Friday, February 24, 2012

I'm Glad That Part's Over

I don't mention it much because it makes some dear friends sad, but we do use a lot of the lambs we raise for our freezer trade.  We breed with the plan of improving the specific qualities we need in the animals we raise - in our case fleece and hardiness and size - with each successive generation.   And when you breed your ewes every year you very rapidly reach a tipping point where you realize you simply can't keep everyone, and not everyone has traits you want to reproduce.   Many years ago we sold lambs we weren't keeping at the local auction barn. I didn't particularly like the situation, but "they" always assured us that "lambs are high right now".  The reality was that we'd have done better rolling dice in Vegas.  Reasons for the poor prices included "too heavy", "too light" "not a meat type lamb", "too heavy in fleece" and the ever popular "they are black".  Additionally, I loathed dropping them into an abyss of unknowns.  I knew their ultimate purpose would put them on someone's plate, but the unknown care in the interim...that really got to me.

We've worked the last few years to remove those unknowns.  We cultivated a market of customers who want our lamb.  We found a facility within feasible driving distance that treats our animals gently right to the end, and works with us to produce the best product possible for our customers.  We trailer the lambs there ourselves that morning so we know they are transported safely and don't have to wait in an unfamiliar setting a moment longer than necessary.  We go back the same day and pick up the pelts for tanning so that they aren't wasted.  We've even been fortunate enough to find a network of dog foster homes who raw feed their charges and will take all the bones and unused organ meats so there is even less waste.

We've now retrieved meat from the last group of lambs for this season.  Their pelts have also been sent off for tanning.  I don't have to make any more difficult decisions for some time now, for which I'm glad.  It weighs on my heart to know that many of the lambs I saw come into the world will die at my say so.  It probably looks like a betrayal when viewed from outside, but really it's just the opposite - betrayal would be relinquishing control over their welfare, whereas I am making sure they have a good life right till the last minute.

I read a story many years ago that really stuck with me.  I don't know where it came from, but it went like this:

Ages and ages ago when the world was still new Man and Animals could still understand one another's language.  It was a hard time.  Nature was cruel and everyone struggled to survive.  The Family of Sheep was particularly beset by many dangers.  They had no sharp teeth or claws for protection, weren't particularly fleet of foot to outrun danger and couldn't make shelters for themselves from the weather or hungry predators.  They suffered mightily.  One day a wise old Sheep observed Dog, who had made an association with Man, living in relative safety and thought perhaps some arrangement could be reached whereby the Family of Sheep could benefit in the same way.  So Man and Sheep negotiated long and a deal was offered; Man would care for Sheep and provide food and water and shelter and protection from danger and medicine when illness came.  In return, Sheep would give man their wool for clothing and a portion of the flock each year would be killed to serve his needs for food.  Some would be young, some would be old, but the rest would live on under the watchful care of Man.   The Family of Sheep discussed this plan at length and readily agreed to it.  So many died ugly deaths every year as it was - how much better that those die gently by the hand of one who cared for them, and the bulk of the flock would always live in safety. 

This story feels true and I hope when I meet the Judge I'm found to have upheld my end of the bargain.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Better Than Nip

If you're an indoor-only housecat, what's better - more exciting, more alluring, more satisfying - than catnip?

Sheepy smelling sheep coats, right off the sheep.

We can keep these, right?

Today was a work day.  We went through the flock and gave vaccinations (doing it now allows time for the moms to mount an immune response to the vaccine and have lots of antibodies in their milk for the lambs), changed some coats that were getting too tight, and also moved a few bred ewes into the lamb-and-geriatrics group so they can get a little grain.  Most of the ewes won't need grain until very near lambing and into lactation, but some are having their first lambs and still growing themselves and some ewes are getting old and can use the extra nutritional boost during these last few weeks to be in good condition at lambing.

We got finished in good season with no damage to anyone - always a plus.  Some of the coats we took off large ewes weren't especially dirty and went back on medium sized ewes who needed larger duds.  In the end I had a pile of half a dozen worn coats.  Before going back into the storage bins they get washed of course, so that meant dropping them on the floor of the mudroom while getting out of work clothes.  The cats were on them in a trice.  There's something about that sheepy, barny smell that draws them instantly.  I let them wallow in the pile for a bit, then down to the washer they went.

I'd be annoyed, but I'm too......happy........ya know?

Better than drugs and no dangerous side effects.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Monday, February 13, 2012

Sadly, One Cat Fewer

Our barn cats are regular as clocks when it comes to meal time.  When White Cat didn't appear for supper Thursday night we thought it odd.  Missing bedtime snacks was alarming.  We opened garage doors, workshop doors, shed doors thinking he might have gotten shut in somewhere.  Nothing.  Friday we hunted the hay mows, ditches and under shelves and feed racks in the barns.  Friday night at midnight we found him in the hay mow of the sheep barn in one of the places we had already looked.  He was reluctant to move, but not in obvious distress or pain.  He purred and was happy to be fussed over.  A big soft towel in the cat carrier and a bowl of water and a few hours spent in Andy's heated shop tided him over until seeing the vet in the morning.  A careful exam revealed a broken canine tooth and a wildly displaced hip.  White Cat had been hit by a car, the first here in nearly 20 years.  We decided to sedate him for replacement of the hip, give supportive care and take a wait and see attitude.  He continued to decline over the weekend  and it became clear that there were internal injuries that were going to cause his death.  We opted for euthansia and his doctor eased him into the next life with petting and assurances that he was a good kitty.

Although neutered, vaccinated and fed as well as any house cat, our barn cats do face perils.  The road is something we have no control over.  Where had he been from Thursday mid-day to Friday midnight?  How had he heroically made his way back home despite grievous injury?  I'm very grateful he made it to us so that we'd know what had become of him.  I'm glad we could help him go gently to his inevitable end.   Although we sure didn't need another barn cat, I'm really glad this fat, happy white cat adopted us.  I'm sorry we didn't have him longer.

We'll miss you, White Cat.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The February Challenge

My friend Sara from Punkin's Patch is just about the most artistic, creative, clever person I know.   She's also wired like me, in that sometimes we work much better to get a job done with a deadline or inflexible NEED staring at us.  This month she has thrown down the proverbial gauntlet (Oh great - one MORE thing to pick up off the floor!) and set her blog followers a challenge to Find Five.

For the month of February, find just 5 minutes a day (OK, more if you're one of those overachievers) and do something you've been putting off.  Maybe it's a tiny task that never makes it to the day's priority list.  Maybe it's a big job that you've been putting off because it's....well....big.  But if you can just make yourself do "it" for 5 minutes a day for the whole month of February you'll be doing way more than NONE.

I'm going to start the daily challenges by catching up on written thank you notes.  One a day, maybe two, until I'm caught up.  I've said 'thank you' to everyone at the time and had every intention of following up with a note but haven't. gotten. it. done. 

What's your challenge?  C'mon, you know you can do this!

Thanks, Sara.  I needed this.  And thanks too for saying the challenge DOESN'T have to be house cleaning :-)