Thursday, June 16, 2011

Saying Goodbye to Ingrid

Sorry for the dead air, folks. I've been in a bit of a funk the past two days (as you can imagine, I'm sure) but this morning brought about a fresh spring rain and some time to spend indoors.
Saying goodbye to Ingrid has been tough for me. We're still in our first year of keeping sheep, and there have been a lot of trials. There's a little part of me that can't help but feel like I'm just no good at it, between Gertrude's stillbirth and Ingrid's bottlejaw and sudden death, but at the same time I'm fully aware that they're difficult animals to keep. I'm keeping my chin up, and I'm not quitting sheep yet.

In case you missed the previous post, I woke Tuesday morning to discover our oldest sheep, Ingrid (I believe she was close to nine years old) on the brink of death. She was laying splayed flat, legs rigid and forward, twitching and barely conscious. Laura, from Queso Cabeza, had warned me that grass tetany was a possibility in sheep and that it made them twitchy and sensitive. Grass tetany is basically a metabolic disease that stems from the ewe having severely depleted magnesium. The way to treat/prevent it is simply to dose them with milk of magnesia. Unfortunately in some cases the disease can progress quickly, often leading to death within 90 minutes of the first presentation of symptoms. Ingrid's bottle jaw (anemia caused by barberpole worms) earlier this year had stressed her system, and between that and her being six and a half weeks out from lambing and lactating, it isn't terribly surprising that it was she that was affected.

Gosh. I'm feeling ranty.

Farming is so intensely about learning. I think that's the first lesson for anyone who decides to undertake it, either as a hobby, lifestyle or career. If you're unable to learn quickly, and to accept that mistakes often result in emotionally and morally crushing blows, you may want to start slow. It could be the death of an animal, the failing of a crop, the collapsing of a structure...

As first generation farmers, we do so many things requiring a HUGE variety of skills that in this day, raised on modern technology and "conventional" education, are not provided to us readily.

These are skills that used to be ingrained in the very fabric of humanity - passed down through communities, down through families. Survival skills, the ability to adapt quickly, and to improvise - the best resource for all of this these days is the internet, rather than spending time observing and learning from someone nearby. Even then, you have to be willing to just dive right in and get your hands dirty. Unfortunately, the consequences to being undereducated, even just a little bit, can be pretty severe.

I guess what I'm getting at is that despite improvements to farming through modern technology, there are a lot of new hurdles on other levels for new farmers. This spring has taught me to be a better observer of my animals, and to accept that crop failure due to cruddy weather is something I just can't do anything about. The best thing I can do for my farming future is try to obtain the skills that would've been more easily provided to me as a young farmer 100 years ago (Okay, okay. probably not as a woman!) I can research, stay informed, improvise when necessary and above all continue to forge ahead, no matter how discouraged I feel when I roll out of bed in the morning.

We buried Ingrid on a friend's farm, way out back. It was satisfying to bury her in a lush, grassy field. Our friend asked us to put some sort of marker where we buried her, so they wouldn't accidentally dig her up at some point in the near future. I tend to lean toward opposing the marking of graves - I have some fairly strong ideas about mourning and the whole cemetery thing - but I transplanted a willow whip to her grave, feeling intensely sentimental about this skittish ewe that taught me so much in her short time with me.


  1. Thanks for sharing such a personal affair. You really hit on how difficult it can be to farm and homestead when so many things rely on your attention - but something so simple as a storm or insect can ruin an entire year's (or more) work.

    Hugs, sweetie! You're doing an incredible job for a "first-timer".

  2. All true. There is a lot to learn and a lot of it is learned the hard way - through trial and error. I would have loved to have a mentor when I first started with sheep and I do have very great breeder friends, but they are 5 hours away. The good thing about forging ahead and sticking with it, is that you do get those wonderful, amazingly great moments where you can pat yourself on the back. Don't give up, by any means.