And we know that in ALL THINGS
God works for the good
Of those who love him,
Who have been called according to his purpose.
I keep running into this verse lately. God is trying to drill into my being. Today it sucks. I don’t see how he could possibly use it for good. But, I believe what he says. So somehow, some way, he will work this too for good because it is an ALL THING.
Death happens on the ranch. It was a hard concept to get my head and emotions around when we first moved here. In some ways, it has gotten easier. But it still hurts. I guess if you don’t feel it, you have become dead inside. When you pour your heart and soul into these animals, when one dies, you grieve. We have lived here for a little over four years. In that time we have lost cats, dogs, chickens, ducks, lambs and adult sheep. But it has never happened like it did today.
Pie was an adult ram. He would have been two years old on April 1st. He had a twin sister named Blueberry. She died when she was 5 months old. He had nice quality wool and beautiful horns. He had a gentle personality. We had recently decided to breed him when the ewes came in season next. He died today when he choked on an alfalfa pellet.
Our sheep are primarily grass fed. They do get a mixture of corn and alfalfa pellets for treats. I had thrown them some on the ground like I usually do. I went to do my chores in the chicken coop while older daughter took care of the ducks. The rams and the fowl are in different areas separated by a fence. She was the first one to notice that something was wrong.
She saw that Pie was choking. He was shaking his head and salivating. Shelby, our adult breeding ram, was head butting Pie. Another 2-year-old ram was doing the same.
From where I was standing, I did not have a clear view. I saw Shelby hit another ram. I am yelling at him to stop. Shelby is the alpha male of the group. He uses his status to bully the others. This is what I thought was happening. Daughter yells back at me that Shelby was trying to help. Still yelling, she stated, “We need to get into that pen, Pie is dying.” I thought she is overreacting because I can’t see anything yet.
I told her not to go into the pen. Shelby has an attitude with people too. He has knocked myself, husband and older daughter to the ground with his head butts. He sent my flying butt first into a cactus bush. Yes, it was as bad as you are imagining. You never walk into that pen without corn to distract him or our walking sticks. The sticks are used to herd all the rams into a different area. Or you point it at him to keep physical distance between your body and his. They are never used to hit or punish.
I remember telling her, “I don’t care if he dies while you are watching, don’t go in there unprotected.” She listened. Fortunately, we have trained the rams to quickly move from one pen to another when you shake a container of feed. We moved the other ten rams and went into the pen with Pie.
It was evident that it was really bad; he wasn’t breathing. I have never had sheep first aid so I wasn’t sure what to do. But, he was dying in front of us. I have taken human first aid and CPR many times. I did the Heimlich maneuver on a 100 lb. ram. The older daughter was amazing. She has never taken first aid so I was talking her through this. We had to adapt for sheep anatomy. Sheep have four stomachs so I didn’t know if I could get enough pressure going to clear the airway. Daughter is holding his horns to keep his airway in the proper position. She was also helping to hold up the sheep. I had my arms around his belly, holding him up and doing the Heimlich maneuver. Did I mention that both daughter and I are a hair under 5 foot tall and weigh about 125-130 lbs.?
It worked for a few minutes. It didn’t completely clear his airway but he was breathing. He was more alert and we thought he was going to be fine. Then he threw his head back like he was looking up at the sky. Ten seconds later, he was gone. It is silly because he was a sheep but, we called the time of his death. It marked the point of closure and finality. We couldn’t have done anything more. We went inside to take care of ourselves and call my husband with the news.
We both understand the need to deal with the emotions. We are both very sore. She more so the legs. My arms and chest are in pain. It hurts to type and move the mouse. She is missing work tomorrow. She works at an animal shelter. Her boss is an animal control officer; he understands the lifestyle. Tomorrow we will get up and take care of the chickens, ducks, emus, dogs and sheep because that is what we do.
Pie was a livestock animal. But he was ours to care for. He was a fine sheep. We had plans to breed him. There is an emotional loss and a financial loss. We go through this every time a sheep, lamb or livestock guardian dog dies. We grieve and then we go on.
We knew nothing of this lifestyle until four years ago. But we would never turn back because we are shepherds and ranchers. It is part of who we are.
I am physically sore and emotional drained. It has been a difficult day. I know that death is a part of life. We have had animals die before. But, I have never had one die in my arms while I am trying to save its life. I choose to believe the truth of Romans 8:28 but I hurt.
Though the fig tree does not bud
And there are no grapes on the vines,
Though the olive crop fails
And the fields produce no food,
Though there are no sheep in the pen
And no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.