Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Lucy's Last Stand

Lucy won.

"Lucy" was short for "Lucifer", a name she EARNED during her first year season. She had started out life as "Lucky" since her original eartag...since replaced many times as she managed to rip it out trying to get through fences...was number 13. She was the one who was very small as a ewe lamb, which I feel contributed to her bad vaginal prolapse that required weeks of special care. She ended up trying to birth her lamb one ear first...NOT how Nature intended. I accidently broke the lamb's neck trying to get it straightened out so it could be born.

Lucy turned out to be smart. Too smart, a lot of the time. Lucy had a special understanding of cost/benefit analysis. If the grass really was greener on the other side of the fence, Lucy went through the fence. Even if it meant getting shocked. After all, the shock only hurt for a minute, and the grass went on for hours, until I realized she was out AGAIN. She took her lambs with her, teaching them to be fence-breakers. Sometimes the rest of the flock would follow in her escapades.

After that first ill-fated year, Lucy never lambed when I was watching. Even if she had to wait hours, and I was only gone a few minutes.

Lucy usually had triplets...thanks to a bit of Finnsheep heritage way back. However, Lucy could do math. One, two lambs. One, two teats. Whose lamb could that third one possibly be? Lucy could not be fooled by any means into accepting the third. Many battles of will ensued trying to convince her to do so.

She had a beautiful fleece, a classic Lincoln Longwool type with a silky luster. I have a sweater handspun and knit from it, a real favorite. She was the darkest gray Lincoln cross I ever had, and stayed dark to the end. She had a slightly lighter butterfly-shaped patch on her rump, very symmetrical. It would have been a lovely sheepkin if I'd found her in time.

Lucy was one of my most productive milkers, when I was milking sheep, even though we went through some real battles over whether she would submit or not. Eventually, she relented and became one of my easiest milkers. When milking her these last few days, she would not let me tie her up like the others, but would stand fairly well unrestrained.

Nearly all my younger sheep in the flock bear some of Lucy's genes...she is one of my foundation sheep, along with Judy, Donatello, and Future. She gives them prolificacy, good mothering, and a silky, lustrous fleece. Her daughter (now deceased) Purity had the farm's only set of quadruplets; Purity's full sister Perfle had triplets this year, and several years ago gave birth to Buddy, the striking black-and-white sire of most of this year's lambs.

Lucy was 10 years old this spring, if I remember right...born my third year of lambing. As I was milking her the other day, I was wondering whether to keep her one more year or cull her this year. She only had a single this year, and was a bit on the thin side all season. 10 is very old for a ewe to be productive. But it was tempting to keep the frustrating beast around one more year, hoping for one last great lamb out of her.

Lucy made the decision for me. On a gorgeous spring Sunday afternoon, she bloated on clover, on the same pasture she'd been on for three days. It happened very quickly, not even a trace of struggle in the grass where I found her blown up like a balloon, feet in the air.

The sheep's equivalent of death by chocolate...eating too much of a favorite food. I'd feel worse, if I didn't feel so sure that the old bat KNEW I was considering culling her, and decided to be independent to the very end, to deprive me of getting the upper hand.

For all that I've selected my sheep for easy management, I kept this one utter hellion for 10 years. Why on earth? I think because I truly respected Lucy as a equal. As ornery as she was, I sensed that none of it was sheer stubbornness or contrariness...it was pure cold logic, survival skills, and determination. "The grass is greener over there...I must go there!" One does not expect to find a Worthy Opponent in a sheep, but she was certainly one for me. I suppose I saw a mirror of myself in her.

I buried Lucy last evening. Not in the unmarked row of graves north of the willow trees, in the main pasture, but in the little east paddock where she chose her fate. We recently burned a pile of brush and waste lumber there, since it's far from anything very flammable, and grazed short. The bare spot from the burn seemed like a good place to disturb the soil, rather than marring the velvet green of the spring pasture. It seemed fitting to leave Lucy surrounded by the greenest grass, in the place of her choosing.

I have ideal soil for hand-digging sheep graves, as well as for growing vegetables. It takes just slightly over an hour to bury a sheep, start to finish, in a hole 3' deep by 3' wide by 6'long. It is not hard work if the weather is pleasant, which it was. It is methodical...actually, quite meditative. I have done this many times before, I will certainly do it again. There is a calm, drained feeling that comes when the hole is filled and compacted, and the tools are put away, and I walk back to the house and clean up and head to town. It is a time for going to be with friends.

24 hours later is when every muscle in my body starts to scream from the repeated bending and lifting.

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