The Not So Good Shepherd

Managing sheep, particularly when out watching them graze, is wonderful fodder for prayer about the “Good Shepherd.” Just a couple of weeks ago, after bringing the sheep in to the fold from the pasture, we seemed a few lambs short. I took Homeschooled Farm Girl and Scooter the Amazing Wonderdog back out in the high weeds for a second look — and located the lambs which had become disoriented and left behind.

But every shepherding story doesn’t have such a happy ending. Regular blog readers know we had a bumper crop of lambs born this year; the eight ewes had 16 live births. Tabasco, our occasionally hyperactive Red Healer, killed one of those lambs when it was a week old, but we hadn’t had any other deaths.

Alas, that record was not to stand. With this many lambs, we were due for some kind of disappointment. A few days ago, I noticed that the youngest and smallest lamb was beginning to act a bit lethargic and to hang back from the rest of the flock. I immediately administered an apple cider vinegar drench, which is a nice overall tonic. He would still get up and walk just fine, but I quickly discovered the root of his lethargy problem: he was getting crowded out at the hay feeders. And he was a little too small to reach the drinking water in the stock tank once the level had gone down — and ditto for the mineral in the mineral bucket.

Over the next couple of days, I kept close tabs on him and tried to make sure he got better nutrition…but the damage had apparently been done. Once a lamb gets beyond a certain point, it’s sometimes difficult to get their health built back up again to where they can hold their own with the flock. Saturday afternoon, he was still making an effort to eat — but by Saturday night it was clear he wasn’t going to make it. He’d crawled into a corner, put his head down, and begun breathing heavily.

As the rest of the flock enjoyed a late evening snack of hay, I took the little lamb in my arms and sat down to comfort him. I’d seen this more times than I care to count, and knew he was now in the death spiral. I talked soothingly to him, rubbed his back and stomach, and tried to find a position that would let him breathe a little easier. Most of all, I told him I was sorry I couldn’t have done more for him.

But I couldn’t bear to put a bullet in his head. I save that action for the most severely injured livestock. For a sick lamb, I hold out hope to the very end that he might get a good night’s sleep, or that his immune system will kick in, or that he’ll find a hidden reserve. So I made him comfortable in his corner of the barn, locked everything up, and called it a night.

Not surprisingly, Sunday morning, he was exactly where I’d left him. As the rest of the flock got busy eating, I found an old paper feed bag and managed to slide his stiffened body into it for disposal. (With the heat this week, I didn’t want to just throw the body into the trash can without something around it to help contain the smell. And I certainly didn’t want to leave his body in the hedgerow, where it might attract predators like the fox I’d just spooked off.)

In a thoroughly melancholy frame of mind, I went about the rest of my morning chores. It always bothers me when I can’t save one of our animals, especially one as innocent as a little lamb. I suppose I ought to be used to it by now, but it still gets to me. And that gave me an awful lot to think about for the whole rest of the day.

Don’t Mess with the Goose

We’re down to two geese, and both of them are a few years old. We got some eggs from them this spring, but they’ve stopped laying for the year. For various reasons (especially that we still have several geese in the freezer), we decided not to raise any this year. Older geese are tough as shoe leather, so I’ve been thinking about butchering them and boiling them for 24 hours to make soup.

One thing I love about geese: they can be tough as shoe leather even when they’re still alive. Last night, both of them remained outside the barn when I locked up and secured all the other animals. “Suit yourselves,” I muttered, looking at the two of them sitting stubbornly in the chicken/sheep enclosure behind the barn. I went in the house and went to bed.

Not three minutes after my head hit the pillow, I heard one of the geese making a terrific racket. It was definitely a fighting noise, and so loud it traveled all the way across our property. I thought for a moment, and then threw on some clothes, grabbed a high powered flashlight, and ran to the barn.

One goose was still in the enclosure, looking as indignant as a goose can look, and the other one had flown over the fence into the pasture. Whipping the light around a bit more, I found the perp: a fox was slipping through the fence and slinking out into the hay field. Kicking myself for not having taken the shotgun from our bedroom closet on my way down, I ran to my office for the backup 12-gauge I keep there.

By the time I loaded the shotgun and circled the barn, the fox was about halfway across the hay field. He turned and looked at me, his eyes lighting up in the night and making him an easy target — if only I had a way to keep the huge spotlight on him while handling a shotgun. [Note to self: Next shotgun must be one with a mount for a tactical light.] Necessity being the mother of invention, I wedged the spotlight between my legs and managed to get it trained on the fox — who was now beginning to trot across the hay field again.

