She gave it her very best shot, but she didn’t quite make it.
A couple of months ago, I put up a post about our oldest ewe, Licorice. She turned twelve this spring, which is quite old for a sheep. Despite her wavering health, we were hoping she’d make it through to fall butchering. The plan was to take her in with the lambs, the first week of November or so.
Unfortunately, she came up about six weeks short. This afternoon was the end of the line.
She’d seemed to have been holding her own until very recently – which is pretty surprising, given the effects age was having on her. She’d gone almost completely blind, and was finding her food by smell and feel. However, there was an even bigger problem (and one we didn’t fully appreciate at the time of the previous post): she had lost all her teeth. Every single one. I don’t know how she was managing to chew the grain we gave her, or the windfall apples she enjoyed so much.
We’d never had a sheep lose all her teeth to old age, so this was new territory for us. It’s something we’re going to need to be keeping a close eye on with our next-oldest sheep, Pachelbelle. She’s now the last remaining animal we brought with us in the “Noah’s Ark on Wheels” from Illinois at the end of 2007; she was born in the spring of that year, so made the trip as a lamb. I think we’ll let her go one more winter, at the most. It’s looking like letting these sheep go all the way to twelve is just asking for trouble.
Back to Licorice: this morning, she was very unsteady on her feet. The rest of the flock was actually starting to trample her. I managed to get her up, and lead her out to the back yard, but it was clear she didn’t have the energy or fight left to keep going much longer. I made her comfortable under the apple tree, with some grain and a water bucket. She did gladly eat the grain, and took some water. Later, she even got on her feet and walked around a bit. The Yeoman Farm Children cut up an apple for her, and fed it to her in pieces.
Thinking about her toothless mouth, I suggested we try feeding applesauce. That was a flop. She didn’t like it.
As the afternoon wore on, we got busy with other things. At around 3:30 or so, one of the kids found me and reported that it looked like Licorice had died. I jogged out to the apple tree, and confirmed it.
This evening, a couple of the kids helped me dig a grave for her out in the pasture. As the sun settled on the horizon, we brought her back out through the barn, and through the pasture gate, and into the pasture one last time. Then, at the graveside, immediately before laying her to rest, we used a saw to remove her horns. These we will dry, and keep as a reminder until we eventually sell them on Etsy.
You’ll notice that one of the horns is slightly longer than the other. That’s because, several years back, one of the horns was growing in a dangerous direction and threatening her eye. We used a set of bolt cutters to trim that a bit, and the two sides were never again the same.
It was of course sad to lose our oldest sheep, and one of the final remaining ties to our original farm. I’ll say this, though: at least we saw it coming, and weren’t surprised. And I’m especially glad we were able to give her one last beautiful, sunny, almost-fall day with the family, under the apple tree in the back yard.
I don’t know if there’s a Rainbow Bridge for livestock, but if there is … I hope she crossed it. And is enjoying a grassy orchard of apple trees on the other side tonight.