A Belated Goodbye to Hattie
A warning that this post is very disjointed. I started it months ago, and couldn't finish it. So some parts read in past tense, and others in present tense. It will be confusing, but I don't have the inkling to fix it, so bear with me. It all should be past tense, just an FYI. The headline is already a spoiler.
I've told you that this was a rough winter, and that emotionally, I had to check out for a while. The veil of grief was clouding my judgement and I wasn't thinking as critically as I normally do. We were throwing everything at our problems, and nothing seemed to be working. Toxemia is a real issue with ewes, especially in winter when maybe their nutrition isn't the best compared to other times of the year. LAST winter, I bought alfalfa, and my sheep all actually got too fat. This is a real thing, it can make lambing difficult and we all know that extra weight isn't good for us. So this winter, I backed off on the alfalfa content, hoping to keep them in good condition. The way our hay bales were stacked, we could unload them only a certain way. Meaning one batch had to be completed before we got to the next. Unfortunately, the first batch seemed to be of lower quality than the stuff that we ended the winter with.
That brings me to Hattie. She gave birth on February 1 to a set of triplets. Days prior to this, I noticed that she wasn't laying down in the barn at night. Thank goodness for me being super psycho about some things, I reviewed camera footage. I have cameras outside and inside the barn. I went back 3 days and she hadn't laid down to rest not one time in 3 entire days. So I started treating her for pregnancy toxemia. This is when the body is using so much energy for the babies, that she isn't getting the nourishment she needs. She can be hitting a ketosis, and harming her own body. So I started treatments for her. Most sheep lay down and can't get back up when they are toxemic. I think she was afraid to lay down that she wouldn't be able to get back up. It took another 3 days of providing her supportive care that she finally laid down.
This is Hattie the morning before she gave birth - eating hay, but refusing to lay down. We had moved her to the nursery stall with the bottle lambs in hopes she would give birth.
We happened to be in the barn working with some lambs when we saw her in labor. We pulled her lambs. The second was presenting incorrectly. I'm glad we were there to help her. And after the babies were out, since it was triplets and she was struggling, we took the smallest one in the house with us to bottle feed. I thought having the babies out would make her feel better.
Maybe it did, but she went back to standing all the time. I continued the same supportive care, and she seemed to start feeling better. During this time, a second of her lambs started coming around every time we brought bottles out for the others. So I would let him drink if he was hungry. Assuming Hattie couldn't keep up milk production, I let him drink as much as he wanted. He still hung out with his mama, but eventually was drinking everything from us. I made the stupid assumption that the third was doing well with mama.
I was very wrong. The third was not OK and either was mama. The third lamb started coming around for bottles, but never really got the hang of it. I assumed if he was truly hungry, he would pull hard from the bottle to fill his belly. I should have been paying closer attention. Most ewes bounce back, even after toxemia, once the lambs are born. But apparently, Hattie was not bouncing back. Her little lamby actually passed away, likely it was not getting fed enough and we hadn't noticed that Hattie wasn't producing enough milk for any of her babies.
She had lost weight from her pregnancy, which became apparent after the babies were born. She had been eating her own wool, leaving her with relatively bare skin, hard to stay warm during this winter. I was supplementing her with grain any chance I could get her some, and eventually I isolated her into a barn stall so she could eat without competition. She had progressively gotten weaker, to the point that she would not approach the hay feeder, because it means bumping into her fellow ewes, and she was so weak, being bumped into could cause her to fall over.
Which eventually happened. So I put her in a barn stall where she could eat to her hearts delight. But she hated being alone. So one day, I let her out, just so she could lay in the sunshine and enjoy it for a bit. But back into the stall again at night.
Eventually, she finally had the strength to get up. Again, she did not want to be alone in that stall. She was able to get up on her own and walk to the hay bale. So I let her. It was a fresh new bale, of think, bright green stuff. She dug right in.
Stupid mistake we may have made as rookies. But look, this is a ewe who is so very thin, that I can almost pick her up by myself. All I want is for her to eat as much as she can. But a new batch of hay that was thick and green, much different than the other batch they had all winter, and it was a lot for her system. She bloated too. Hattie, as a lamb, bloated on me one time when she was about 6 months old. She just fell over on her side, and when I picked her up, she looked like a balloon. Bloat is dangerous and you don't have time to act. I grabbed a piece of irrigation tubing that was nearby, and I tubed her. She burped up huge burps smelling of fermented grass, and all was well. So this time, I did the same. Shannon found some irrigation tubing, and a perfect stick for her mouth (so she didn't bite through the tubing) We had mineral oil on hand because of the lambs, as well as baking soda. So she got some of both. We let her sit until she was a bit more relaxed and moved her back into the barn. This time, she had really worn herself down and she couldn't sit sternally on her own, so we had to prop her up with stuff. I didn't think she would survive the night, but she did.
