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Ian & Raven raveian@wolston.com 503-394-2021

 

The Education of a New Farmer: Part III

by Raven OKeefe

When it happened, my friend Joe Turk wrote this to me: "We who choose to surround ourselves with lives even more temporary than our own live within a fragile circle, easily and often breached. Unable to accept its awful gaps, we still would live no other way." I thought then and I think now it's the best and most terrible and truest thought I've ever heard.

For the past month we've had two new little roomies in our house, living in the dining room: Nathan Arizona Jr. and Pixie, my two little Shetland lamb bottle-babies, who would start their cries of "Maaaaama!" "Maaaaama!" as soon as they'd see me, wagging their tiny tails as fast as they could and putting on major cuteness demonstrations and begging me for some of that sweet yummy lamb milk replacer. Impossibly cute! They butted their little heads against me, they sucked on my finger, they cuddled in my arms and napped.

Our Border Collies have been, of course, thoroughly disgusted, saying as plainly as if they were speaking the words: "WHAT are you THINKING! Those are sheep! SHEEP!! They don't get cuddled and smooched, they don't bounce around the house like little wind-up toys, they don't hop up on the couch to sit in your lap, and they DON'T belong in the HOUSE! My god, woman, get a clue!" They were so relieved when our first bottle-baby (remember Minnie?) moved back out to the barn to live with her "real" mom, and now here are two more of these creatures in the house!

They were both just adorable beyond words, but young Nathan Jr. was my very special favorite. He followed me everywhere like a little puppy, when we were working out in the garden he'd be out there bounding around "helping" us, when I drove into our driveway coming back from an errand he'd come racing across the yard to meet me, baaa-ing his loudest and most joyous! He drove in to town with us, went into the feed store, to the flower shop, he was everyone's darlin'! He learned his name immediately and would come running when he'd hear me call "Na-a-a-athan!" and even worse (from Ian's point of view), I'd made good progress on teaching him "That'll do!"

Then one day he started having trouble eating. You could tell he was hurting -- he'd fling his little head around so hard he'd fall over, he'd grind his teeth constantly -- and nothing we could try seemed to help. Our excellent vet, Dr. Mike, consulted with a sheep specialist at the vet school in Pullman, and they decided he had abomasitis, an inflammation of part of the digestive tract. So we began feeding him a mixture of Re-Sorb and Mylanta, and it seemed to help... for awhile. When he went back on regular lamb milk replacer, the agonies would begin again: pain on eating, constipation and/or diarrhea, and he just lost all his Nathan-ness: no more bouncing around like a superball, no more playing with Pixie, just sadness and hurt.

Monday night, April 29th, I came home late from a meeting and heard no welcoming baa. I thought Ian had already taken both Nathan and Pixie in for the night, so I went inside... no, he said they were still out. When I opened the door, Pixie came barreling in making a racket, but no Nathan, though I could hear him baa weakly when I called him. Finally I found him huddled against a corner of the porch, too weak to get up. I brought him in the house, and we did our best to help him and called Dr. Mike for advice and tried everything, but it just didn't work. Finally we gave him a shot of painkiller that Dr. Mike had given us for him, so he could rest a little from the hurt. It helped, but all it could do was make his last hour easier for him. He died in our arms around midnight.

Now he's buried in his favorite spot in the front yard, where he'd always come running to meet me at the gate, and two new Bleeding-Heart plants are growing on the tiny mound, one red and one white. At first when I'd drive in and see it there it just broke my heart, but now I just tell him "Na-a-athan, I'm home, I love you, sleep peaceful little boy."

We've lost seven lambies this spring and have 59 strong healthy ones running around out in the fields. It's a delight to see all 59. It hurt to lose all seven. But none like young Nathan Jr.

--Raven OKeefe

Scio OR, May 2002