Like a walk through the country side living on a small farm is full of daily surprises, sometimes wonderful and amazing, and other times puzzling and sad. I hope you will walk with me as I live out my dream of living on this tiny farm. You will come to know the dogs, cats, Shetland sheep and chickens that make up this farm and what goes into keeping them happy and healthy. Come and join the journey with me.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Blue All Rotten

 (Blue died a few days after Thanksgiving last year....)

Blue (right) and Lanny Wilson in their heyday--penned up for shearing
In July of 2001 my neighbor convinced me to get into the sheep biz.  I acquired four lovely weanling Dorset ewes--Faith, Mercy, Gracie and June.   All but Gracie were January born, but little Gracie was a smaller and very cute March born ewe lamb.

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
Only later as he fleshed out and grew to be a big powerful lovely Merino ram, she seemed to harbor the idea I had outfoxed her.....

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 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.
So she brought him to me.  I kept him isolated from the girls for a week or two...hoping to lose any icky germs or diseases he had picked up.  At this time in my sheep adventure I knew so very little.  Of course I read and studied up on it as much as I could, but the Dorset lady who I had hoped to have mentor me sorta dropped off the face of the earth.   My neighbor, well, she knew allot from the school of hard knocks, and could deliver a lamb like nobodies business, however had the most awful husbandry skills and I just.did.not. want to farm that way.  So many things she did...from lambing issues (constant) to nutrition to health issues seemed wrong to me.  I was told over and over 'sheep live to die'....but I've found this not to be true if you are observant and keep a close watch on them.  They certainly need to be closely tended to!  And they certainly die, but I find them to be amazingly hearty and scrappy. 

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.

Blue in his Prime
One of his last big adventures was the night he and Lanny somehow pushed down the fence and joined the ewes.  That was exciting.  I had to do some fast running and jumping and thinking ahead to get him separated from the girls, in the dark of the night.  In the end though it was that goofball son of his Lanny Wilson that was the real problem--he didn't want to be separated from the girls!

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
 For all his orneriness he was also pretty good in some ways.  He would stand and put his head in the halter over the fence and then stand tied.   I could trim his feet standing up without too much drama.  Worming was a cinch as he always liked to suck out the syringe.  This also made it easy to medicate him and eventually led me to believe he was probably a bottle baby.   He also shared a fenceline almost his entire life with the ewes and never offered to break through the fence.  Even the one night he got out, it was because a panel had come un-wired.   He was very respectful of the fence (except bashing at me).

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....
As he got older he mellowed some and I think we even became good friends.  He would still whap me if he got a chance but mostly it was going through the motions kind of thing.  He had a deep low baa that sounded more like a brrrrrr.   He knew his name and when I'd call him to his new pasture he would beller and brrrr the whole way to make sure he wasn't wasting his time and I was still waiting for him. 

Two Old Men Having a Discussion --Callum & Blue --summer 2010
Due to his habit of butting the grain bucket, I taught  him 'back up' when I went to feed, and he would always back up and turn for me so I could pour his grain.  

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
I know that he wanted to be with the girls too, but that couldn't be.  I felt bad that he was alone but he almost always shared a fence line with them except a few hours in the day.  It was the best I could do.

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
I really do miss that old fellow.  He was pushing twelve and was a fixture on the little farm.  I miss his deep voice brrr-ing at me and his stealth approach into the barn.  Really it's just not the same.  I am relieved though that he is not suffering now and only sad because he is gone and he leaves another hole on the farm.  His frailness would have not gotten him far into the winter, and I was 'planning' to have the vet out, just hadn't gotten there yet.

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

So it's a long story, but his was a long life.  Just a rotten old ram, but pretty special to me.  We'll miss you old Blue.  


Michelle said...

Tammy, it was a wonderful long story, and a tribute to your good stewardship and loving heart. My history with Bunker was not nearly so long, but he, too, came to love skin scratches and had the very best wool on the place. Each creature we are entrusted with takes a piece of our heart when they leave....

Kelly said...

I concur with Michelle, this was a wonderful story and I love every word. It also lets me "see" how special you are to have taken so much care with an old ram that others would have just given up on long ago. Bless your heart for the love and care you gave him.

thecrazysheeplady said...

I agree, a wonderful story. Still crying, but a wonderful story.

Phyllis Oller said...

I love your story of life with Blue.When an animal lives that long they`ve become like a child or family member to us.Bless you for giving him the chance he needed to grow & thrive.It seems he taught you too in the course of your lives together,now I have to go & have a good cry over your loss!phyllis

Tina T-P said...

What a nice tribute to your old guy. I still remember when a young vet, who had come out to treat some of our sheep who had gotten into some rhododendron, told me "Well they probably won't survive - A sick sheep is a dead sheep, you know" - I quickly informed him that this $200 ewe was NOT going to die, and he'd better do something about it. The next thing I knew was that I (in my bright red polyester business dress) was straddling that ewe so he could tube her with some kind of a charcoal mixture - and not only did she live, but gave birth to healthy twin lambs a few months after. T.

Kathy said...

Tammy, I am so sorry Blue passed, although I know you said he was struggling.
They do leave holes in our hearts when they leave...even the ones with too much "personality".

And your story says it all - he will now live in your heart and memories, with time fading his orneriness into mellower tones. What color he left in your life. :)

Hugs, Kathy

Sue said...

Goodbye, Blue. You sound like a real character and I'm sorry I never met you.

How did you manage to shear him when he was in his nasty stage?

Tammy said...

Thanks everyone. He was a mess, but he was my mess, and I really do miss him. Tina--sheep are tougher than most would give credit for them. I can't think of ever having one that just gave up and died when ill, without fighting a hard battle. Thanks Kathy, I know you were always concerned on how he was doing. It is always with mixed feelings to see them go when they are older and frail. I miss him but rejoice he no longer has to deal with illness and winter.
Sue--thank you. He was always very good once haltered and/or you got a good hold on him,---he was just the bugger when he was loose in the field.

Linda said...

What a lovely tribute! Great photos and a story well told. I also love your header photo.
Greetings from Montreal, Canada.

Tammy said...

Thanks for stopping by Linda! I'll be over to see your blog soon.


Vickie said...

tammy, I loved this story about Blue. What a great shepherdess you were to this ornery guy. He seemed to have a very happy life on your place!