Monday, April 5, 2010

Larkie gone

Larkie, our mentally challenged sheep, went to the butchers yesterday. This was unplanned, but long overdue. As I've mentioned before, we bought our original founding herd of six from a rather silly suburban-type couple who lived about forty miles north of here, the wife of which was very sentimental and extracted a promise from us that we wouldn't butcher any of the six. These were Abraram, Tillie, Tootsie, Jewel, Molly, and Lark, for which we paid $500, including some tack.

Lark was the cull, but it was all or nothing, so we took her too. Lark at the time was underweight by about one-third, but already mature in facial structure. She was neglected, and carried a three-year's fleece that had gone moldy. No lie. Green mold all along her back. She'd had a bout with white muscle disease and to boot was obviously not playing with a full deck. For the first few years we had her, this manifested itself in her getting filthy any chance she got. She was a truly dirty sheep, the only white black sheep of the family. She put on weight, however, under proper care and within a year and a half was as large as any other of our ewes.

But she never gave birth to a live lamb or lamb that lived. Motherhood or at least pregnancy just seemed to confuse her. Both times she was pregnant, she either gave birth and just wandered off or had a stillborn lamb. The first time we weren't sure because we weren't there to see what she did. Second time, I was right there.

I probably did some damage to her when I had my too-large hand inside her for well over a minute the other day after she gave birth to that stillborn lamb and I was looking to see if there was another. She got a small vaginal prolapse, treatable, but not in her case worth the trouble since there would never be another lamb, and I suppose that was the excuse I was waiting for.

I have learned that sentimentality has no place managing sheep and in fact just leads to more pain and distress for the animals. In this case, the whole herd will be better off and more economical without Larkie. Eventually, I want to have only breeding ewes on the farm, and buy in only baby rams, and those every two years or so, for two reasons, to keep bringing in a fresh male and thus genetic diversity, and to reduce the possibility of ram-related violence. Having only breeding ewes, no retirees, will facilitate this plan.

This cloud has another silver lining too -- there will be enough meat in the freezer this year that I won't need to raise a lamb for myself. Our two males can be sold and we already have a buyer. That full freezer means too, that I can take a one-third share in one of our porkers this year, not take a whole pig as I normally do.

But I do feel a little sorry for Lark. The butchers is a slower death than if I slaughter them here, and involves an 18-mile drive and a night in the pen alone, which for a sheep, a herd animal, is probably terrifying. Andy, our butcher, is a very decent and gentle fellow, and I'm sure she won't feel any pain. But there is that delay and the mental stress.

Still (I thought as I drove back), and thinking of other animal and human deaths I have known, there are worse ways to go. And she had a good life that in ordinary circumstances would not have lasted as long as it did.

Here she is as she was when she first came. You can see that filthy three-year fleece, with just a hint of green.

I couldn't believe it when the woolen mill took that fleece. But they did.


  1. seems like the right choice to me. and by butchering her, although a longer process as you say, it means her death wont be a waste.

  2. I can and usually do butcher them myself too, whenever I slaughter them myself. I hang them from the tractor bucket, skin and quarter them and then cut them up into joints etc, on the kitchen table. The meat is then wrapped, labeled and frozen. But the wrapping systems Andy uses, with vacuum sealed plastic and an industrial meat grinder for sausage and ground (minced) lamb, are way better than mine and the meat lasts twice as long in the freezer. For the price, $50 or about £35, it's a real money saving bargain. He'll also put some pork fat in the sausage.


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