Friday, January 6, 2012

Death & Dying: Good Bye Mama

There are many people out there that think I am nuts.  They are correct.  

And you know what?  I am okay with that.  Some things you just have to take a stand on, regardless of others opinions. 

Last year I watched a person (I use that term loosely)  do something that will stay with me for the rest of my life.   They showed me by example what I NEVER want to do, or be. 

This person had a old ram for years.  The ram even had a name.  One day this ram went down in the pasture & was unable to get up.  He was thrown into the back of the truck.  Driven all over hell and high water, then down a very bumpy farm road.  He was completely aware & conscious.  I watched his head bang into the bed of the truck over and over.  He lay there scared and helpless. 

We got to where we were driving, this person backed the truck up to the 'dead animal pit' on an old farm.  Dropped the tail gate, pulled the ram to the edge, draped his head over the side and began to saw at his neck with a utility knife.  The ram feebly tried to twist away. Why they did not bring a sharper knife with them, I do not know.  Once the cut was made through the tough hide,  they cut into one of the arteries he began to bleed out slowly.  Minutes passed, the ram's eyes were wide open, aware, terrified as his neck was held up to enable the blood to drain.  It was not going fast enough, so they started to saw away on the other side of the ram's neck - that poor ram felt every single jab of the knife - flinching.  I stood there, horrified with tears streaming down my face, watching this old ram slowly & painfully bleed out. When his heart finally stopped beating, they pulled him over the edge and dropped him there on top of a large pile of dead farm animals & sadly an old dog. 

Eventually the pit is covered over and a new hole is dug.  It is a hard fact of farm life.  Farmers have disposed of animals in this manner for centuries. 

I did not have an issue with the dead animal pit.  What I had a problem with was the unfeeling, cruel and callous way this old ram was dispatched to the afterlife.

I grasp the difference between a livestock model and a pet.

I understand that I will need to butcher my animals.  Others I will have to sell for slaughter, some I will have butchered at the farm, some not.  Old ewes will be culled and slaughtered for dog food.  I am prepared to put down lambs if they are not right.  

I grew up in farm country.  I get it.  Our lives are filled with birth and death.  It is part of being alive.  Being a farmer brings you up close and personal with the cycle of life.  You can choose to appreciate it, value the contributions each of our animals brings or become hardened to it.

It is an individual choice.   I choose to be humane.  What I saw done to that old ram, was the furthest thing from humane I have ever seen, and this from a person who believes that Halal slaughter (if performed correctly) IS humane.  

The past few days have been hard for me.  This morning we lost Mama, the Ancient Barb ewe that came with the property.  She was my designated 'pet'.  Along with Jim the Llama she was part of a set. 

She set the flock routine.  When Mama decided it was time to head to the night pasture, they all followed.  



She was usually found by Jim's side.  



She brokered no nonsense, full of piss and vinegar.  


She had attitude in spades.  

She was a tough old girl.  

She easily held her own with the much larger Romney and Columbia Rambouillet ewes.  

 Left to Right:  Ruth, Maimie, Esther, Seven & Mama

The past few weeks she grew lethargic, increasingly emaciated. Even with the extra rations of grain, alfalfa and hay she was wasting away.  Last weekend she stopped eating.  She stopped going down into the lower pasture with the rest of the flock. 

Tuesday she went down and did not get up again.  She was 14 y/o.  An old ewe with a long happy life. 

I chose to not 'put her down'.  I thought it over and talked to our large animal vet.  He agreed with me.  If she did not seem to be in any pain, just let her go gently, on her own schedule.  Provide her with access to food, water and a warm soft bed, then let nature take it's course. 

I was overwhelmed with guilt.  Several people, who meant well, told me I should have shot her, bled her out, controlled her death all for the sake of putting an end to her suffering. 

The point was...she was not suffering.  She was experiencing death at her own pace.  Putting her down would benefit me, not necessarily her.

Why do we consider the natural process of death & dying suffering?  

Last night, on the off chance she was in pain, I gave Mama a extra large dose of pain killer.  She closed her eyes, and relaxed.  Scratched her lightly on the head, then left her in peace.   She was protected from the rest of the sheep with a hog panel, surrounded by bales of hay, to give her a feeling of security, where Jim could see her and she could hear him. 

She passed early this morning.  We will bury her under the tree in the pasture, where she lived her long happy life. 

This afternoon when we moved her body. Jim was distraught.  He was obviously confused and worried, with the typical worried llama noises.  The property owner told me he spent the night on the ground on the other side of the hog panel from Mama.  His head was over the panel touching her when he was up.  Mama did not die alone. 

