A couple of weeks ago, Joshua was out of town. He normally moves the sheep each day, but with him gone the job fell to me. I walked out one morning with Dylan in a Moby wrap. I fed the pigs. I let the chickens out. I moved the fence so that the sheep could walk from one paddock to another. Three sheep bounded happily over to the new forage. The fourth sheep… where’s…? Baby Jeebus!
Oh, fuck. That’s a dead sheep.
When we first got pigs last year, I joined a mailing list discussion group for small-scale hog farmers, soaking up all the knowledge I possibly could. Someone on the list had a pig die and others that were sick and was troubleshooting the problem with other group members. Somewhere in the thread, someone stated that when you raise pigs (or any animals, really), no matter how knowledgable you are, sooner or later it’s three in the morning and you’re out in your pasture with your animals dropping dead for an unknown reason while you desperately try to save the rest of them.
This truly terrified me. I crossed my fingers hoping I could at least get through the first year with no mysteriously dead pigs. If they’d dropped dead the first year, I wasn’t sure I could do it again. I obsessed about every little mark and mannerism. No serious health issues popped up; the first year went smoothly.
We had a couple of chickens disappear last year, maybe to dogs, maybe to something else. That was sad and frustrating, of course, but didn’t involve dead bodies. This year some of the chicks died for this reason or that, but that wasn’t really unexpected. Loosing a couple of chicks is par for the course, and I’m not too attached to the chickens anyway. They’re small. They don’t have names. The dead ones still got to be food by being fed to the pigs.
Jeebus was another story. Jeebus was more the sooner-or-later scenario I’d been warned about. I had a carcass to deal with and three other sheep to figure out how to protect from the unknown cause.
Me trying to manage the carcass would have been comical, if not for the subject matter. Jeebus probably weighed about 40 pounds, which is manageable for me but just barely, and, as I said, comical when a 13 pound baby is also along for the ride, and I’m trying not to get any ooky on me. Since the cause of death was likely overheating, I also had to find a way to create shade for the other sheep in the middle of the pasture.
Anyway. The short version of the story is it all got handled, with no harm done to any other creatures, just a lot of sweating and stressing on my part in between slightly frantic phone calls to Joshua. Sometimes on a farm or homestead, what’s happening now is difficult and sad.