To lose an animal will always be a trial for me. I have loved and cared for that animal. Planned their future, tried to make them happy. And then all those hours, thoughts, dreams, and dollars seem wasted.
Over the years of farming, I have lost many animals. Some were kids that never even got the chance to take their first breath. Mothers have died and taken their unborn with them. A favorite buck dies suddenly with no warning. A gentle calf was never given the chance to run and jump for joy. A beloved doeling, with all the potential in the world, dead. And the list goes on. And it hurts every time. I would ask myself if there had been anything more I could have done for them. Sometimes the answer was yes, and that is always when it hurt the most, because I felt like I had let them down somehow.
Had all the hours of stress and vet bills, trying desperately to bring that animal back from the brink of death, been wasted? Did their life have any purpose?
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
As hard as it may be to see at the time, their lives, all of them, did have a purpose. It’s my responsibility to make the most use out of their deaths, because I know that God is working even that out for my good. I need to learn as much as possible from their deaths, so that maybe next time the outcome can be different. Sometimes that has meant improving management, or nutrition. Or keeping certain medications on hand and removing hazards from their pastures. Maybe the only thing I got out of a death is to just spend more time in the barn and never take their lives for granted.
Whatever it is, I know I can trust God that their lives were not wasted.
Shearing Jacob sheep is always an exciting part of each year. We get to see how each animal has faired over the winter months, see who looks like they are bred, and get LOTS of new wool to work with over the rest of the year.
The sheep must stay completely dry a few days before they are shorn to get a quality fleece.
When you shear the sheep, you want to do it with the least stress on the animal and you. That means that you don’t want to be wrestling with the sheep, so it is really important to hold the sheep in a way that it feels comfortable and does not struggle.
After the sheep are sheared, they must stay warm and dry until their metabolism adjusts to not having a fleece to keep them warm.
Herding and Management
The sheep’s predators and protection: Domesticated sheep are rather helpless because for many years they have been bred to depend upon humans. Because sheep were some of the first animals to be domesticated, they need constant care and attention. They are less vulnerable with a guardian animal, such as a dog, llama, or donkey. When a predator appears, the sheep will run because their only protection is in their speed. If in a corral, they might smother each other in their madness to get away. In southern North America, their main predator is the coyote but other predators include stray dogs, foxes, bobcats, and eagles. Sometimes sheep will simply wander away from the shepherd and be killed by a predator. Most of the time, a shepherd’s whole livelihood comes from his sheep.
Orphans: Orphan lambs, or “bum lambs” as they are often called, can be bottle fed but that is a time-consuming business. What would be best for you and the lamb would be to have a ewe who’s lamb has died take care of it. A ewe knows her lamb by its scent, so a shepherd may sprinkle perfumed powder on the ewe and lamb, until she adopts it. Another way to trick a ewe into taking an orphaned lamb is to skin her dead lamb and place the pelt on the orphan. You should be careful when working with orphans though, because if the ewe does not accept the lamb she might trample it!
Homing and flocking: Sheep have a strong homing instinct which means that they will return to the farm that is their home, following those who know the way. They also have flocking instinct, which means they stay in a tight herd, and if one sheep runs: they all do! This can be helpful (or not helpful) if you are a shepherd.
Sheep, as a job: Shepherding is one of the hardest jobs you can have because it takes a lot of time. The shepherd is with the sheep all the time day and night. You don’t just work eight hours a day and then stop! It is also hard because sheep are so helpless. Yet, keeping sheep is rewarding: most of the time, a shepherd’s whole livelihood comes from his sheep. Take care of the sheep and they will take care of you.
The Good Shepherd: In the Bible, Jesus in sometimes described as the Good Shepherd, and Christians as His sheep. We do truly have many similarities to sheep, such as helplessness and wandering away from the Shepherd. One of the most famous passages in the Bible is written by David Psalm 23 states “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” In this psalm, David is speaking as a sheep and calling God the Shepherd. Learning about sheep helps you to learn about yourself.
Written by Violet Thorne