We were walking in the rain. We walk every morning whether it is raining or foggy or cold or clear. Rain in the Oregon Coast Range is often what I would call an English mist. Today we were walking in an English mist.
We walk to keep fit, to chase away osteoporosis, to clear the brain for the day, to chatter about whatever comes to mind – books, families, community, gossip, even weather. We also, or maybe here I should say “I”, walk for the dogs. Patches and Cisco live to walk. You can tell it in the way they yelp when I grab the keys to the truck or my walking buddies arrive at the front door. It is a yelp of excitement: “You’re here! Yippee! Let’s go! Hurry up!” These are happy dogs.
I have never quite understood this level of excitement. It would make sense if the dogs were kept inside every day, but these dogs have their own dog door. They can come and go as they please. They can eat sheep poop in the orchard, chase chipmunks hiding in the raspberry bushes, surreptitiously herd sheep, run down the driveway to bark at passing cars on the gravel road – mostly all without being scolded. But, look like you might be going out for a walk and our dogs start to bounce around, underfoot, at the door, pleading and whining, “Me too; me too!”
When we walk in the woods, it is not like the “walkies” of that funny English lady on TV years ago. It’s the off-the-leash walks up the logging roads, some recently rocked to keep the trucks from sinking in the mud; others left unused and starting to cover with soft grasses and fallen pine needles. This day, we chose a logging road with more tender footing and no trucks. We call it the ‘Graveyard’ road because the locals have the bad habit of dumping fresh carcasses of game they have killed, either legally or illegally. There are bones everywhere. Archaeologists a thousand years from now will wonder if the 21st century residents of the Alsea Valley practiced ritual slaughter. To bring us sun? To bring us oil? To bring us closer to God? We call it the Graveyard road because it is peacefully quiet…and dead.
Not so peaceful. One of my dogs was shrieking. Shrieking in pain or fear. Whatever it was, he kept screaming and screaming. I couldn’t see him, but I started to run into the dark, dank woods. Off the road. Towards the terrible noise. My first thought was the dog had had an encounter with a porcupine. I saw him in the gloom, at the base of a large snag. Why wasn’t he running back to me? Did something have a hold of his face? My mind raced next to thoughts of a badger or a raccoon, jaws holding him tight. But his face turned toward me from time to time as he screamed. His paw was caught. In a hole? Under a root? Cisco is such a baby about his feet and anything touching them. I crouched beside him throwing off my gloves and reaching for his paw. It was only then I realized Cisco was caught in the vise-grip of a leg-hold trap, baited with the very bones that named our road.
As I pushed against Cisco to stop him pulling harder against the trap, I thought about coyotes, known to bite off a foot to get out of a trap. Cisco was panicked. What would he do? I put my arms around him from behind and tried to keep him secure while I struggled to press down on one side of the trap. I could barely make it move and, by pressing down on only one side, I pinched Cisco’s paw harder. He screamed. I was not strong enough to hold the dog and open the trap. I wasn’t sure I was even strong enough to open the trap at all.
My friends had stayed on the road as I bounded thoughtlessly into the woods to save my dog. After all, it could have been a cougar attack, though this never crossed my mind. I yelled for help. Nancy came running. Janet hesitated, still unsure about the wisdom of entering the forest. Nancy crouched beside me and called to Janet again. I knew now how the trap worked and babbled what I needed. Both women looked at me in confusion. I tried to explain. Cisco yelled and struggled, his large teeth just inches from their faces as they bent over the trap. I grabbed his muzzle and pointed his head away. “Push! Push hard!” The first attempt failed. Were none of us strong enough? “Try again! Lean down on it! With all your weight!” Now I was panicked. The adrenalin kicked in for all three of us as Nancy and Janet pushed hard on the springs. The trap opened enough for me to pull Cisco’s paw free; then it snapped shut again, this time on itself.
I let Cisco go and stood up shaking. He sat down to lick his paw, then looked up expectantly. “Can we go now?” There was no three-legged hopping. Cisco scampered toward the road. “I’m okay. My feet are okay. No, you cannot take a look. Let’s get out of here!” I figured his adrenaline was probably so cranked he couldn’t feel pain yet. I thanked Nancy and Janet and realized I was still babbling. I needed to get Cisco home to take a look at his paw and then to a vet. I needed to sit down. I needed to calm myself. I don’t even remember saying good-bye as I started to walk back down the road to the car.
