearts and thank you for including us Tammy to be a part of your life. Joanna

  21. I am so sorry to hear about the passing of Nessa and her little lambs. Please share any answers you may find and take some hugs from me ((((()))))) prayers to all.

  22. Oh Tammy…..(tears running down my face). I feel so lucky to have seen Nessa during your live broadcast. Laying right next to you with her head in your lap. She was comforted by you. I could tell that you knew something was terribly wrong. You have a real connection and understanding of your animals. Thank you for sharing these wonderful creatures and yourself with us. Sending prayers of comfort your way.

  23. This is one of the saddest stories I have heard. I am so sorry. Dealing with animals is very difficult. I have 5 sheltie babies. I could not give any of them up. I have dealt with losing shelties now for 17 years and it never becomes easy. You raise from babies until their demise and sometimes we have to make that decision to send them on. You are a good shepherdess for knowing when the time is right.

  24. So sad to hear of Nessa. What a tough day for you. I am anxious to know what the cause was and sending positive thoughts your way.

  25. Have had my own share of ‘what happened here?’ and the pain of saying goodbye. Knowing we did all we could is small comfort but helps m e to deal with thinking there should have been a way to fix this. My heart goes out to you, you’ve lost a special friend, and my elderly llama in the barn portends of a sad day for me in the not too distance future. If the joy did not outweigh the pain, we wouldn’t open our hearts so fully to those who share our lives. My dad died just two months ago…so sorrow is closer companion than usual

  26. That must’ve been terribly hard, but she was lucky she had you to look out for her. I’m so sorry for your loss. I’m hoping for many starry nights for you to see her in the stars.

  27. Prayers that you get answers from the necropsy! Heartfelt sympathy for difficult loss of a sweet friend! Thanks for educating fellow shepherd/farmers!

    • Thank you so much, Jenny! I heard back that the Rabies test was negative. That is a good thing!

Comments are closed.