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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Farmer, get your gun.


There aren’t too many things that would make me want to give up sheep farming. I’ve only wanted to quit a couple of times so far. I wanted to throw in the towel during my first winter lambing season, when every second lamb born, died. It was just too cold for them and they didn’t make it. I bottle-fed the ones that didn’t seem to be getting enough of their mothers’ milk but they just weren’t strong enough.
The only other time I remember thinking, ‘that’s it! I quit!’ was just the other night. I was doing the nightly check on things, making sure the new lambs were ok, the chickens had enough water and the turkeys were still in their pen. A gathering noise outside drew my attention to the far side of the barn. Sheep noise.
Instead of settling down for the night against the wall of the barn, the sheep were all standing in the spotlight, staring down the field. I grabbed my flashlight, hopped over the gate and went to see what they were looking—and hollering—at.
I saw two sets of eyes, one considerably taller than the other. Donkey and Misty. At their feet, another set of eyes blinked at me from the grass. A lamb was down.
The horse and donkey were flanking the lamb as if protecting her from something. I swung my flashlight around at the darkness but saw nothing.
Upon inspection, the lamb appeared to have at least one bloody foot. I wondered if a coyote had bitten her in a failed abduction, or if the big horse had accidentally hobbled her. I couldn’t leave her there in the field; we had had too many coyote kills lately and I knew he was probably watching from the wings, waiting for us to leave his snack untended.
The lamb looked small enough, so I squatted down, put my arms around her and lifted her up. Ugh. She was heavier than she looked. I panted my way to the barn, donkey and horse on my heels. My breathing was scaring the other sheep out of my way, and the flock parted like the red sea as I staggered to the lambing pen. We had a gate wired across the open door in summer, so I had to gently plop the lamb down on the inside before running around through the other barn door to meet her. I kept thinking that a coyote was waiting for me to leave my lamb alone for a moment so he could scoop her up and spirit her away.
Once inside the lambing room, I had to lift the lamb again to lower her into the lambing pen. I noticed that she hadn’t moved a muscle since I first discovered her. She was using her only line of defense (besides stomping feet). She was playing dead. I told her she was safe now, and the mother of the new twin lambs came over to inspect her. That’s when I noticed that the blood was not coming from her foot at all. It was coming from her neck.
The Farmer had told me that when a coyote kills a lamb, it rips its throat out. Sometimes a sentry animal like Donkey will scare the coyote away, but it usually comes back later to collect its meal. I worried that the coyote would come to the barn to get my lamb at night. I have heard of farmers finding coyotes in their barns, but the ones on our property rarely make it all the way up to the barnyard. This one had been within 50 metres of the fence.
I parted the wool around the lamb’s neck and found some tiny insertion points, like vampire bites. The bleeding had stopped. The Farmer gave her a shot of penicillin, and we will watch her closely. When I left her for the night, she was cuddled in to sleep beside the ewe, having eaten her fill of sweet hay.
We have had six coyote kills this year. Normally we leave the coyotes alone to hunt mice in the back fields, and they leave our sheep alone. Donkey keeps them away from the herd. But this is getting ridiculous. We may have to call in some of the Farmer’s hunting buddies to get rid of this fearless predator.

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