As I walked, I was surprised my hands had become so cold so fast. I had put my gloves back on and was now aware of that tingling sensation you get when you warm your hands too fast next to the fire. I pulled my gloves back off. My right hand was covered in blood mixed with the grimy dirt from the forest floor. There was some on Cisco’s face too. Where had he been cut? I didn’t see any blood on his paw. Slowly, I realized I was the one who was bleeding. In the confusion, Cisco had bitten me and I hadn’t even felt it.
Four weeks later, I still have purple under my thumbnail, a mark from one tooth on the side of it, and a prescription in my wallet for antibiotics I never had to take. Cisco ended up being the luckiest of dogs. The vet was amazed he had no broken bones, although getting a look at his foot was a trick in itself, requiring a muzzle, a blanket and three people. Our youngest daughter returned with me to find the sprung trap, except it had been reset! It took two of us, but we were able to pull out three feet of rebar holding it in the ground and then carried the trap back to our house because it had been set illegally. I had already checked with the logging company that owned the ground. Yes, they had trappers, but this was not one of them. They didn’t want to tell me what to do about the trap, but did say, come spring, there would be active trapping in the area for beaver devastating their recently planted Douglas fir forest.
I have since warned my neighbors. Most of us hike in the woods with our dogs. Most of us don’t think about traps as a hazard on these outings. I’m not sure how to proceed with this new knowledge that there is something called a fur license to trap beaver or coyotes or bobcats or any other animal that trips the metal jaws. I can’t understand it myself because it’s not in my nature, this trapping thing.
I call more often now for Cisco and Patches to stay close when we walk, especially when we near the Graveyard road. As they dash into the dark of the forest, I hold my breath and wait for the sound of screaming. I whistle until I see the bounding bodies, the wagging tails, the frosted breath as both dash towards me, “We’re here. What do you want? Why don’t you trust us? We’re happy dogs!” I exhale, then rejoin the conversation with my friends, as we continue down the logging road.
(Cisco is standing next to the leg-hold trap we yanked from the forest floor. It was bigger than I remembered. Oh, yeah, the name of this chapter is an intentional play on Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth…sign of the times)
All rights reserved. Copyright 2007 Scottie Jones
This is one of those graphic farm stories you might want to skip, unless you raise or take care of animals on a regular basis. I certainly would have passed on this experience if I had been able, because even describing the events as they unfolded still sounds so incredibly impossible…and unforseen. Apparently, I should have read my How To Raise Sheep book with more diligence and care. If you are a vet, this story may have some interest and you will nod your head in understanding and probably furrow your brow once you hear how we handled it. The one thing that all agree who have dealt with sheep – they are a hardy lot and what you think should kill them often does not.
Of course, as an interesting side note (and one that may save a sheep in the future when you find yourself driving through the rural countryside, so I shall add it here), there are things that kill sheep, little things that don’t seem quite fair. Getting stuck on their back in a ditch in the field will kill sheep soon enough if no one tugs on a leg and turns them right-side up. That’s your part, or at least to notify the owner of the sheep. The multiple stomachs don’t like to be up-ended for any length of time. They twist and then bloat. It can get pretty ugly. And, yes, this has happened to us several times (the sheep on their backs part).
I have received calls from neighbors on their way to work, “I think you have a dead sheep in the pasture.” Sure enough, I can see in the distance a downed ewe, her legs sticking straight in the air, as if rigor mortis had set in. I am sure she is dead, wondering how I could be such a bad shepherd … until I see the slightest twitch of an ear and know we are lucky this time. Thankfully, it doesn’t take much to right a sheep. She will sway for a bit until her head clears, then move off to find the rest of the flock as if nothing has happened … except she could have died.
All things being equal, a sheep on her back is a walk in the park. That was not the problem here. I should have had an inkling lambing season was going to be difficult when I started having troubles before I ever saw a lamb. I didn’t actually know I had trouble until Salty, one of the former owner’s of our farm, stopped over to fill his water jugs and, looking out the window, thought he saw a ewe in distress.
Why was it, every time either Gisela or Salty came over, we had some animal down or birthing or dying? I think Salty asked himself the same question. I, on the other hand, was thankful he recognized we had a problem, as he obviously had better eyes and more years of experience at this. Salty said he thought I had a ewe with a prolapsed uterus and we needed to catch her and fix it. Fix it? In my defense, I didn’t know what I was supposed to be looking for and, once pointed out, what I was looking at either. I followed him out the door and grabbed a rope from the wood shop for good measure.
