As a general rule, our days on this farm are peaceful, busy and definitely our little slice of heaven. We have beautiful, happy sheep who spend their days playing, snoozing and looking for hugs. (Well, more likely treats!) Over the years we've had a multitude of bottle lambs who are now grown up into even sillier sheep! We've watched them grow, help injured sheep who find their way to us and taken in retired sheep from our friend's flocks. We've given sheep a safe place to live out their lives when life changes forced their owner to re-home their beloved sheep. One of the hardest things I do is watching my sheep friends get older (my vet says old- but I don't like that word)! We have 82 sheep now and only 20 sheep are under the age of 7. The rest run between 8 and 22 years old. Ruby is 22 and a peach. She always has been. Never been sick. Now I am seeing her start to look her age. She's lost some weight, has some foot issues and is moving slower. Nothing we can't deal with but I think no sheep should ever age. Most sheep are not around for middle age much less old age. There are definitely other flocks who are well cared for and loved. However, many in the industry don't keep their sheep much past the age of 5. I'm not saying our philosophy is the only way to keep sheep, it is just what we want to do and what works for us. Aging sheep have brought a new learning curve to our farm. I thought I had saving/caring for sheep down pat. I can recognize a lot when a sheep is sick and know how to treat it. And when to call our wonderful vet of 15 years. I never thought we would be doing dentals for our sheep. They get pointy teeth, then lose weight because it hurts to eat. Arthritis is a major issue for them. Many before they reach 8-10 years old. We can treat them with pain meds and supplements until they are just too sad and sore. One of the hardest things for me are sheep accidents. I would give so much to have our good old snowy WI winters. Not the ice bowl we have every winter here now. Phooey. Monday when I went out to feed the sheep I found our sweet Amelia (aka Ami) had fallen on the ice out by the bales of hay. She was only 9 years old. And the best sheep you could ever want to be around. I was home alone so asked my neighbor to help me move her into the milk house where it is always warm. While I waited, I wrapped Ami up in big comforters and sat with her poor head on my lap. The sheep always come over, like they know and are saying their goodbyes. Our Great Pyrenees Bobbi sits next to me and waits too. There was no saving my poor little sheep. When Ami fell, she fell so hard she broke her jaw and there is not way to fix that for a sheep. Damn damn ice. I rocked my baby while Dr. Pawlisch put her to sleep. Having to make this decision is the worst I ever have to make. Ever. I feel we are lucky to be able to end their suffering if there is just no other way to help or fix them. I have a very childish view of things. I believe there are sheep in heaven. That my flock was waiting for her and she is running and playing with her mom Athena again. That they are now angels watching the farm, their friends and us from above.
We've lost quite a few of our sheep friends over the past few years. Each sheep takes a piece of my soul with them when they go. I shed many many tears for each of them. It is almost as bad to find they have slept away out in the pasture. I didn't get to say goodbye. I can't decide which is worse.
A friend sent me these words last summer after an awful day. I think they sum up how we get up, dust ourselves off and keep on going with the adorable sheep waiting for us outside. It started by saying, "Life seems to be a continuous pattern of getting committed to things and having to let go-falling in love and losing the one we love. This is the rhythm of life, and our spiritual growth teaches us to make peace with it. Participating fully in the rhythm is how we become whole. We know we face losses as part of life. We will have the strength to grieve them and move on."
I love my Jim for being there to hug me every time and my Mom. She thinks I am brave.
It's not good bye Ami, it's until we meet again my sweet girl.
Jim & Sandy Ryan www.homesteadwoolandgiftfarm.com ...where sheep may safely graze.