Thursday, February 18, 2016

Lenten Lesson of Detachment: Animals Die

 Early hours in the morning before the sun is up, I can hear a train pass somewhere off in the distance. The whistle usually surprises me at how close the tracks must be to our house, when I know the tracks are many miles away. Trains whistles aren't heard any other time of day. 

There is something different about early morning air. It's more still. Farm animals are still sleeping. The dogs are wiped out from the night watch. First noises of the day from outside to reach my ears, I'm usually already awake. Many sounds will follow that deafen any chance of hearing a far off train whistle. Now the sound holds me still, I can't help but strain my ears toward the next lonely whistle call.

There comes with the lonesome whistle a message, some reminder I should have this morning. Today I know what it is: I have a hard task this morning and my heart is heavy. 

Last night, late, after Ceci had fallen asleep, Norman died. Ceci loved him so. We all did. Ceci's heart is so big, so vulnerable at ten precious years old. I hate to add any hurt, take away any joy or happiness. 

The train is closer now, so close I can almost feel the house vibrating. It's subtle. The sounds seems to come from all around me as if the track encircles my home. Then, gradually, it dies off and everything is quiet. More quiet than before the whistle. More still. My ears grasp for a sound after the train, wondering which sound will be the first to break this new, stronger stillness.

I was up late discussing this sad demise with my sister who said it would be a penance to tell Ceci, a true reminder of this season of detachment.  We will offer up our pain and disappointment.

I have failed as a shepherdess to raise this baby, as I failed with his twin. Yes, I could console myself and say their mother abandoned them to death moments after birth two weeks ago. They were doomed. My heart agrees. That voice in the back of my head knew something wasn't right in the way I had to feed Norman. He never opened his mouth to take the bottle; I had to pry it open it for him, every single time. Possibly, I fed him too much, too fast. He wasn't growing as I thought he should. He didn't eat as much during the day as he should. I have memories of Hope and how successful we were with her. She gave me confidence. She had an appetite that Norman and Patches never had. That means something and it might be something I just couldn't change. 

Train track noises resonate in my head searching for other sounds. Lilly's rhythmic sleeping breathing is next to me. Craig is traveling which makes these farm losses harder and truly fall all to me. 

Nick found Norman less than an hour after we put him out for the night, and he knew right off. Euly and Lilly knew as I did before we said goodnight. Something was different. We tried our best,albeit incompetent, way to revive him, but whatever damage was done and he was gone. Nick buried him late last night next to Norman's brother's grave in the lower woods, braving the late night sounds of the forest around him. My brave soldier. 

One more to total eight dead sheep in two months: one baby disappeared in care of his mother, one still-born, three lost when ewe and unborn twins during labor, an emaciated twin died rejected by his mother, and then Patches and now Norman. 


The remaining two babies are rambunctious and healthy and in the care of their mothers. I am confident they will survive. At least they won't perish from malnutrition.

So we chalk it up to learning. But, what did we learn? Six months from now, with a new round of babies, when the mothers look close to delivery, we will get them all into the sheep pen, separated from the males. Make sure there is foraging food in addition to diet supplements. Interfere as minimally as possible, make them feel safe so they won't be distracted or separated at birth.

There has to be the development of rumen in the gut for the babies to transition from milk while weaning.
I am not sure Norman and Patches had this develop. I will try to learn more in the required care of the sheep. We all deserve that so we can minimize the heart break and disappointment.

Possible cause of death:
Enterotoxaemia can be caused by overeating any food, including milk or formula. It occurs any time the rumen is unable to properly breakdown the starches in food and these starches pass unprocessed into the intestine. 

I think I may have fed him too much, causing the excess milk to be coughed up into his lungs. But still the milk wasn't being effectively utilized. 

Lilly patted my back last night and told me matter-of-factly: animals die. She did cry that she "loves him like a son." I have discussed with her the difference of a human soul and an animal spirit. She tells me to just delete photos of these guys, but I won't. I enjoyed the time we had with such a sweet, loving animal who snuggles and trusts us for everything. God calls us His sheep. Sometimes I am encouraged by this and sometimes I am disappointed with the human race when we are dumb and stubborn like sheep. 

The different way my children handle these situations amazes me.

Birds chirping... finally a sound from outside of hope and happiness for a new day. 


  1. Oh Mary...this is beautiful, and heartbreaking! We are praying for Ceci and all the other broken hearts! Missing you guys!

    1. I thought keeping her busy would distract her, but she needs time to mourn. She has such a big sweet heart. Thanks for the prayers!

  2. This is so sad and sweet and touching. So much to ponder on -- stewardship, acceptance, detachment, and always, hope. When our dear pet died three years ago, my husband said that caring for an animal made us better persons. Love to you all.

    1. Thank you, Marcia. And I agree with your husband. Opening our hearts is always a good thing.

  3. Oh wow, Mary. This is so full of raw emotion and is so very beautiful. You have learned from this or on the cusp of learning even more. In many ways. I've learned from this post. Just recently, my Maria lost her first fish. I realize I could have been more sensitive (I thought I was sensitive, but could I have been more?) Hugs to you and your girls.

    1. Thanks, Patty. Some of mine grieve and move on. But this one holds it all in her heart, for a long time. I have to be deliberate with her because I don't share that same sensitivity.