Spring is almost finished and most of our babies for the year have arrived. Lambing is over and the flock is happy enjoying their pasture shared with our Guernsey Girls. Soon, they'll move to fresh pasture at Eden where they'll spend the summer. Our big pasture is full of cows with their calves. We were surprised this year with several sets of twins. And of course, we always get our batch of 100 chicks every month. There is never a shortage of babies!
But spring always brings the reminder that there is a thin line between life and death. As Ross says, "We're just a heartbeat away from death." On a ranch with lots of livestock, there are bound to be animals that get sick or injured and no matter what we do, some will die. There is bad weather, cold weather, wolves, coyotes, eagles, common diseases like scours, uncommon diseases like white muscle, and the list of antagonists goes on. Some babies are born premature, with congenital defects, or have problems that are never diagnosed. For me, the hardest part of being a cowgirl is death.
|Remains of calf that died unexpectedly while on pasture|
|Snow and Mom|
Gumby was a very small chance. We live in a selenium deficient part of the country. Sheep, horses and other livestock require selenium in order to be healthy. This is why we provide a mineral salt for all our animals. Gumby was just fine at birth, and his mom did a great job taking care of him. But one day we noticed the little lamb couldn't stand up. Over several days, he got stiffer and stiffer. We brought him in to the nursery and consulted with the Merck Veterinary Manual as well as a local vet. Sure enough, all the symptoms pointed to white muscle disease or "stiff lamb disease". The suggested treatment: injections of a selenium/vitamin E combination. But selenium is also toxic, so it can only be given in small, restricted doses. The vet said that he might recover and he might not. So, we did our best. I propped Gumby up on straw and gave him a bottle several times a day. Over weeks, he started eating alfalfa too. When it was clear that he'd be in the nursery for a long time and he still wasn't able to stand on his own, I made a special sling out of a feed bag and hung him up. He regained flexibility and mobility in his head and neck and expressed quite a personality. I couldn't help but smile everytime I gave him his bottle. His favorite game was pulling off the nipple and making a mess all over both of us. Every day for about 6 weeks, I was his mom. And one day his heart stopped. Evidently, it had been irreversibly damaged.
Despite the heartache and sadness that comes with every tragedy, I'll keep right on keeping on. I lost Monster and Gumby, but I have all the lambs on pasture with their moms as well as my three naughty bummer lambs: Princess, Pea, and Dufus. And every time I look at Princess, Pea, and Dufus, I remember the others. And even though we've lost a few calves, we have about 90 healthy ones running and bouncing around the pasture.
For those who think that ranching and raising meat isn't humane, they should come visit Paradise. They might be surprised at how many tears I shed on the job. Ross and I do what our ancestors have done for thousands of years. We live with our domestic livestock and care for them. They, in turn, care for us by providing our milk, eggs, and meat. We love what we do with all the ups and downs, and we're frequently reminded of our place in the universe.
|Ava with a steer ready for butcher. We raised him from birth.|