(Blue died a few days after Thanksgiving last year....)
|Blue (right) and Lanny Wilson in their heyday--penned up for shearing|
However this story isn't really about my first four girls and the trials of my becoming a sheep farmer, and eventually a shepherd.It's about a little runt of a ram that ended up living a long and ornery life here at Fairlight.
Along about August or September of that same year, my neighbor --yes, same one---wanted me to go to a nearby farm with her and help her catch and load a young Dorset ram that she was trading one of her nice fat Cheviot ram lambs for. Sure I was up for it and off we went. The owner of the ram we were going to pick up was at work, so my neighbor had been informed which pen they were in and that we would be on our own loading into the pickup.
When we got there we offloaded the young ram we had brought and went in search of the 'new' replacement ram lamb that we would be taking with us. Well, the years have blurred my memories and I knew very little about sheep then, but it wasn't pretty. The well-bred-famous-bloodlines-out-of Iowa Dorset ram lamb we were to pick up was a tiny little malnourished fellow. Unable to compete with the older sheep he had definitely suffered. We took him anyway. We were both a bit stunned. This farmer was well known with her sheep and bloodlines. Later we realized that she was not in good health herself and obviously had let things go, in a bad way.
So we--easily--loaded this nasty looking little scrap into the pickup. He looked pretty silly inside those tall stock racks. He was not only small and thin he looked, well, greasy. Nasty really. His wool was so grey and lank. We had driven different vehicles as I had errands to run as did she before returning to our respective farms. Later I was to learn that while she was in the Dollar Store, some smart aleck kids decided to silly string her truck...and the ram. When she came out blue silly string adorned everything. Poor little rotten ram lamb...couldn't win for loosing.
However from that experience Blue earned his oft confusing to people name. He wasn't named Blue because of his color or mental state, but because he was draped in blue silly string. Lucky for him it wasn't Green....
|A gaggle of Blue Babies--that is Gracie in the middle--she always had to be with her babies so became the babysitter|
So a little time passed and it became very obvious to all concerned that this little runt wasn't going to be up to breeding her large flock of, well, large ewes. She ran mostly Suffolk and Dorset crossbreds with a few Cheviots. So I thought and I schemed and I went and helped her pick out a large Suffolk ram lamb at the sale and helped her haul him home. (And that was a nightmare in itself when she went with the assumption she could just tie him in....what a long ride home....) So now she had two rams. I had none! See where this is going? I had only four ewes and frankly I was itching to get that little guy out of the situation he was in--not much improved from whence he came if you were little and scrawny and couldn't compete. So I mustered my bargaining skills and offered her $50 to take him off her hands. Mind you that was a good price for what he was at the time.
|Blue--Early Spring 2012--Becoming a Frail Old Man|
But yeah, he wasn't a Dorset at all...forget all those awesome Iowa genetics. Either we picked up the wrong ram lamb or well, something.... The lady we got him from had several breeds of sheep--purebreds but ran together in a large flock...so who knows.......
|Shearing ...and that gorgeous white fleece....|
And remember that lank greasy grey wool? Uhm...can you say lanolin? And lots of it. Under that nasty greasy look was the most awesome snow white crimpy fleece you ever saw. Even up to his last shearing it would take your breath away to see what the shearing blade revealed. My neighbor always got a little squinchy look to her face when his wool brought twice as much as the other sheep.
|Runty Baby Blue--Keep in mind he is the same age as Gracie the ewe on the right side of the picture.|
The upshot was, that I learned the 'hard way' and from reading all I could find. Nothing teaches you though as well as time and experience. So Blue came to live here, and I, in my ignorance set up a creep area for him and allowed him too much access to good grain. I'm still not sure it's possible, but I believe that he foundered as he always had some hoof issues. But we were lucky and he didn't get acidosis or overeating disease and he slowly grew. Soon I turned him in with my big fat healthy girls and he looked so awful next to them. Born during the same time frame as the older girls he was less than half their size.
He grew though. He got to live with the girls until April of the next year. Then he turned into a monster. He would chase me and ram me and I couldn't enter the field with him and the girls. Again had I known then what I know now, it might have been possible to teach him to be more civil. Unfortunately hindsight tells me I handled it all wrong.