As we trotted down the orchard, I scanned the flock for a prolapsed uterus. A what? Salty informed me, “A big, red ‘balloon’ hanging out of the back side of the sheep.” I saw it. The ewe looked around at us and then at her backside. Oh, my God, where did that come from and how were we going to get it back in? We needed to catch the ewe, that, while in some pain and hobbled by the prolapse, seemed quite able to run, avoiding our outstretched arms and poorly flung lasso.
I am quite the girl when it comes to catching sheep. It is not a natural act to fling myself upon a fleeing animal in a body tackle. I would rather wrap my hands in wool and hang on, if I could ever get close enough to grab onto anything more than air. Salty chased the ewe down to the river’s edge. If she crossed into the cold water, we would lose her since there was no easy way across in that area. Luckily, I found them both on the ground, leaning into the wet moss and mud of the river bank, Salty’s legs wrapped around the ewe to hold her down. Then, I listened to his directions.
I was going to need some warm water,soap and rubber gloves. He couldn’t quite remember how Gisela used to do this because he was always on the other end, but somehow, I needed to push the prolapsed member back into the ewe. I ran to the house and decided on the way to call my sheep mentor, Russ, and ask his advice. This had happened to his sheep before. It wasn’t pretty, but it was possible to correct. His voice was calm and cool as he went through the procedure. My former city life seemed farther away than ever.
With the directions in my head, I rejoined a now soggy and tired Salty on the banks of the Honey Grove. I washed the ewe, put antiseptic on my gloves, and grabbed the offending part. With steady pressure, I started to push, breathing slowly, whispering cooing sounds to the ewe that had ceased to struggle, but grunted softly. All of a sudden the prolapse retreated back into place. I couldn’t believe it. She was whole once again with everything where it shoud be. We let the ewe up. I slipped the lasso over her neck. We had caught her once. I didn’t want to let her go just yet.
Salty could not leave fast enough. I wasn’t even sure I would ever see him again. He would probably tell Gisela to come get her own water next time. It was lambing season. Who knew what other horrible afflictions lurked around the farm. I called Russ back to tell him of our success and he mildly informed me to keep an eye on the ewe. She could prolapse again. What?!!! I had an appointment in town. She would be fine. I would just lock the ewe in the garden to localize her movements and check on her when I returned home.
The ewe prolapsed while I was gone and by the time I finally found her, since she had also broken out of the garden, the skies were dark and cloudy with rain and night falling. I had no idea how long she had been in this shape. The longer the prolapse; the harder the retraction. But, this time, I knew the procedure. This time it was Greg in the mud holding down the ewe. This time, the prolapse wouldn’t retreat no matter how hard or how long I pushed. I called Russ again. Could he come over and help?
We literally dragged the ewe up to the barn, both for light and only slightly more sanitary conditions on the barn floor. In the meantime, I had been wondering how a pregnant ewe could have a prolapsed uterus if she still had babies inside her. It didn’t make anatomical sense. As Greg was holding the ewe and Russ and I were lying side by side on the ground trying to get four hands around this red balloon to push with even pressure, Russ admitted that maybe this wasn’t the uterus. He wasn’t all that up on female anatomy. I thought so. This was a prolapsed vagina. At least that cleared up one mystery. The babies were still inside and needed a way out.
We almost gave up. We probably pushed for 30 minutes and everyone, including the ewe was starting to get tired. Then, the boys had a thought. What if we used gravity to help? What if we put the ewe on her back and lifted her hind end off the ground. Just like that, the vagina retreated back to its safe spot. We had long ago given up with trying to keep everything clean and now all I could hope was a shot of antibiotics might knock out any infection.
We took one other preventative measure. We inserted a prolapse paddle into the ewe to discourage further problems. You have to figure, if there is a prolapse paddle, this is not that rare an occurrence in the lambing world. There was even an entire section in my sheep book once I looked under ‘prolapse’. The paddle would keep the sheep safe until she was ready to deliver. Russ told me I would need to pull the paddle right before delivery and the lambs should birth just fine. Since most of our ewes deliver their lambs in the middle of the night, how was I supposed to time this? Did I need to sleep in the barn? It didn’t look as if my own problems were diminishing.
As it turned out, I was ultimately well aware when the ewe went into labor. I required both Russ’ and his wife, Carolyn’s, assistance again. But, that is another story for another time. It is important to note only that this rural life is filled with neighbors willing to leave a warm fire or dinner table to assist when called. We are blessed with that kind of friendship. We are also blessed when sheep do not need any assistance from us, either stuck upside down in a ditch or trailing things from their backsides, but we are their shepherds and, so, we do the best we can when necessary.