I figured he was about out of range, especially in the questionable lighting conditions, but it was still worth teaching him a lesson. I drew the 12 gauge to my shoulder, pointed in his direction, and squeezed the trigger. The ROAR it made was very satisfying, and I loved the way the blast echoed off the stands of trees and bushes ringing our field. A moment later, I heard something (presumably the fox) crashing through that brush at high speed.

I made my way back to the barn, and discovered a trail of feathers where the goose had made her stand and fought off the attacker. I managed to get both geese in to the barn and the door re-secured, and put the shotgun away. At the very worst, I (and the goose) hopefully gave the fox a scare he won’t forget. At best, I hopefully managed to pepper his tail. Either way, I doubt he’ll be coming back again any time soon.

Goat Updates

Time has been flying here, with the new farm keeping us busy. Fortunately, as the children are getting older they’re becoming much more helpful in the garden and with the animals.

Hard to believe that Queen Anne’s Lace (QAL) the Goat’s kids are now three weeks old. The twin boys are doing very well, and we’ve recently moved them and QAL back in with the rest of the herd. She’s endowed with incredibly large teats, which are a mixed blessing. She’s extremely easy to milk, as the things are like sausages — unlike the tiny little things on some other goats that you can barely get two fingers around. But that convenience comes at a price; the teats are so big around, and hang down so low, newborn kids simply cannot get down low enough to reach them — or even get one into their mouth without assistance.

Homeschooled Farm Girl to the rescue! Several times a day, she went to the kidding pen and made sure both little kids got latched on and nursed out plenty of milk. Then, after a couple of weeks, I noticed that the kids were figuring it out on their own. HFG continued to double-check the kids, but they’re now at the point where they don’t need any help.

Meanwhile, I wish we could say the same about Biscuits the Goat Kid. As you recall, he’d been rejected by his mother — and then developed pneumonia, which occupied us for the better part of a weekend and ran up a vet bill basically equal to what he’s worth in meat. He did survive the pneumonia, but we’ve been paying closer attention to him — and drawing some unsettling conclusions.

The bottom line is this: Biscuits is S-T-U-P-I-D.

How stupid? He cannot learn how to drink water from a bucket. Oh, we’ve tried. HFG has tried. You put his face near the water, lift some water up to his lips to demonstrate what’s in the bucket…and then he shakes his head and pulls away. You put his mouth down into the water, and he just stands there like a statue. You put more of his mouth into the water, and then he snorts like crazy and shakes his way free so he can breathe. The only way he will drink is out of a bottle with a nipple. As a result, HFG has had to go out a few times a day and give him several bottles full of water. Couldn’t we simply let him get really thirsty, so he’d have to learn how to drink? Unfortunately, that’s how he got pneumonia. He’s so stupid (or his mouth is so malformed), he never figured it out; the pneumonia came, we think, from his getting dehydrated and weakened.

A local farmer who raises dairy goats mentioned that mother goats often reject kids that have some inherent defect. Even if that defect may not be obvious to human eyes, the mother goat just seems to “know” that a particular kid ought to be weeded from the gene pool. The more MYF and I observe Biscuits, the smarter his mother appears. And we’re starting to wonder if perhaps Bianca the sheep (AKA “BianKKKa”) knew what she was doing in rejecting one of her lambs two years in a row — the one we saved and bottle-fed last year has yet to really develop fully, has a lousy set of horns, and did not even bear a lamb this year; we’re going to cull and butcher that one when we take this year’s lambs in.

In the meantime, HFG is clearly getting frustrated with Biscuits, because we’ve told her she must keep giving him water so we don’t lose all that meat. Last night at dinner, out of the blue, sweet and innocent HFG asked, “When are we going to take Biscuits to have his brains bashed in?” As MYF and I reprimanded HFG for the inappropriate language and tone, it was all I could do to keep from doubling over and laughing at these completely unexpected words.

Answer: Soon, Honey. Hopefully real soon.

Slipping Away

Mrs. Yeoman Farmer (MYF) had quite an eye-opening adventure yesterday: trying to locate an adjustable slip that nine-year-old Homeschooled Farm Girl (HFG) could wear under her new dresses. We’re not talking anything fancy here. Most of HFG’s dresses are of the “everyday” variety, but we consider them a bit too thin to wear modestly without a slip.

