Sunday, March 1, 2009

Ewe are not who I thought ewe were

Fairly often, something comes along that reminds me what total neophytes we are at this sustainable farming business. There's the eternal struggle to produce a garden of course, but just when I think we might have the livestock side of the house vaguely under control - the big rancher in the sky rains down a little humility on me.

I got an email this week from our friends who started their fledging Icelandic sheep flock off with sheep from our farm last year. They started with a full-grown ewe, who was pregnant, and her ewe lamb from the previous season. And then they came back and purchased 2 of the new lambs in late summer.

We were all especially impressed with the ewe lamb out of our only white Icelandic, Icey. Yes, indeed, we all agreed, the fact that Icey had not borne a lamb her first year clearly gave her the strength and vitality to produce this exceptional ewe lamb her second year. Why, look at Icey's udder - udder-ly fabulous. She must be producing some wonderful and plentiful milk! And wow wasn't that beautiful new ewe lamb just growing by leaps and bounds? Goodness. She'll surely produce some wonderful babies!  We felt proud and accomplished as the happy new farmers drove off so satisfied with their final ruminant purchase from our little operation.

Fast forward to last week - six months later. Turns out our friends had recently spent a couple months quite perplexed about Icey's lamb, whom they'd named Tinkerbell. Tinkerbell's horns were growing differently than the other ewe's horns. When the vet came on a routine call for their dairy goats, they had him take a look. Nope, she seemed fine.

Then, in need of a ram, they found just the perfect guy down on a farm in Oregon. A real beauty. They drove down and brought him back to the island. Only, Tinkerbell didn't seem to much care for this young man. Why, the other ewes got along with him just fine, but Tinkerbell seemed to feel he was some kind of upstart invader. Fights were had and blood was drawn. What could Tinkerbell possibly have against this sweet little yearling ram?

Now, you've already guessed where this is going, but it wasn't until our friend got out the shears one morning last week to get the flocked cleaned up, turned Tink over and nearly, well, nearly had a lot of blood on his hands, that our friends made the cognitive connection and all those pieces fell into place.

So, an all too true story of how we "fleeced" our friends by selling them a ram we thought was a ewe and our friends blithely carried on that myth for half a year. Humility. On all sides.

The good news for Tink is that he lived a lot longer than he probably would have had his gender been properly identified. That came to an end today, however, as our friends had to get him out of their place before he harmed their intentional ram and he wouldn't have lasted 5 minutes in with our now seasoned and rather aggressive ram. It was his time.

Ordinarily, we would not choose to harvest a single sheep. Slaughtering and butchering is tough and exhausting work, as it should be. But, this had to be done today and so we did it. This is our third time we have slaughtered and today we did it without help of any kind. Just a mom, a dad, and a 10-year-old.

One of the things that strikes me about slaughtering and butchering each time we do it is that it's one of those jobs that cannot be halted, cannot be shelved to finish later, cannot, even, be put off for a few minutes of rest. Once it is begun, it must be finished. If it rains, if someone gets hurt, if you're tired or forgot (or chose not) to eat - oh well. There is nothing to be done but soldier on. Time is critical and all hands are on deck 100% of the time until everything is wrapped and in the fridge and freezer and all equipment and surfaces are broken down and washed. In our multi-tasking world, I think there are fewer and fewer tasks so elemental, so one-directional.

That's a main reason it's so exhausting. Between the relentless race against the clock and the emotional context of taking a life, we were pretty much mush by the end of the three hours.

Now at least we have the fruits of our friends' labor to give back to them for our mistake. They were very gracious and wanted no repayment of any kind. But, it is a small village; it takes everyone pitching in and making things right to keep us in this together.

And I think we'll all take a closer look, probably more than once, at this year's babies.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey D, I have some experience butchering from helping my mom with venison in our kitchen. Later I got to be pretty good with that fillet knife. Just a quick call and I will come and help out.
xoxo, jan