Monthly Archives: April 2011

Farewell to Fred and To Be A Vet Part II

Fred 002As if lambing season isn’t enough to deal with in the spring, our larger feathered friends and livestock took a hit in April. Turns out everyone in the woods is hungry by the time winter is retreating and raccoons are not dissuaded by the size of a bird, be it a peacock or a turkey.

The first casualty was Fred, our magnificent 20 year old peacock (sure, not a turkey, but he needs to be mentioned). Fred was our masthead, our showy bird, a photographer’s dream, and a beggar when it came to crackers on the deck during a summer happy hour with friends. He was also a favorite of our guests and many a child drew pictures of him and left us notes about their new found friend. As a beggar, the bird had learned that the best handouts derived from folks who came and went and who delighted in the fact that he would roost right outside the cabin living room, peeking in the window for dinners and games of cards.

We suspected nothing to start. Heck, Fred had been posing on the back deck just the day before, but it seemed odd that he wasn’t around that next morning for breakfast with the chickens. Odd enough that I decided to walk up toward the cabin to see if he was only being lazy and still astride the railing roost. From afar, I could see a mound of feathers on the ground. My heart sank because I knew the rest.Fred

It’s hard to go from a gorgeous bird to a carcass, but that’s all that was left. A tail feather here and there across the lawn. The breeze kicked up some beautiful iridescent blue green pin feathers and that was all that remained of Fred. I picked them up and stuck them in the fence. A farm memorial.

Life goes on at a farm and we chalked up Fred’s untimely demise to a bold raccoon. Our next victim was only days later. One of our turkey hens had decided to sit on a nest outside of the tight chicken wire of our coop. We had moved nests before and never been able to get the birds to sit again so we decided to leave her be.

When we entered the chicken yard the bird looked odd, bedraggled, dirty. She staggered. The nest was demolished and all the eggs gone or broken. As I picked her up for a better look I realized she had lost most of her feathers under her wings, there were flaps of skin hanging loose, and she had a big gouge out of her back.

Time for vet-in-training Annie to do what she could.

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“I don’t know anything about birds,” she said. We called the local wildlife rescue for a primer on bird doctoring.

A quick trip down to the store for bandages of all kinds and a rifle through the human medical supplies for antibacterial ointment and then the bird was scooped up and placed on the dining table, for lack of anything else at the right height and with the right amount of light.

Even for Annie, who will perform a necropsy just to figure out what went wrong with an animal, it was a pretty gross job. For me, it was downright disgusting as we first cleaned then medicated the areas that had been ripped by sharp raccoon nails and teeth. The bird wasn’t all that happy either, especially when we fashioned a holding area for her in the kitchen with straw as the flooring and a heat lamp to keep her warm and dry.

Luckily for the hen, after a few days she seemed recovered enough to return to the chicken yard. Plus, the smell always tells us when its time for the animals to depart our living quarters. Sure, there was dirt in the chicken yard and birds are not kind to the down-trodden, but the turkey seemed more at ease with some space around her and not our household domestic goings, especially at meal time when undoubtedly we were eating a cousin or some other brethren.

For Annie, it was another notch on her belt of things she could add to her laundry list of farm experiences. Maybe useful in vet school. Maybe not. For the farm, it was a lesson in predators and the fragility of beautiful life. It’s all about the circle that won’t stop, no matter how resplendent the victim.

Photos: All of Fred. Doctoring of turkey was too gross.

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2011 Scottie Jones

To Be A Vet

LLF - lambs and orphans April 2011 003For most of us who raise lambs for market and not for show, vets are not part of our landscape, even when things go wrong. An average ewe sells for about $50. A vet visit to the farm starts at $125. It’s hard math at the end of the day, but sometimes it’s a hard decision. This past weekend was just hard.

We like to cull our ewes (sell them) when they birth small lambs, but culling older ewes is hard when every year they keep producing healthy, strong twins and triplets. There are also ewes that I just like. Because they are friendly. Because they don’t knock me over. Because they are good mothers and have a kind eye.