(This photo shows our new Katahdin sheep with 3-day-old lambs. They are said to be “easy-keepers” both on the land and during lambing. We have brought them in to try and do away with stories like the one just recounted. I will report back in the spring, but these little darlings all birthed without assistance early this fall.)
All rights reserved. Copyright Scottie Jones 2006
Well, the good news is the gate latch held. The bad news is the corner of the barn ripped off, taking with it the gate, dangling now at a dangerous angle by the latch. It was one of those mornings again.
When I looked toward the barn, having just grabbed my first cup of coffee, I didn’t see any horses looking back. Usually, by poking my head out the back door, I can at least elicit a whinny, mildly interpreted as, “Get your sorry ass over here and let us out because we are dying of hunger.” Except Tater, the one grumbling the most, is a big fatty. Why couldn’t he be more patient?
Instead, this particular morning, there was nothing. With kids, no sound and no action usually means trouble. The same follows with animals. I picked up the pace towards the barn yard, only to find our three horses grazing peacefully, as if nothing was wrong. Except, they were in the barn yard and not confined in their loafing shed area. The two wearing blankets, meant only for indoor or under cover use, were soaked through from the rain.
I checked for wounds on all three horses because a gate doesn’t pull out by its bolts without a body slam from a large animal, either directly against the gate or several bodies pushed tightly and leaning hard in an attempt to escape a kick or a bite. That would be Tater bullying my horse, Chaco, in a show of testosterone and youth. I was thinking through my plans for the day and schedules to be changed to accommodate a vet visit. Who could have a ‘real’ job while living on a farm when the unexpected always seemed to rear its head at the most inconventient times?
I couldn’t believe it. The horses were fine. No scrapes, no bumps, no swollen joints. Just horses happy to be on new, green grass that didn’t look like the new green grass on their side of the fence. Even happier when I took off their blankets that now seemed to weigh 50 pounds a piece. How was I going to dry these? Certainly not in my clothes dryer. This was not the time of year to wash the blankets outside with a scrub brush and I was not going to put these nasty, dirty things into the same place I put the whites! I spread them out on saw horses in the tack room and turned up the heat.
The broken gate was the only barrier between the horse’s loafing shed and the barn yard. I found one hanger bolt on the ground beneath the gate. I found the other about 20 feet away in the grass. I had no idea what happened, exactly, but I did know re-securing the gate was going to be a bitch because the corner of the barn was lying on the ground next to the hanger bolt.
Not sure I could handle the reconstruction, I called my neighbor, Dave, for a look-see. I had the tools and I even had a possible 4 x 4 to fit at the corner of the barn, but the nails needed to hold it all together (also known as ‘spikes’)looked daunting in both length and breadth and I wasn’t exactly sure how I would hammer them in.
It’s a good thing Dave was around. He is an ex-logger with a great deal of enthusiasm for hitting things hard. We came up with a plan to reattach the gate, but when the spike hit the old-growth wood in the barn frame, even Dave’s wailing almost came to a stop. I have never seen someone pound a nail with a sledge so hard yet for such little impression. The wood was like stone and every time Dave drove down on the nail, with his thumb just inches away, I flinched. Between that and threading the hanger bolts for the gate, I am afraid, if left to my own devices, Greg would have returned home from work to a temporary panel lashed to the posts with baling twine and no easy way in or out from the corral.
Dave smacked the spikes until they were in and then hit the 4 x 4 a couple more times just for good measure. We rehung the gate in such a way Tater could not use one of his latest moves, which was to stick his head through the rungs of the gate and pull up, thus lifting the gate off its hinges,defying our newly devised gate latch. If you can’t open one side of a gate; try for the other – he is not a stupid animal.
The repair was complete. The sun was shining. No animals had been wounded in the event. The day had a feeling of normalcy. So, my plans were off by an hour, but it could have been far worse. Just a little hiccup at the farm. Just a little “oops” from the horses. It is probably better I don’t know exactly what happened to rip the corner off the barn, hang the gate at a dangerous angle for escape, place three horses in the barn yard instead of safe under the loafing shed. If Tater could talk, he would probably lie about whose fault it was. Better to leave it alone and get on to the next project on the list of farm projects, the ones actually written down and planned for the day.
(Photo is pretty self explanatory. The gate is ‘down’, thus the horses are no longer in the loafing shed, but rather, farther down the barnyard behind me eating grass)
All rights reserved. Copyright Scottie Jones 2006