Sometime last Friday night our ewe, Ruth, died. Maggie found her when she went out to milk on Saturday morning. We were preparing to head to the farmer's market, so I asked the girls if we could just put our tears in a box and be sad later, since we had many loaves of bread ready to sell. Sleeves rolled up, we headed to Ikenberry's. Philip and the boys stayed home to bury her.
We got Ruth and Naomi a year and a half ago. Ruth was the curious friendly one. Maggie spent weeks making friends with Ruth, giving her alfalfa pellets, til she finally learned to come and eat out of our hand. Those sheep were inseperable. If one wandered over to another field, the other would cry and cry, rushing to find her friend, hence the biblical names. "Where you go, I will go." Naomi was such a skittish thing, but what a good mother. Both of them were.
Raising livestock is a cruel endeavor if you choose to make friends with your animals. Accidents happen, predators come, sickness strikes, and just like us mortal humans, there is no guarantee that any of us will live a long life. Of course, we know that certain animals are being raised for the purpose of eating. But we enjoy the relationship we have with our animals whose purpose is giving milk or eggs or babies. It is heartwarming to call your sheep or goat or dog or cow by name and have them come trotting up to give you a nuzzle. Losing one of those animals hurts. It hurts to lose a valuable animal, a producer of income on the farm. It also hurts to know that Ruth will never come and give us a nudge, asking if we have some treat. We won't get to see her sweetly mother her precious little lambs.
I guess that shoving all those tears aside gave me a terrible headache that day, so after coming home from market, I shed them, took some ibuprofen, and went to bed.
From that point forward, Naomi never stepped foot willingly out of the barn. Or had another bite of grass. Or fed her babies. She looked perfectly healthy, no diarrea, no anemic eyes(which is what happens if there is a parasite overload). No bloating, no injury. She just looked terribly sad. I know, I know, some of you are going to be shaking your heads at me, yes, she is an animal, but herd animals really do grieve. Maggie would try to run her out of the barn to get some grass and sunshine. She wouldn't go. We made hay and water available. She wouldn't eat or drink. She never baah'd or cried. Ignored her babies. Ignored Boaz. This morning when I went out to milk I found her dead.
I had too many chores to do today to feel too sad. I called Philip and asked him to come home from Boy Scout camp and hour and a half away to dig a deep hole. I just didn't have it in me. I am so glad he came. She was buried, with no ceremony, no marker, no prayers. She was a farm animal, not one of our children. Nevertheless, it has made me sad. So now I have time to sit and cry for a minute.
Death on the farm is a great opportunity for all of us to get to practice grieving on a small scale. To learn that some things are worth shedding a tear. That loss hurts. That we sometimes need to stop and allow ourselves a moment to be sad. I will miss Ruth and Naomi.
".....a time to weep..." Ecclesiastes 3:4a