MYF had never seen slips at the “superstores” she shops at most: Wal-Mart, Meijer, etc. Those are great places to get Junior Slut In Training outfits, but we rarely get any clothing there other than underwear, socks, and jeans for the boys. So, MYF called her aunt (BTW, in the black community it’s pronounced “ONT,” something I will never get used to saying) and asked for advice. Aunt Rita suggested Sears or J.C. Penney’s; as MYF recalled her own mother buying slips at Sears when she was a girl, she decided to try that one first.

Uh, uh…sorry. Bad move. The children’s department had zip, zero, nada — but the clerk was kind enough to suggest MYF try a ballet studio. Using her cell phone and the store’s phone book, MYF called J.C. Penney’s, and both ballet studios in town. Nobody had anything. Just as MYF was snapping her phone shut, a nice older woman emerged from the bathroom. “I overheard you earlier. What you’re looking for is a dinosaur,” she said, sadly.

Undaunted, MYF decided to pursue another line of attack: based on the advice of a ballet studio clerk, she phoned the two bridal shops in town. Surely a bridal shop would have a slip that a Flower Girl could wear at a wedding, right? Nope. But the woman at one of the shops was kind enough to flip through all of her catalogues, seeing what could be ordered. But nothing sounded like it would work.

Frustrated but not defeated, MYF and the kids finally left Jackson and made their way to Ann Arbor to visit Grandma in the nursing home. Surely the big, upscale department stores like Macy’s would have something, right? Not a chance. One of them said they could order something, but it wasn’t the right size and the straps didn’t adjust. At least MYF was doing this by phone, from the nursing home, and not driving all over town.

When she arrived home (quite late) yesterday evening and shared this sad tale of woe, I suggested she turn to the Internet. Her first move was to Google the words “Girls Slip” or “girls slip lingerie” or some such thing. Uhm…bad move. Most of the sites that came up were pretty unmentionable, and reminded me of the time I Googled the term “Vietnamese girls” while researching my novel. I suggested she refine her search, and then she finally got some usable results. With a bit of comparison shopping, she found the best source: an outlet/closeout place called Boscovs. But given that these are closeouts, MYF thought it would be wise to order three slips: one in HFG’s current size, and one each in the next two larger sizes.

But you know what? It shouldn’t be this difficult to find modest clothing for little homeschooled farm girls. And it’s a crying shame that you can’t find anything modest in retail stores.

Latest Review

Catholic writer and editor Regina Doman, author of several novels and other books (including the bestselling Angel in the Waters), has posted an excellent review of my novel, Passport. In part:

It’s a great read whose message doesn’t obscure the page-turning romance, a story that will have a special resonance with Catholic men, especially dads.

On the first page of the book, Stan Eigenbauer, vintage car specialist and comfortable Catholic, meets the girl of his dreams — or so he hopes. Trinh Le is a gifted photographer, an immigrant from Vietnam, luminous and fragile — and already married and separated from her
sinister husband. The tangling of their lives and a fateful choice throws Stan into a heart-wrenching moral dilemma with tragic consequences. But Stan decides to make a heroic choice and shoulder a burden most men would want to leave behind.

Stan’s saga is one my husband and I thoroughly enjoyed, and we’re happy to recommend this book. For those of you on the lookout for emerging Catholic genre fiction, you will want to check out this book.

I owe a deep debt of gratitude to Regina and her husband, Andrew. In the months before Passport was published, I sent them an Advance Reading Copy of the book. The two of them finished it in a matter of days, and liked it very much, but had several excellent suggestions for improving it. We stayed up late one night in mid-March, talking through what they liked and what could be enhanced. Although the basic story and conflict of the novel remained the same, their suggestions helped significantly improve the execution.

Catholic Media Review

Catholic Media Review is up with a review of my novel. It’s a cross-post of an earlier review that Ellen Gable Hrkach originally had up on the Catholic Fire blog. For those who missed it the first time around, here are the relevant exerpts:

Passport illustrates the growth of a man who strives to do the right thing, and shows that the struggle to live chastity does not end with marriage; it is simply lived out in a different way. Stan eventually comes to the realization that only in dying to ourselves can we truly love others and find meaningful happiness. It was a joy to read such an uplifting story in this day and age where self-centeredness is the norm.

I most strongly recommend Passport to Catholics in their twenties and thirties, although all people would find the story interesting. There are some romantic elements in the book but this is decidedly not a romance novel in any traditional sense. As a woman, I enjoyed reading a story from a man’s perspective, especially the inner workings of a man’s mind regarding chastity and natural family planning.

I would highly recommend Passport as it is easy to read, well-written and the characters are rich and well-developed. Blunt’s portrayal of family life is especially real, down to earth and believable.