Jim is clearly grieving.  When we left today he looked lost and alone.  He may be a llama, but he is capable of experiencing grief.  I truly believe that.  

People seem to think I am nuts for caring about the sheep the way I do.  Part of me thinks I am a wee bit whacked too.  But I can close my eyes and sleep at night knowing I am comfortable in my own skin. 

I believe the only difference between 'livestock' and 'pets are what we as people project onto them.  Sheep, cows, horses, goats, llamas, birds, rats, all types of animals can be considered livestock, or in different circumstances...pets. 

Am I a fool for caring about my sheep like I do?  Maybe.  But in my opinion, livestock are living, breathing and feeling beings deserving of my utmost care, respect and concern.  I am a steward & a shepherd.  No one animal deserves better care than the next.  

That is my choice, and I can sleep peacefully at night. 

Goodbye sweet Mama.  You were a good teacher.


Ronnii, Uji & Izzy ( & Momma Tea ) said...

Well I certainly don't think our nuts at all. You showed compassion, caring and a whole heap of humanity and I for one salute you for that. I thank you on Mama's behalf for letting her pass with dignity and I thank you for letting Jim be with her, I think that will help him come to terms with her not being around any longer rather than just have her not there without any warning.
I agree that animals grieve, I have seen it in my own.
Kudos to you

Momma Tea & The Trio

Run Free Mama

Mary Ann said...

I'm so sorry for your loss. You are not nuts at all.

Anonymous said...

If your nuts then im nuts cause I agree whole heartedly.

Sara said...

You are so wrong, it's people who treat animals like that or worse who are nuts (if not twisted). Pet, livestock, wild animal--they feel pain, raise families, have emotions and nothing and nobody deserves to be treated like that.

A long time ago, I saw a picketer for something and his sign said: Don't call it humane unless you're willing to do it to humans.

What you did was beautiful.

Billy said...

The photos and text are a beautiful tribute.
We had two Barb wethers who pretty much did the same thing, about 2 years apart. We acquired them as a pair, a few years back in a trade, and did not know how old they were. Didn't matter, they worked well for our dogs for a couple of years, and were "leaders" of the pack much like you describe Mama. One by one, they basically declined much as you describe and showed Mama in her last photo, and they separated themselves from the flock in each case and passed naturally and peacefully. In both cases we considered "putting them down" but like you, it seemed an unnecessary intervention. Maybe it is something about Barbs? ;-) When the first one died, the second one who was "left behind" clearly was lost for a while but he soon teamed up with other wethers in the group. I hope your llama is not too upset over the continuing days...the rest of the flock will be there for him. Peace...

kiwichick said...

I believe all animals deserve respect and what you did was the way it should of been done.
I feel so horrible about the old ram that was treated like a piece of trash with no feelings. At least they could of been quick. I just can't imagine what pain it was in. I work in surgery and you would be put in jail if you operated on anyone without anesthesia.

WhatAmILookingAt said...

Even food animals with no name deserve to die without pain and terror. That is a basic Right of all living feeling beings.

Karen said...

I am so with you on that post.
We lost our old ewe, April, in November. She was 15 1/2.

Shelly said...

If you are crazy for feeling this way, then I'm crazy too! You're in good company. I commend you for following your heart and doing what you know to be right regardless of what others may think! You did good!

Tom Zachman said...

RIP momma

CarolG. said...

You gave her a good end to a full life. You showed kindness and compassion, these are not foolish traits. I am sure if you had had a strong enough need she might have died a bit earlier to be dog food. Instead, you let her end her life in peace and comfort to the best of your ability. May we all be lucky enough to have such endings to our lives.

Original_Wacky said...

As a rancher's daughter, we often had certain cows who became special in this way. I'm so happy that I grew up in a family that cared for each of our animals to the best of our ability. If we needed to end the pain for one, it was done very quickly and with respect. Yes, we butcher animals for food and so on, but always with respect and the least amount of pain and fear possible, and I think that means a lot. So if you're nuts, then so is my family, and I'm proud to say so.

Anonymous said...

The fourth photo with all those sheep butts going down the lane is just awesome!

A. Superfly said...

Thanks for sharing. I have written about this issue, it's "Are Animals Afraid of the Afterlife and Death?" Check it out on

Brianne said...

What a beautiful, sad, and thought-provoking post. I'm sorry for the loss of Mama, but happy that she was able to go in her own time.