A Tribute to a Fine Sheep

I wrote the title of this post intending to find the time to extol the virtues of Peggy, a dear little ewe if ever there was one, and grande-dame to much of my flock.
But circumstances conspire to cause me to write about a different sheep, Agnes.  Be forewarned – I’m writing this as events happen, and this post is SAD.

When I came home from work today,  I immediately noticed that Agnes seemed to be seated in an awkward and uncomfortable position.  She was in labor.   My brain went right into math mode- either she’s aborting, or she and Cinder had a little romance before he and the ram lambs left for Ram Camp.  My heart entertained the hope that I would soon have a bouncing lamb or two in the barn- an early gift!  But my mind…my mind knew that the rate of her contractions was too slow, and something was amiss.
Despite an optimistic Facebook post to the contrary when she seemed to be laboring a little harder, I soon realized that the situation was quite dire.  The lamb was large, and Agnes never seemed to fully dilate or to push hard after 7pm.  I couldn’t tell what I was holding, but it didn’t feel right at all.  It didn’t feel like a head, I couldn’t feel any feet, but it wasn’t rounded with a spine, like a rear end.   She made progress until 10, but no matter how much I pulled, the lamb seemed to make no progress through the canal.  It felt like it was stuck on something.  Her pelvis?  I couldn’t get my hands far enough back.
It took four phone calls to reach a vet who treated sheep.  She said that an emergency C-Section would cost $800 or more.   As devastating as it was to thank the vet and say goodbye, I couldn’t say yes to the C-section.  As dearly as I love the flock, they are not pets nor are they people.  The trauma of major surgery and the good chance of infection in barn conditions, as well as the near-certainty that Agnes would never breed again foreclosed that possibility for me and the goals I have for the flock.
This is where things get ugly- stop reading here if you aren’t prepared for something gross.  I’ll let you know when to rejoin this story, if you wish.
I was able to get the lamb further down the birth canal, but it was clearer and clearer that things were all wrong.  I still couldn’t tell what I was holding onto, the lamb was drying out (a sure sign that it was dead, and that Agnes was in big trouble), and most importantly, Agnes had all but ceased labor.  I could tell that she was checking out, but I was determined to keep trying.  I latched my fingers around the lamb.  I could feel something oddly sharp in the lamb- what was that?  I tried to protect Agnes’s insides from the potential puncture.  I pulled some more, and out came a part of the lamb.
I have dealt with dead fetal goats before, so a dead fetal lamb isn’t beyond the pale for me.  I thought I had a tiny little leg.  But I looked more closely- a jawbone.  A HUGE jawbone.  Sickening.  I threw it on the ground and stepped back.  If the jaw is that big, the lamb is GIGANTIC.  If I just pulled the jawbone out by itself, then the lamb is completely decomposed.  I realized that even if I was able to get the lamb out, eventually, despite Agnes’s faint protestations of pain, the odds were very high that I would puncture her internally and kill her painfully and slowly.  Even if I got the lamb out carefully, the nearly certain subsequent infection would be virulent.  How do you make this decision, when there is a chance of survival?
You can read this again- we’ve learned that Agnes has a big, dead lamb inside that I don’t think can be removed.
I considered the pain she would certainly suffer as I tried to remove the lamb.  The pain of a potential serious internal injury, and the pain of the infection.  It didn’t seem right to take that risk.  I know that I diverge from the “treat at all costs, exhaust all hope first” approach to animals, but I just didn’t feel right letting her suffer.  So just after midnight, Matt came out with my .22 and we said goodbye to my dear friend.
I cried, friends.  I said “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry” again and again.  I cried so hard for all of the times that Agnes has listened to me while I petted her out in pasture.   Everything she has taught me about bottle lambs, sheep, and about myself.  I knew I couldn’t keep her forever, and I even will say that I was not sure about keeping her on after this year because of some fleece problems.  I never, never thought that I’d say goodbye like this, though, and I am devastated.
Tomorrow, I’m going to wake up at quarter of six, and I”m going to press on with things.  I will love the sheep I still have.  The least I can do is to send the placenta and lamb-parts I have to Cornell, where they can test it for disease.  Perhaps this will help me protect my remaining sheep if something serious is detected.
For now, please contact a friend and tell them you care, and do so in Agnes’s honor.

Published by cloverworks

A Vermont Sheep Farm and Homestead specializing Purebred, Registered Bluefaced Leicester and Border Leicester sheep, in fine yarn and pasture-raised lamb.

4 thoughts on “A Tribute to a Fine Sheep

  1. I am so sorry, Katie. What a beautiful account you have written. My vet told me about a time when they had to try to pull a lamb and the head came off, so it wasn’t my first time to read about such a graphic, gross event. I’m just so sorry that it happened to you and to Agnes and her lamb. It is one of those awful things. And you were so unselfish to put Agnes down, to spare her suffering. Everything just sucks about this. But the good thing is that you were there to help her. And you did your best. I wish I could say or do something to help, but I know it is just one of those things. But keep on farming, you do that so well. Bad things happen to good farmers all of the time.

  2. I always keep thinking, if I just do everything right, then everything will turn out well. Over and over this has been disproved in my farm life. I’m so sorry for your loss and I understand the devastation. Just as a side note, one of my sheep needed a C-section and then had to be euthanized as soon as we got the twin babies out (she had advanced pregnancy toxemia) two years ago. The total bill for the emergency visit, C-section, euthanasia, plus about 20 minutes work on the lambs (only one survived) came to less than $200. Your prices are very high in Vt.

  3. Oh, Katie, I’m so sorry! And like Tammy said, it was very unselfish of you to do what needed to be done. Thank you for sharing your story so honestly, and I will find a friend as you suggested, in Agnes’ name but it will be one of my own flock. I’ll share a chin scratch with them and think of her for you xo

  4. Oh gosh, I’m so sorry, Katie. What a terrible situation to have to deal with, especially with a sheep you’d bottle-fed and raised by hand. I’m happy I got to meet her and give her some scratches while she was alive and well.

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