There is a reason to cull your older stock and this sounds cruel, but maybe we were cruel in our own naive way. This year we experienced something you hear about with pregnant women: pregnancy toxemia. It’s when the body just can’t keep up with the nutrients required by the fetus. In this case, one of our favorite ewes went down with large lambs, and twins at that.

We noticed her down in the paddock and unable or unwilling to get up. At first I thought she must be delivering her lambs but after several hours and still no sign, it appeared there was something horribly wrong.

Shepherd Annie started to get out the books and then, as all 20-somethings do, started to look online for a cause. She came up with a myriad of diagnoses, but the one that really seemed to stick was the toxemia. She returned from work that evening with bottles of this and drips of that and we went to work trying to keep the ewe comfortable out in the pasture, the sky threatening rain.

We dosed her and watched her. I put up a tent over her. Several days later she started to eat. Yeah! We got her to her feet and walked her up the hill and into the barn on unsteady legs and with lots of coaxing, but at least there was clean straw and the safety of an enclosed stall.

Except as this was unfolding, we noticed another ewe down. The symptoms seemed similar, but the dosing made no difference. We carried her into the barn, except we only got her just inside the door. We were losing her.

I ran back to the house for the phone to call our neighbor, Dr. Liz, who was currently on the other side of the country. Our bad luck. When I reached her, I asked,

“Do you think Annie can do a c-section?”

“Sure she can. She’s up to it.”

I put Annie on the phone for instructions. When Liz was finished telling her what to look for and how to proceed, we returned to the barn. Annie had found her scalpels which she kept on hand for necropsies.

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I actually thought we were too late, but miracle of miracles, Annie delivered two healthy ewe lambs: one for me to swing in the air until her lungs were cleared and the other that Annie did the same for. We rubbed them down with towels and quickly put them both under a heat lamp.

Our vet-in-training (aka shepherdess) was getting more experience than most before actually going to vet school. We couldn’t have saved the babies without her. Of course, the sad part was that our vet-in-training didn’t know how to sew the mom back up, although we doubt she would have survived anyway. Instead, we had to euthanize her. Two lives in exchange for the mother’s. Damn.

Did I mention we had neighbors over for Happy Hour that night? We returned back to the house with two bundles that we placed in a cardboard box near the wood stove. It was oooing and aaaahing time and then the babies fell asleep. We settled in for a glass of wine as the adrenaline kicked back and the reality of what had happened filled the evening conversation.

Photos: lambs in a cardboard box near the wood stove

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2011 Scottie Jones

March Went Out with Lambs


March may or may not have come in like a lion but it went out with lambs. I mean, we had lambs everywhere and mostly over just one weekend. On April Fool’s Day, the joke on us was whether we could be sure who’s lambs were who’s because we hadn’t had a chance to tag in two days and there seemed to be babies everywhere!

We have white lambs and black lambs and brown lambs and spotted lambs. We have twins and singles and even a set of triplets. But we usually lose a lamb or two as well. It seems the ewes know which to suckle and which to leave, and though we may intervene at times, nature often has her way. I love this time of year and I hate this time of year. Even my guests will nod their heads with understanding. Farm life is about life and death and the circle it forms.

It’s not that city life is really that different, or suburban life, or any place you go. It’s just that the circle is so close to your face on a farm. We have livestock and any breeding season with more than a couple animals means there are chances for things to go terribly right and terribly wrong.


Lucky for us, most of the time things go well and we have bouncing baby lambs all over the place. Lucky for us, this is the time of year that guests love to visit to be a part of it all. We need the extra hands and eyes just to catch the little darlings and to make sure that everything is going okay.

So, this weekend, the tagging and docking is on. We will have to hope that the babies we pick up for their shots will call to their moms and we can straighten out who belongs to whom. I thought I had it figured out at the beginning, but once they are all in the jug for a few days and start mingling and playing (yes, they play as early as Day Two), things get complicated!

We will have to rely on Shepherd Annie who is keeping a sharp eye on the flock for her records. She’s off to a good start this season with decent weights on the young’uns, and healthy too. Hopefully, she will be able to sort it all out. If not, the ewes will!

Photos: Ewes and their lambs…all over the place

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2011 Scottie Jones