- Kristin Ramey
I have a moment to catch up... and process some grief
I was looking through photos today and a wave of sadness hit me. Wix recently added a 500MB limit to storage here, so I had to clean up my site files here and remove some duplicate photos and delete some old versions of my website. BYE history!!
In the process, I saw plenty of photos of Moose and Hercules. Those two died JUST before I started my new job at Ball in 2021. I think I said goodbye to Herc in the midst of COVID fun, just days before starting that job, which did not give me time or space to process that grief. I still feel like I'll never understand losing my boy like that. My home and heart is full with 6 other puppers right now, but losing Herc at 6 years old was just an injustice I may never forgive the universe for.
That was sort of the beginning of my emotional shut down. So it's been 2 years. And every piece of grief takes me back to Herc. That's not to say the losing Moose didn't gut me, but he was 12 and his time was due. For our big big dogs, 10-12 is what we can expect out of them. So yes, I loved my Moose and I miss him daily, he was just a great companion dog. But Herc is the grief I haven't been able to process.
So 2 nights ago, we inadvertently locked all the dogs in the house all night. Larry's GSD can be hard to manage. If she has too much unsupervised time, she ends up in the front yard. It's a disaster waiting to happen - a delivery driver shows up while she's there? We know what Skadi is capable of. Larry fixed the spot she squeezes under once, but we need to do it again. So the dog door was closed to keep Skadi in. Then all the dogs came inside for dinner. I went to bed early as I have been overly exhausted lately. And everyone ended up in bed, with the dog door shut. It was cold, and we had previously shuffled all the meat chickens under their tent, and put a blanket over the end to ensure they stayed warm.
So in the morning, Larry noticed the blanket had blown off and asked me to check on them. He lost 7 one night when the blanket fell on them and they suffocated. But the blanket wasn't a problem. Some predator had gotten in and most of them were gone. The ones that weren't gone were for sure dead. Many missing heads, but all dead. So the bodies that were left were given to the dogs as food. Why waste them?
But it hit me again, like a ton of bricks. Loss. Grief. And what I buried. Literally and figuratively.
We had a LONG LONG winter. It started with losing Roja - a cow we had bought that was potentially pregnant. With the cold weather and the tractor not wanting to start - we had a day we could not get hay out. We fed the sheep some brewers grain (which at the time, had to all be dumped out the night we picked it up, or it would freeze in the barrels). So this meant there was not a lot of hay for the animals, but plenty of grain. My sheep can handle that, but Roja didn't grow up with this access to brewers grain. It caused her to bloat and she died in the barn. 100% preventable. She ended up as dog food, too.
That was how our winter started. And it went downhill from there. My heart reacted by making some really really dumb decisions.
Since I have buried this, I may have to look at my sheep spreadsheet to try and remember. But we lambed starting in November through just last week. The majority were born in January. Along the way, I was also buying lambs from outside the farm. Some older dorper lambs to put the Dorper genetics back into my flock. And lots of bottle babies, because I WUV them!
However, we were losing lambs to bloat in record numbers. I don't remember who went first, but I think it was Caraway, Cardamom's brother. I had to watch camera footage to see him struggling through the night, kicking at his stomach. not able to lay down because he hurt, until there was a seizure and then death.
One night, it was the night of Shannon's high school orientation. I was watching the barn camera during orientation (I get bored easily) and everyone was fine. In the 15 minutes it took to drive home (while I wasn't watching the cameras) Fennel blew up like a balloon and passed away. When we went out to the barn to try and revive him - Cardamom and Tina also blew up. We saved Cardamom. But we lost Tina. and Shannon and I were shattered. I couldn't process it.
So how did I respond to losing Tina? I bought more bottle babies.
There were 2 I am convinced never had colostrum and we lost them almost immediately. There is nothing I can do to resolve the lack of colostrum.
We ended up with a permanent lamb space next to my bed, with a jug of baking soda water, and other things to treat bloat. Cardamom and Dilly Bean came into the house often to recover. We saved them several times.
Cardamom is still with us - his growth is very stunted, and at 3 months he's closer to the size of a 3 week old lamb. I think he may remain stunted.
I don't want to list all the lambs we lost. Except for one. And this one is the one that sent me into a full blown winter depression. I don't even want to type it.
He was a triplet and his name was Sassafras. We were there when he was born. To Hattie. Hattie had bad pregnancy toxemia, from which she never recovered. Sassy was so small that we immediately brought him into the house. If it weren't for Skadi being a complete psychopath when lambs are in the house, I think Sass would still be inside. He was so very tiny. I made him a sweater! Since Hattie was struggling, we put Sass on the bottle. Eventually, one of Hattie's other lambs kept coming over to check out the bottles, so Kaffir (also known as Spider Monkey) also joined the milk bottle brigade. Hattie wasn't producing milk, but I couldn't get her other lamb on the bottle and he eventually expired, as did Hattie, which was another really tough blow.
So having Sassafras was a comfort. When the weather got too cold I'd bring him in. Sometimes I would go outside and just hold him for a while because he was so tiny and I loved him so much.
But one morning, I went out to the barn and he didn't come out for milk. I found him in the barn, curled up like he never woke up from sleeping. No signs of struggle, no signs of pain. He just didn't wake up. He was on the heat pad, so he didn't get too cold. I'll never know. And I'll never understand why the universe took him from me. Most of our lambs were bloating - from what we thought was a bad batch of milk.
Fast forward, and I stupidly bring home two more bottle babies. And the wind is SOOOO bad one day, that two of my bottle babies just seem cold. So we bring them inside to warm up. I thought one would expire overnight, he was so uncomfortable. The other was Poppy, a very cute orphaned lamb.
I was spending the very next day at CSU all day, so I decided to take them with me and drop them at the emergency vet. I KNEW that it would cost more money than either of them was worth - but after Roja, Tina, Sassy and Hattie (almost a dozen lambs in total!) my heart could not NOT NOT NOT bear another death on the farm, and NOT POPPY. I was planning to keep her. Just as I was with Tina. So I didn't care the cost.
I won't go into all the details but it was a long 3 DAYS at the vet for Poppy. Peppermint had a seizure and died before they could even get an IV into him. He was definitely hypothermic. He spend the entire night on a heat pad, but it wasn't enough. We lost him.
So when they asked what we wanted to do with Poppy, I said give her the WORKS, I don't care about the cost, save my POPPY. So we did. And she's back home now.
What we learned was that we thought the lambs were bloating from over eating. So we were being really careful to not let them eat too fast or too much. However, we never would have known this if it weren't for CSU. We were mixing their milk too thin. I believe I read the instructions and was mixing it correctly from the start. But as time went on, we started mixing it thinner and thinner. This actually causes bloating - as the lamb tummy doesn't have enough milk to digest properly, the milk that is in there then has so much space and time for bacteria to overproduce - causing them to bloat and die. We thought it was a bad batch of milk, but it was US! WE WERE DOING IT!
So I never had to lose all those lambs. It was a hard and expensive lesson to learn. And REALLY wants me to buy a milking machine for our bottle lambs. I'm still contemplating it for next year. But we got to save Poppy and I am working so hard with her to keep her healthy and happy.
Winter is behind us, hopefully losing lambs is behind us. And then to come out yesterday morning to 100% of my meat chicken flock being dead. No, I am not processing grief very well. And instead of processing Tina and Sassafras and all the lambs - and even Hattie. My heart goes back to Herc. Somehow, in order to process this tough winter on the farm, I need to go back 2 years and really grieve my boy. My Herc.