There’s something comforting about howling winds and driven snow, if you’re inside a cozy warm house looking out at the weather. There’s something pleasing about the abrupt suspension of normal activity by forces beyond your control, if you know it’s just a punctuation mark in a life that will resume its flow.
If I had any doubt that I should simply savor this slightly inconvenient March snowstorm, I have the example of the people of Mariupol and other besieged Ukrainian cities to dispel that doubt. They cannot revel in the last of winter’s cold, if they have no heat in which to take refuge from it. They cannot relax into the sudden and unanticipated break from their normal life, if they have no assurance of ever returning to it. I know, in a matter of days and with certainty, that spring will resume its inexorable march forward on the farm. They, in contrast, can rely on no certain delivery from the dangers and discomforts besetting them.
By preventing me from carrying out the tree trimming and blackberry thinning I had planned for the day, the storm has served as an opportunity for me to take stock, and especially to appreciate my great good fortune.
It has been a somewhat tough week on the farm. I was happy at first that warm weather last weekend had melted away the snow on the pasture. I was afraid the snow would keep a truck from getting to the barn to take lambs to market. What I had not reckoned with was the mud that replaced the snow, which nearly swallowed the truck’s wheels as it tried to cross the pasture. Luckily, I had the help of two friends (thanks again, Steve and Tom!) to help corral, push and pull the lambs out to the street where the truck ended up having to park. I may think of myself as farming on my own, but without the good fortune of friends willing to step up and assist, I’d be at a loss.
The day after market day one of our older ewes suddenly sat down, and would not get up. At first I thought it was a prelude to labor, but twelve hours later she was still in the same place. I sent a picture of her to the vet, Gillian Ferguson, who could immediately tell from the picture that the ewe did not look well. At her direction, I checked the ewe’s eyes for anemia (ok), took her temperature (normal), looked at her hooves for foot rot (not). It would require a visit to ascertain what was wrong.
I have always been impressed by the particular skills of veterinarians, wondering at their ability to diagnose patients that cannot articulate what’s wrong with them. It takes a special kind of empathy and an acute observation of clues to which most of us would be oblivious. In Gillian’s case, I’ve been aware for some time of her superior level of attentiveness, especially when it comes to sheep welfare. Several months ago I wrote about my inability to find Ivermectin to de-worm my sheep, thanks to all the nudniks who wanted to use it to prevent or treat human COVID-19, and of my use of another de-worming agent, Albendazole, instead. In the same bulletin, I mentioned that a little ramling, one I had failed to castrate, was beginning to mount all the ewes.
Within hours of sending out the bulletin, I heard from Gillian, who had read it and put two and two together. She warned me that Albendazole was dangerous to sheep early in pregnancy, because it was associated with birth defects in lambs. She offered me a another substitute de-worming agent, one without such drawbacks. Ewe 45 (Lale), one of the three or four I had been trying to deworm, recently gave birth to a very health little ewe (name of Iki), cute as a button and certainly not deformed. I credit Gillian’s attention for that.
This week, I accompanied Gillian to the barn and watched her examine the sick ewe. There was something reassuring as she listened to her heart beat through a stethoscope, carefully palpated over her body, and determined that the ewe was carrying at least two, and possibly three fetuses, though likely a few weeks away from giving birth. The diagnosis was pregnancy toxemia, for which we had not very good choices. The fetuses, if alive, were almost certainly not viable yet, and the risk of limping the mother along until they were viable, given the strain on her right now from the pregnancy, was huge. We opted instead to try to abort the fetuses to save the mother (thank God the farm is not in Texas).
Gillian gave her a steroid injection that would likely cause her to go into labor in 36 to 48 hours, as well as administering vitamin B12 and drenching her with calcium salts to counteract the effects on her body of the toxemia. I had to administer the supplements by injection and oral drenching every 12 hours thereafter. These all had their desired effects — the ewe was up and about by the next day, and on the second day you could see her beginning to expel the placenta. Sadly, though, the effort to give birth seemed to rupture her uterus, a risk Gillian had warned of for a ewe in her condition, and the ewe died.
Sad as the outcome was, I was still, as I dug the grave yesterday, grateful. Grateful to Gillian for helping me to navigate the situation, and for giving the ewe a couple of good last days and a chance at survival. Grateful that I live somewhere that a medical professional could do her work without a hostile army impeding her access. And grateful even that I could dig a grave without fear of incoming fire, to lay her to rest in peace. In our world, not everyone enjoys such good fortune.
WHAT’S AVAILABLE THIS WEEK:
EGGS: $5/doz Plentiful, spring light has arrived, if not spring.
LAMB COMING: Finally a date at the slaughterhouse. They go to market March 8. If you’ve expressed an interest in lamb, it will be ready frozen the second to third week in March, and I’ll be sending you a cut sheet. For you others, there will be cuts of lamb available then.
Email us your order at firstname.lastname@example.org, and let us know when you’d like to pick up your order. It will be put out for you on the side screened porch of the farmhouse (110 Lasher Ave., Germantown) in a bag. You can leave cash or a check in the now famous pineapple on the porch table. Because I’m now here full time, we’re abandoning regular pick-up times. Let us know when you want your order any day between 10 and 5, and unless there are unusual circumstances we’ll be able to ready it to your convenience. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to call or text at 917-544-6464 or email.
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