Not all is warm and fuzzy.

This isn’t a fun story.

Jessie, a classmate since preschool, stopped by Monday afternoon with her boyfriend. He wanted to borrow a set of sheers for his dads ewes, and he had also recently bought a few hair sheep, which he didn’t know anything about. I told him I would show him my flock and what he could expect from the genetics he had.

After I found the sheers, we went into the barn, where the ewes were loafing.

As we approached, I began explaining how the ewes with more dorper blood–and black hide–did not shed as much wool as do the all-white katahdins. The ewes quickly moved out of the barn, but not all. One very obviously dead ewe lay on the other side of the pen, legs outstretched, and swollen.


My nephew, Jesse, shocked. (But not about the ewe.)

There are few things like losing a sheep in this way. There are fewer like giving a tour of your barn and finding the sheep this way. “Crook-ear,” as she was called, had laid down with her head downhill and her spine lower than the crest of her stomach. In other words, she was upside down. When this happens, the animal begins to bloat.  I was shocked.

Shocked, but in the most removed, detached way. Here was a ewe, 3 months into a five month pregnancy, and one that I count on to take good care of herself, but I felt nothing. Usually, we get the chance to fight for an animal. The pain and the stress of losing the animal is something that we bear as the animal dies, in the attempt to save it. Monday, there was no fight. Nothing I could have attempted. That good ewe had fought to right herself, to get back up. But, bearing one or more lambs in her already large belly was too much. And she died there. All because she laid down the wrong way.


What to take away from this? I don’t know. I wish I had been able to clean the barn last week. The tractor was out of duty.

I’m sharing this because I think it’s worth knowing.

I’m not one whine about “only being human.” I think humans are pretty awesome. But it’s worth noting that sheep are sheep; they ‘will find a way to die.’

For all that I and other farmers do to raise our animals well, something senseless and out of our control will happen. When it does, it’s best to realize it and let it slide off. When it is my fault, I had better know it–even make myself feel bad about it. Then make sure it never happens again.

But as for upside-down ewes, maybe I should avoid the ones that are more top heavy.

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