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Monday, June 22 2015

It is human nature to look back and try to make some sense out of loss, yet most of the time, our world unfolds and we see only chaos. Perhaps it is true that we are looking at the back of a tapestry, a jumbled mass of crisscrossed threads which make no sense, while God sees the front of the beautiful tapestry.

Last week was one of complete chaos. Life was a storm where each new event was another wave crashing on an already weakened coastline. We are winding down our time in South Texas, and nothing puts your decisions under the microscope more than the last few weeks before retirement and an impending move.

As you already knew, the last week before retirement Other Half was sent to the border again. This time, because of a paper work issue in retirement dates, he was sent without the German Shepherd who is his eyes and his ears. He was sent to the border as Tropical Storm Bill was coming up the coastline, bringing with it more rain to soak an already wet state. On the morning before he left Other Half pulled two lambs, two beautiful ewe lambs from an old ewe who will see no more lambing. These lambs were to be her last, and they were perfect. One lamb was white and the other was marked exactly like her mother. I named them Jam and Jelly.

On the surface, they both appeared normal, but Jelly was a bit slower learning to nurse, so much so that Other Half commented on it, but she did nurse, so we dismissed it. Other Half left for the border. Tropical Storm Bill didn't so much roar in with a vengeance, as he snuck in like a thief. The rains began so lightly that people began to joke and taunt the storm's power. Since our area had already been hit by heavy rains, my sheep and goat pen was under water. This forced me to move everyone into the barn. The problem was there simply was not enough room to safely jug the new babies with their mother alone. Because she was my most experienced ewe I didn't worry too much about this and thus, a day after the new babies were born, I placed another ewe with babies three days older in the same stall. I watched them closely on Tuesday and saw nothing out of the ordinary. New babies sleep a lot, but it appeared that everyone was nursing properly.

The rains from Tropical Storm Bill came. And came. And I still had to go to work. I had a friend stop by to check the babies and another ewe who was due. Nothing seemed unusual - until I came home. One glance was enough. Something was wrong. Those of us who live with animals daily know that sometimes all you need is a glance. Their posture just isn't right. Their eyes just aren't quite right. Their reactions are just a bit slow. Perhaps some of this can be taught, but I'm convinced that some of us also have a nature, like the wolf, where our predatory senses are a bit more defined and thus our eye detects the weakness before it is obvious to others.

The up side to this skill is that you can catch a problem early. The down side to this skill is that sometimes you still have no idea what the problem is and how to address it. Such was my case. I had a baby standing stiffly in the corner with a vacant expression, staring at the wall. Babies don't normally do this, so I sat on a bucket to observe, while the other babies cavorted around the stall. Her sister bounced close to the other ewe who charged a few feet toward her before abandoning the effort as the baby easily darted out of range. This raised my eyebrow. I watched it happen again. And then I realized the tiny baby who stood with her face in the corner may not have been able to get out of the way. She looked like she could have an injury resulting from being butted too hard. As the rain came down on the tin roof. I sat on the bucket and cried with guilt.

I had been spinning too many plates and this little baby had suffered because of it.

I had put these families together because I didn't have enough dry places to put sheep and goats in a storm, and this  perfect, innocent little baby was possibly injured. Thus began the agonizing game of 'what if' and 'could it be' that all sheep and goat ranchers know. Could it be this? Should I give it this drug? What should I do?  I am blessed with dear friends who are only a phone call away, and a vet willing to try whatever we want.

But I was still alone. Other Half was at the border. It was still raining. And I still had to go to work. I was milking a goat every few hours to give the sick baby fresh warm milk, and I was encouraged by the fact that she was eagerly taking her bottle. Still. It was apparent something was still wrong. We just couldn't pinpoint the cause. At first I thought she was blind, but soon realized she could see me, she just was stiff and uncoordinated. When given dexomethesone, the stiffness left, and she became more alert and curious about her world.

When the drug wore off, she returned to a state of stiffness, walking like a Frankenstein sheep with an extended neck and half-closed eyes.

I was still wracked with guilt but also couldn't rule out that she had been born with a neurological problem too. Other Half wasn't convinced that she had ever been truly normal since she was the slow one to nurse and the first 24 hours both babies had been uncoordinated and sleepy. Because this is normal for newborns, I didn't notice anything unusual before I left for work on that third day.

After a short while I began to see a pattern. The baby would get a shot of dex and her response was dramatic. She was eating and taking a bottle and I was lulled into a false sense that all would be well, until the drug wore off. Friends stepped up to help shoulder the burden of caring for the baby and still juggling an "away from the farm" job. Other Half returned and decided it was time to bring her into the house, slap some diapers on her and let her be a house lamb.

She was cute, tottering across the carpet with an attentive Labrador in tow, but a cloud still hung over my shoulder. At 9:30 pm I watched her motoring along the living room floor when she suddenly tilted her head to the side and began to spin in a circle and stagger like a plane going down. She collapsed with her neck extended and went limp. I picked her up and helped her to her little dog crate. A few minutes later she was back to standing stiff-legged, staring into the dark corner of the crate.

What was the problem? The cloud over my shoulder darkend. The baby refused her 4 am bottle. I told Other Half, and then I left for work. I had to. On my first break I got a text from Other Half.

"Call me when you get a break."

The darkness filled my stomach. He confirmed it. She was dead. Sadly we will never know the cause. Was she born with a neurological problem? Was she injured? We will probably never know. I will always blame myself, and the rains which forced me to put everyone in the barn, and the schedule which kept pulling me away. There is a frustration that comes with not knowing, for it is human nature to seek closure.

As Dear Friend Sue in Wyoming said, "Some things are too special for this life and they are for the master shepherd."

Yes, little Jelly, my perfect little lamb who looked so much like her mother, is with the Master Shepherd now. I am thankful that I still have Jam, her sister, the last of that line. And so it is with life. It is a puzzle. Jam was the lamb blocking the birth of both lambs. She was the log jam. She was the lamb who had the traumatic birth. Jelly was the second in line. Her sack was still intact. Her birth was easy. The odds were stacked against Jam and yet she is bouncing around the barnyard today, the picture of health. Isn't life a puzzle?

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 09:55 am   |  Permalink   |  3 Comments  |  Email
Sometimes I wonder if guilt is what we use to regain control of the sometimes apparent randomness of life. You did everything right. She might have been in the canal too long. Mom may have had degraded carrying capacity because of advanced years. The symptoms sound neurological, and like they were there from the beginning. You gave her a loving few days, and that is what gives a life meaning. It also is, I believe, what makes personality develop and everyone can tell you care deeply for your animals if only by their character. She was lucky to have you for her brief time.
Posted by Andrea on 06/22/2015 - 05:34 PM
I agree. And I'm glad Jam is doing so well. And ((Hugs)). I know how hard it is, but you and I aren't God. Unfortunately, sometimes it isn't for us to know and understand. We just have to trust. I hate that and love it, at the same time.
Posted by Patty on 06/22/2015 - 08:08 PM
Thanks guys. You're right. We did care for her. She did seem to have moments of fun and curiosity in her short time here. I shall never forget her padding around the house with Dillon in tow behind her. Although she never really played with the other lambs, the cat would hang out with her. They were a curious pair.
Posted by Forensicfarmgirl on 06/23/2015 - 03:31 PM

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