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Monday, April 6, 2009

Vampire on the Fisher Farm

The farm holds many secrets. For example, who broke the hose from the loft, allowing half a ton of corn to pile up on the floor? Whose newborn lamb is that, sitting comfortably atop the old granny-ewe behind the wagon? And how many of these fat, fluffy yearling lambs are discreetly pregnant?
Most of these questions only remain mysteries for a short time. But occasionally we will encounter a conundrum that eludes us indefinitely. Which brings me to our latest mystery: Who bit my sheep?
Most of the sheep were already out in the barnyard nibbling on hay when I went into the barn last Friday. But as my eyes adjusted to the dim light I saw one lone ewe, standing in the corner. As I approached, she stepped out of the shadows and fixed her gaze on me.
“What? Why are you in here all by yourself? Sore foot? Sore tummy?” The ewe just stood there quietly as I examined her. Then I saw the fresh blood, tricking from two tiny holes on the side of her neck.
“What the?” I called the Farmer over to have a look. “She looks as though she has caught her neck on something…” I muttered uncertainly.
“No, that *bleep* Donkey has probably been biting again,” the Farmer guessed.
I immediately exonerated Donkey, pointing out that he has large Chiclet teeth – not the tiny, sharp incisors that obviously made these bites. Besides – I would like to believe that Donkey has matured and grown beyond his sheep-biting behaviour of the past.
I looked around the barn, under the manure spreader and up toward the loft. Do vampire bats live in Ontario? A skunk had been spreading his scent around the farm the night before. Could he be the culprit? Is there a rabid skunk somewhere in this barn right now, watching me from behind a bale of hay?
Upon closer examination, we noticed that the sheep had matching bites on the other side of her neck, as if someone’s jaw had closed down upon her.
“This was done by a coyote. A young, inexperienced one,” the Farmer deduced.
With sharp puppy teeth, I added.
“It must have happened a few minutes ago, because she has just now started to bleed,” I said.
Did the ewe high-tail it back into the barn after being attacked out in the pasture? Or did the bold young coyote pup venture into the barnyard to attempt a kill?
The episode had obviously given the ewe quite a fright, and she appeared to be in shock. She had escaped with just the bites to the neck, dangerously close to the coyote’s usual target, the jugular vein.
“I want to put her somewhere safe until she feels better,” I announced, herding the sheep through the door to the lambing area with my knees.
Once I had settled the vampire victim in a lambing pen with fresh hay and a dish of corn, I thought to check her ear tag. #338 is one of our senior ewes. She has given birth every lambing season for the past ten years. She has contributed many generations of lambs to our herd. This year she had one lamb but was unable to produce milk for it. She stayed in the pen with her baby (for their mutual comfort) but her pen-mate had to be the wet nurse. #338 is nearing the end of her tenure as a productive ewe. She is old and weak, and was probably dawdling along behind the herd, fairly easy pickings for a coyote.
But it was not her time. She had outsmarted the coyote, and perhaps Donkey had even come to her rescue, startling the wolf and chasing it away.
I put some tetracycline in the water bucket to ward off infection, congratulated the old girl on her great escape, and went back outside.
Ginger and Betty, the cows, were standing just outside the barnyard, staring toward the far corner of the field as if they were watching something. They held their position for quite some time. The Farmer grabbed his gun and went on walkabout. He didn’t find anything.
Donkey was at the other gate, staring at me. I called him and he just stood there, unmoving. He often does this when something dramatic has happened.
I walked up to Donkey, and checked him over. There was no blood on him. I wish he could tell me what had happened.
I gave him a pat on the neck, and turned to walk away. But before I left, I gently curled back his upper lip and checked out his chompers. Like I said: Chiclets.

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