She’s there and then gone…

I just wrote on Monday about my new friend Lily, who had come from Montana in August and who was following me around in the pastures each day as I made my rounds. It’s unusual for an adult from another flock to transition to the Peeper Hollow flock and shepherdess so quickly, and I was enjoying her company as I visited the field daily to check on breeding markings.

Yesterday was a busy day for me. Our hay guy called as I was getting up in the morning and asked whether he could deliver the rest of our alfalfa. I knew that saying yes meant having my whole day thrown off. I would have to hurry to get myself ready, feed the dogs and get them settled, and then move two groups of sheep who were in the way of the coming truck and hay wagon. Yet I wanted to get the rest of our hay into the barn for the winter, so I sped through most of my routine early and then helped unload the hay wagon, finishing off the huge wall of hay in our Sheep Barn. By the time I got the rest of the house and barn chores done, it was a little after noon — at least a couple of hours behind schedule — before I was ready to check the fields.

For reasons I still don’t completely understand, I decided to change the marking crayons on our working rams as I made my way through each field. I suppose I was feeling frustrated by so many things in my world right then (a lost cell phone, parasite issues with the ram lambs, and a laundry room makeover that’s already two months behind schedule) that I thought I would simplify at least the crayon markings. The rams had made good use of the red crayons, so finding new markings among the sea of red was getting complicated. By switching to green, I would be looking for an entirely different color, making new markings easier to see and eliminating at least that one small daily frustration.

Changing the crayons takes time, however, and this pushed my arrival into O’Connor’s pasture even later in the day — well beyond my normal 9:30 or 10:00 in the morning. As I left Nahe’s group in the Timber, I noticed that Lily was not at the gate waiting for me — and that was unusual. As I neared the gate, I realized that I was mistaken. She was lying down on the other side of the gate — but she wasn’t getting up. That’s when I started running.

When I reached Lily’s side, she was no longer with us. She had died either during the night or while waiting for me in the morning. Unlike the sheep who grow up on our acreage, Lily was new to the many slopes and hillsides in each field. She obviously went to lie down near the western gate and cast herself with her legs uphill, unable to get back up. After some amount of struggling, she could no longer fight in this position and suffocated next to the gate — perhaps while waiting for me. I am crushed.

I know that things like this happen. I remember losing Kolorado in exactly the same place and for the same reason in May of 2011. I know that new sheep are especially at risk of being cast on our hillsides. I just don’t understand why it always has to be those we are most attached to. In this case, why Lily? We were just getting to know each other. She was my new friend. I haven’t formed attachments yet to the other girls that came in that load — only to Lily.

The other girls from Montana are now even more afraid of me. They know Lily is dead and they know she was my friend. They will no longer come to watch the other sheep eat graham crackers from my hands. Every time I entered the field today, they ran for the far corner, desperate to get away from me. They want nothing to do with this shepherdess who befriended their companion and then lost her.

I know that they’ll get over this, that I will eventually win them over. But right now I’m not sure that I want to win them over. I’ve loved and lost one of that group already. I’m not sure that my heart can take anymore right now. Instead I’ll continue my work and leave the befriending for another day — or another week, or another month. For a time when my heart is a bit stronger.


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  • Jane says:

    I have been thinking for a while how much courage it takes to be a shepherdess. I guess this is the moment to say it.

    • Dee says:

      Thank you. Hours after this happened, my husband came home to help me deal with it all. He found me in the field, spraying thistles. My first words to him were, “I just can’t do this anymore – it just hurts too much to care!” Yet hours later, I was once again out among my sheep, feeding a cracker here and rubbing a head there. Yes, these moments of loss hurt terribly, but they are also very much offset by the trusting peace and unity of the flock – if I only remember to go back out there to heal.

  • Erika says:

    I am so sorry for your loss. Lily sounded like she was becoming a great friend!

    • Dee says:

      Thank you. It is never easy losing a friend, and this one was in our flock for such a short time. It is amazing how quickly I can become attached when conditions – and personality – are right! She is very much missed.

  • Eileen says:

    oh my … so heartbreaking.

  • Julie says:

    Why does it seem that things like this always happen to our favorites? So sorry this happened to Lily.

    • Dee says:

      I honestly don’t understand it, but I’ve noticed it, too. In fact, this is how I remembered losing Kolorado in the same place – he was the one ram of that year’s births that I had decided to keep very early on. Those that I fall for do seem to have a higher than normal percentage of loss, and I have no idea why. It has come to the point where I don’t identify my “keepers” until the very last minute, just to try to avoid the “jinx.”

  • ElaineChicago says:

    So sorry to hear about Dear Lily. I don’t know how you all can go on sometimes. I don’t know what cast is. Is it like being top heavy and can’t get up?

    • Dee says:

      When a sheep is cast, they are lying in a divot or on a hillside in such a way that they cannot get up from that position. We see this here a lot in our young lambs who lie down with their legs slightly uphill because we have so many hills. By about the fourth of July, our lambs have pretty much figured this out and when they lie down, they do so with legs downhill. It is obvious to us as human beings that if they simply “flipped over” throwing their legs over their bodies so that they were facing downhill, that the sheep could then get up – but this is a very vulnerable position for a sheep and not something they think of when they are struggling to right themselves. Generally, they will struggle with legs uphill until they have no energy left, and when they no longer have the energy to do so, they will stop and eventually suffocate with all of the pressure of their big rumen (stomach) on their lungs.

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