She's back to being able to sit up properly. She has a very healthy appetite, and she is getting electrolytes in her water. She wants to stand, but all the progress that got her to walking on her own on Saturday was lost when she bloated. She can't stand unaided. She's lost so much weight, and is dehydrated, even though she drank a gallon of sheep gatorade yesterday!
So is this a situation where I should humanely say goodbye instead of dragging her on? She's 9, which is not old to me. If she can't get her weight back on, I can't let her get pregnant again, so what is the point? Is it because I can't say goodbye? I've made the call on our pet dogs so many times, and in the end, the selfless decision is goodbye. Keeping them around is just for you, because you can't bear the thought of life without them. I love Hattie. She was a bottle baby, too. But I feel like I can't let her go down like this. She's eating, she's fighting, she's trying. I feel like I owe her the chance to recover.
Alice was a sheep that had lost a lot of weight during one pregnancy. I tried to work with her to gain it back, but the following pregnancy made it just worse. And I decided to say goodbye. Alice was 6.5 years old when I saw that she could not recover from her pregnancies. She had lost so much weight. Hattie is 9, and I am fighting for her. I wish I knew if this was the right thing. I feel like I am doing this because I can't bear handling another death on this farm this winter. And honestly, I really can't.
Farming is hard. A friend of mine quoted to me yesterday that the burn out rate on small farms like ours is 7 years. I'm turning the corner on 16 years. 16 years. And though I am hardened a bit to butchering - I can harvest poultry, lambs and even pigs with my own hands. Seeing a lamb or a ewe struggle and die just breaks me. Add on top, my big steer isn't feeling well again. He is better today, but yesterday was rough. I can't sleep, panicking that they might die overnight, and that I should be in the barn trying everything to help them. They are my responsibility. They are lives, many of which are brought into this world because of me. I love them all. And I get the irony, seriously I do. They all become food. But I still don't want any one of them to get sick, or to suffer in any way. This winter really took it out of me.
Eventually, I realized it was time to say goodbye. But these goodbyes take time. It's not just a hug and go. You have to have someplace to put the animal, or if you choose to butcher the animal to feed the family or the dogs. The decision isn't the same every time. An animal that has been given drugs is always buried. But an animal that dies from known causes that we know might still be edible sometimes are given to the dogs. Rarely do we eat them. It's emotionally hard. So I had realized that Hattie just wasn't going to get her strength back. I could stand her up, but she couldn't find her balance. One night, I found her asleep with a big wad of grass in her mouth. This wasn't a good sign. But it was the middle of the work week. Not a good excuse, but I decided that weekend, when we had time to love on her and say goodbye, and get the tractor ready to dig a hole - we would put her down. But she didn't make it to the weekend. I found her in the barn stall the next morning already passed. I waited too long.
Hattie was born on the farm in 2014 to Trouble - who was born to Marcia - one of our original ewes. I don't remember why, but she became a bottle lamb. She followed us everywhere. We even took her on the Berthoud Days parade that year. She was so good! Her mama was always friendly ewe, I remember she used to close her eyes and just let me scritch her chin or pet her head. She loved attention. Most of Marcia's line is now gone, but she was a good ewe. Before Hattie fell ill, we realized she was aging and that we needed to keep one of her ewe lambs to keep Marcia's genetics on the farm, so the previous year, we kept her ewe lamb, Angouleme - who had her first lamb this year. In Hattie's 9+ years, she gave us 18 lambs. Marcia had given us 14 by age 11. We still have Angouleme to remember Hattie by (and Trouble, and Marcia).
Hattie ended up as a bottle baby, and even got to go to the Berthoud Day parade in 2014! She was really sweet. We now own proper sheep halters, but she didn't mind wearing this puppy collar.
This Hattie and her second lambing in 2016. She actually had twins, but you can't see the sister in this picture. She made really interesting and colorful babies, this one was Queen Amidala.
In 2017, she dropped this uniquely colored ram lamb.
This was this past winter. She's pregnant with triplets in this photo, covered in snow. It was quite a winter, and my ladies aren't so used to this much snow!
She was a good mama, an it's hard to see her go. We kept her last ewe lamb from 2022, Angouleme, to carry on her genetics, and hopefully, her friendly and calm disposition. Goodnight, Hattie lamb.