This weekend I have been farm sitting for the people who own the farm where I train. I’m not actually “sitting” but rather checking in once a day, to make sure everything is in order and to feed the animals. They have cows, sheep, ducks, dogs and a pony, so quite a menagerie to care for. However for just a weekend, the cores are quite simple and the farm typically takes care of itself.
This weekend, however, has been a little more eventful than the last time I did this. To begin, yesterday I discovered that their old ram was down. I had been suspecting he was not long for this world for a couple of months now, so I wasn’t overly surprised. But still, it’s not something I had counted on happening on my watch!
I liked this old ram. He was part of a group of rams and weathers (castrated male sheep) good for working young dogs as they were pretty quiet and didn’t run as much as the ewes. He had been ornery with the dogs and given them a hard time when I first started training there, and would turn, stomp at and charge the dogs. I soon figured out it was because he was feeling stiff and tired and wasn’t up to running. So I made a point of always separating him out from the other sheep and putting him back in his pen where he could have the hay all to himself while I trained. I hadn’t been using that group of sheep very often lately as all of my dogs are now onto the faster moving sheep. But every now and then I’d have reason to use the rams for training. I’d put them out in the training area, then put my hand on his shoulder and he’d walk calmly back to his pen with me. He appeared older and frailer each time.
Last night he was down, lying on his side, and couldn’t get up. When I came up to him, he tried to get up but couldn’t. So I helped him. I helped him up to his feet and held him there for a bit until he got stable. Then I moved away, and he toppled over again. At that point I thought to myself that he’s probably better off dying this weekend. Winter is coming and would be hard on his old bones, and here he was in a nice soft bed of straw in the warm barn where he has lived out at least the last portion of his life (I don’t know how long they’ve had him). Many farm animals get sent off to market when they get old, so he’s actually quite lucky to have lived out retirement and had the opportunity to die in a familiar setting. I offered him some hay, which he ate greedily, held his head to a bucket of water, which he refused, gave him a scratch, and left him in peace.
Today he was dead. I dragged his body out from the other sheep and put it in a pen at the far side of the barn. His owners return tomorrow and will know what to do with it.
The death of the ram was not the only event that marked today’s farm visit. When I pulled up to the farm, I was greeted by a worrisome sight: the pony grazing on the front lawn. Oh, no! I thought. Did I leave a gate open? My mind whipped through the previous evening’s routine and I reassured myself that this was unlikely. I called to the pony, who fortunately seemed to think I had treats, and easily got him back into the fenced fields. Then I started looking for the hole.
It didn’t take long. In fact, my first instinct proved correct that he had come out through the front door of the east barn. Inside the barn is a huge hay storage area, separated by hard wood fencing from the part of the barn the animals can access from the barnyard. The sheep had knocked down the fence and were eating the hay. The pony had walked right past the hay and out the front door to the lawn. Thank goodness he was the only one. Thank goodness the llama hadn’t joined him!
Hannah held back the sheep while I put the fence back together. The sheep knocked it down again as soon as I was out of the barn. Beasts! I noticed that some of the wood had split and come apart and that a whole panel of the fence would have to be rebuilt. I took it down and found another panel in the west barn, dragged it over and set it in its place. Then I noticed about half a dozen such panels about 10 feet away. Oh well, I need the exercise. I was worried the sheep would try to break the new panel now that they know the fence is fallible, so I used some of these other panels to make a second row of fencing around that area. It is all supported against itself, and interlinked, so hopefully should withstand the pressure of 70 odd large pillows pushing against it. I guess I’ll find out tomorrow!