Thursday, July 30, 2015

That's One for the Books..... (or, Holly to the Rescue!)

Any time you have animals and start to think you've seen about everything, the good Lord steps in and reminds you that you're wrong.

We've been able to do hay!  Finally, we're getting on top of our needs for the winter.  We have half of two different fields yet to cut to finish our first cutting which is ridiculously late but with all the heavy rain this spring it's the best we could do.  We're at about 3500 bales so a few hundred more and we're good.  Since we have old equipment and we're not exactly young ourselves we only cut what we can handle in a given day.  Yesterday was really tough and left us two pooped puppies.  It was great going for making hay - over 90 and mostly sunny - so after letting the sheep out to pasture Andy tedded the field we planned to bale and then we unloaded 2 loads from the day before.  Then Andy raked the hay into windrows so it could finish drying.

Instead of letting the sheep stay out under the locust trees in the shade I let them into the barn after lunch and latched them in.  Then Andy brought the brush hog into the pasture and opened up some paths through the tall standing grass in the middle pasture.  Other years we've baled the lowest pasture and so had the sheep in the middle one first and then moved them down into the post-baling regrowth.  This year we couldn't get down there because of the wetness so the sheep grazed there first, all through July. Now it was time to move them into a new field.  Because the grass is so tall he wanted to make paths so the lambs could find their way out and also mow down some thistles that had gotten mature.

After lunch we let the flock out and they quickly dispersed to the far reaches, happy to be in fresh grass again.  From a distance you could just see their backs like a school of dolphins in ocean waves.

We unloaded two more wagons of hay before we could bale.  Then I worked in the wool shop while Andy did the field work.  We finally finished around 7:30, really hot and really tired.  The sheep were stuffed so we let them in and left the barn fans on all night.

In morning, when the rest of the flock goes out, we have five sheep that stay in for a quick feeding of grain. Four thin and elderly ewes - Alexandria, Bug, Dollar and Daffodil - and little Stewart figured out that if they hang back and let the others go out that they get a treat.  The four old ewes lost a lot of condition over winter due to age and lack of teeth and aren't really putting it back on even on nice grass (and Stewart's just special) so we've been supplementing their diet this way.  This morning Alexandria wasn't there.  That seemed pretty odd given how our sheep are about grain but the flock had gone out in a rush because they knew the new pasture was open and we thought maybe she had just gotten carried out the door and hadn't wanted to swim upstream to come back in.  We did make a cursory check of the lower pasture and the new one in case she had keeled over from age and heat stress but saw no sign of her so we figured she must be somewhere in the flock.  At lunch time I looked at the flock gathered in the shade under the locust trees but didn't see her.  Worry ticked up a notch but then the sheep were really standing close in the shade there - I couldn't see everyone.  We walked the pasture again after lunch but the grass was pretty tall and if she had dropped in mid-stride she'd be hard to see.....

Evening chore time came and we put a ration of grain in the feeders so we could really see everyone.  Three trips through the barn convinced us she wasn't there.


Back to the pasture again, Holly in tow, thinking we're having a grand walk.  Andy takes the upper west side, I go down the east fence line all the way to the far end where I can climb up on a sturdy corner post for a better view.  Nothing.  Work my way back kind of in the middle of the pasture.  Andy is doing the same. We zigzag along, eyes shaded from the setting sun, taking a few steps then pausing to search the grass in all directions, then moving on a few more steps.  This is maddening - how do we lose a whole sheep in a fenced pasture?  The grass is tall, but she's an adult, not a dinky lamb.  I'm watching Holly quite a bit, thinking that if Alexandria has expired out here Holly ought to catch a smell of her - morbid thinking but realistic.

Suddenly I hear a baaa right where Holly is!  The ewe must be flat out - I'm twenty feet away and don't see her.  Closer, closer.... and there's her head on the ground.......IN the ground......just her head is sticking up from a hole in the ground.  HOW THE HELL IS SHE IN A HOLE?????

This poor ewe had dropped butt first into a sinkhole where the tile line had broken underground and all the heavy rains had eroded the surrounding dirt until her weight punched through the grass roots and she fell in. Imagine a hole the size of two stacked bushel baskets and she was in it, legs all down in there underneath her so that she couldn't even struggle out.  There she was all night long.  We walked past her at least twice during the day and would have searched a long time tonight to find her (because we wouldn't have stopped looking) except that Holly found her!

We hauled her out and she tried to stand but couldn't.  Andy went and fetched the tractor with bucket and brought dirt and rocks to fill the hole and then we maneuvered her into the bucket and brought her into the barn.  She was able to hobble with great assistance from us into the pens and then more or less collapsed. We used some gates to make a very roomy pen for her and offered water - no.  Fresh alfalfa from the field - no.  Ground soybean - yes!  We gave her a decent ration of that and a big shot of banamine (like liquid aspirin) and have water, hay and fresh grass within reach.

Honestly, my optimism is low.  While she does have a good attitude and will eat grain (bless her Cotswold heart) it's too early to tell if she'll be able to walk again.  There's no way to tell exactly how her legs were folded up underneath her for roughly 24 hours.  She may have damage to nerves and tendons and her back such that won't heal plus she's almost 12 and thin as a rail.  It's amazing that's she's still alive.  We have to think that she was as "lucky" as could be - the hole she dropped into was cool and damp so that helped her not die of heat stroke.  The tall standing grass shaded her head after about 1 PM.  She went in the hole butt first so she didn't suffocate or bloat from a full rumen.....  and nothing with teeth happened by to molest her.  <shudder>

So, we'll help her as much as we can and see what time can do.  And we'll remember that nothing is too weird or unlikely to be possible when you're working with animals.

And we thank our lucky stars that we have such a smart and helpful dog.


  1. What a story! I'm sure she was glad to see you and I hope she recovers.

  2. Oh, good grief. That IS a new one for sure. Hope she's doing better this morning!

  3. Good dog, Holly! I hope your old girl is doing better, but at least now she feels safe and cared for.
    I am glad the weather is finally cooperating with your haying efforts!

  4. Keeping positive thoughts for a speedy recovery. Such an amazing story.

  5. dogs are useful in many, many ways, so glad you found her, good luck.

  6. Now that was something unexpected...hoping for a good recovery. Yeah for Holly (and extra cookies).

  7. Poor old girl! Praying she'll have happier and more pleasant last days before she meets The Good Shepherd.

  8. Farming is a never ending adventure is it not!

  9. Come on, Alexandria, lots of people are sending you healing vibes! You need to get well enough to get nice and fat for winter!