With Great Sadness
Aka: Little Lost Lamb
Warning: If you are not a hardcore farmer/homesteader, don't read this. If your livestock/chickens are pets, rather than food animals, don't read this. If you can't or haven't yet even butchered your own chickens, don't read this. If you've never had to cull a favorite animal, don't read this. If you are vegan/vegetarian, don't read this.
This was one of the hardest things we've ever had to do on the homestead, and this is one of the hardest posts I've ever written. However, death is part of life, and we won't just cover the pretty parts here.
I posted this picture not that long ago on Facebook, as an introduction to soay sheep for those who might be unfamiliar with them. This little lamb was the only one to come to us with her mother, and was always one of the tiniest of the lambs. She got in so much trouble while with us, that she might as well have been a goat! She ended up being brought up into the barn to be Kenna's companion because we were constantly finding her caught under hay bales or wrapped in twine.
After the move, she and Kenna became joined at the hip. Kenna seemed to be please to have a companion even littler than she was, and #68 - later dubbed "Shadow" was a sweet, submissive little lamb, allowing Kenna to develop quite the diva personality. Ever picture we have of Shadow after the move, she can be seen behind Kenna and a little to the side - Kenna's "Shadow" indeed!
Last Saturday, after our Maine Maple event, we decided to move Kenna and Shadow back down with the other ewes. They had both put on enough size and weight to hold their own, and the timing seemed good. Kenna was already on her lead from her time with her public, and Shadow was sleeping in the buck shed and was easy to catch.
In hindsight, that should have been the first warning something was wrong. I found Shadow on Monday morning. She was already gone, lying on her side in the hay tent. The other ladies were very distraught, and alternated between sniffing and nosing at her, and running wildly away from her body. She hadn't been dead long, and had obviously died of bloat. What she got in to we still aren't sure.
It got worse. I had to open her up to confirm. I was 90% sure, but that 10% might involve having a necropsy done to protect the rest of the flock. Once I confirmed bloat, and that everything internally looked the way I would expect it to, I had to make a decision.
And here is where I'll offer you a second chance to walk away if you are squeamish, or not sure this lifestyle is for you. Or maybe thought this lifestyle was for you until you started reading.
We are a working farm. Our livestock are not pets, they are used for food and for their pelts. We have made the decision to not eat the industrially grown and processed meats found in grocery stores, so if we don't raise and slaughter our own animals, we don't eat meat. We also don't waste anything. In our opinion, it's disrespectful. Shadow may have been my favorite lamb, but she was still a lamb with a beautiful pelt and at the perfect size for butchering.
So, I spent Monday butchering out my favorite lamb. It's not my first time butchering an animal - even a large animal - but it was the hardest.
And you know what? That's fine with me. I eat animals, I don't rate them as being equal to human beings. But it's still important to me to remember where my food comes from. And if it's hard for me sometimes, so much the better. I want to care about every animal that goes into my freezer and to make sure that they are as stress and fear free as they can be right up until their last moment.
But, as selfish as it is, I'm still glad I didn't have to dispatch her too. The rest was hard enough.