He had done his job and three of the four ewes lambed in May--each had a single--two boys and a girl. They all stayed. The boys were wethered and eventually became companions to their dad. Blue was mean to them and they pretty much got bullied around. I eventually sold one of them because he was not thriving in that environment and he went to a fiber home. So Blue and his son, Lanny Wilson lived together for many years.
Of course most people would have gotten rid of the old rotten thing, but he threw such beautiful babies and had such an awesome fleece, and besides, I was told 'rams don't live much beyond four or five'. Yeah. Sure.
My that boy did stink in his glory days. He had the rammy smell in spades.
Blue would have happily pulverized me. I learned to be cautious and set up two pens for him and Lanny, so that I could rotate them without having to enter their fields. It worked. Old Blue and I had a love-hate relationship. Many times just a hate one. He had a way of suddenly just being there on the other side of the fence from where I was--staring at me with one beady eye. This was always adrenaline inducing. He would try and bash me through the fence if I got close enough. And he was very, very patient at waiting.
One time he got all tangled up in a piece of twine from the hay bale...effectively hog tying himself out in the middle of the pen. I had to ponder that one some, knowing the minute he was free he'd go after me. Did I mention he was a big boy? Probably close to 300 lbs in his prime. I finally got the hose, drug it out as far as it reached, turned it on, cut the twine and raced back to the hose, to cover my retreat from the field. He hated water!
Years ago he got really sick and was down for several days. I was able to go out and doctor him and we had a civil time together. However a few days later he was feeling fine and invited me to just try and come out into his pen, if I dared. I didn't---if he felt good enough to be ornery he would survive.
Luring him and Lanny down to the garage the night before shearing was always exciting. I would build a lane of cattle panels and then put feed in the garage. My Dad would open the gate and let Lanny and Blue into the lane. Then I'd pop around the corner and yell for Blue...then run like the devil to get on the other side of the gate before he came tearing in there. After the second year he knew exactly where he was to go and that grain was waiting and wasn't much trouble...again Lanny was the hitch in the plan.
|Blue--the Spring after his hard winter in 2010--starting to put weight back on|
|He got so sick in the winter of 2010 that he had a fleece break, so I hand sheared him later than the rest of the flock. We both got tired and this was his funky hairdo for the summer....|
|Two Old Men Having a Discussion --Callum & Blue --summer 2010|
About three years ago he got very sick during the winter. He became very frail, but managed to pull through with lots of Rumen Remedy and special care. During that time I took Lanny out, as the tables had turned and Lanny was now the bully and not allowing him to eat. Lanny was thrillled to pieces--his life long dream of returning to the ewe flock came true. He still resides with the girls today and is very happy. Blue really didn't care when I removed his son as he was so sick, and he wasn't particularly bonded with him.
|A good summer for Blue---plumping up in 2010|
Blue rallied that summer and was healthy by winter. He has had bouts off and on over the last few years and would be at death's door, only to rally and come out of it. He had a wonderful summer despite the drought. He had gotten to the point he wouldn't eat much, if any hay and so lived on grain and fallen leaves. We had lots of fallen leaves this summer with the drought and he got round and fat and looked much like his old self. He also loved and ate lots of bread. He enjoyed chaffhaye immensely until his last bout of illness. His favorite though was sucking that stupid syringe full of Rumen Remedy. I can't even begin to count how many times that stuff got him back to eating and being his old self again.
In October he had another spell and quickly lost condition. Then he rallied, had some good weeks, off and on until the last weekend, when he started failing quickly and passed during the night. During this time he and I became buddies. I often went out in the field with him and treated him. He was so very good about taking his meds, and letting me put his coat on. He enjoyed chin scratches and was very calm. When he died he even quietly lay himself out in the most accessible place for me in his entire pasture, so that moving him was made so much easier.
|What a Big Guy|
He got threatened with 'leaving on the truck' so many times and it was often not easy dealing with him. In the end though he added character and kept me on my toes. Keeping an ornery ram was possible for me and although not workable in many situations, it was my decision. He was a big chicken in many ways so was no danger to strangers (he would have ran and hid).
He was quite the ram...and maybe I did outfox my neighbor that day.
|Blue-- 2001 to November 26th 2012|