Saturday, June 19, 2010

R.I.P. Abby

We had to put our Jacob ewe down this morning.

Abby (short for Abilene -- she was named for her hometown, a small Virginia crossroads where she was born over 12 years ago) was a one-of-a-kind sheep.  She never completely lost her wariness of people though she learned to like animal crackers, a frequent sheep treat around here.  And only in the last few years did she stop giving DH a real run for the money when it came time for shearing and other routine care such as foot trimmings or wormings.  More than once she's leaped over the 4-ft gates he set up behind the barn to facilitate capture.  The other sheep would gather docilely at the gate after being herded into the pen but not Abby.

We still laugh, DH not so loud, about the time she leaped right over him on a successful attempt to get back out to the field and away from the shearing pen.  The funny thing was, once she was in the hands of the shearer (usually DH tho we hired a local Virginia Tech student till DH had a chance to take the 2-day VA/NC Shepherds Workshop then offered down the road at VT's Shenandoah Valley Ag Research and Extension Center at Steeles Tavern), she was a different sheep.  Calmly she'd accept her fate and let herself be flipped first one way then the other as the shearer worked to remove her lovely thick coat.  Her springy wool made a pretty heathery black yarn as the small splotches of white and brown in her coat blended with the rest of her mostly black wool in the final product. (Her coat would sunburn on the tips making her look more brown as the wool locks lengthened after each shearing but underneath was a rich black.)

Because of her coloring, black legs, black face with a wide white stripe down the middle and a mostly-black coat with a few white and brown patches, many people thought she was a goat on first (or even second) sight -- especially right after shearing when no thick wool gave her away.  But we knew she just acted like one. (Myself, I always thought she looked like a holstein calf after shearing.)  And as the smallest of the sheep, year in and year out, she would bounce around, trying to exert her dominance, when the others were sheared each spring.  I think it's because sheep always look so much smaller right after the shearer finishes and Abby imagined she was now (finally!) the biggest of the flock.

Abby was the sheep that hung back when the others gathered 'round for their treats.  She often stayed on the far side of Andy, the guard llama, using him as a shield in case anyone should try to make a grab for her.  But with lots of coaxing, over more than a year, animal crackers became too much for her to resist and she finally succumbed to closing in enough that she could share in the bounty, too.

With age, though, she became less agile.  We could tell that a couple of years ago when she began putting up only a token chase at shearing time and completely ceased jumping the gates.  Early this spring, before DH sheared, she'd even gotten down several times and was unable to stand again without help.  Each time it happened, one of us would have to go out and hoist her to her feet. 

The good news was it seemed to help her lose most of the remaining shyness with people.  Since we'd moved the sheep closer to the house after a serious coyote scare early this past Mother's Day morning, Abby'd even baa and call to us as the other sheep do when we'd be out and about in the backyard -- reminding us that animal crackers were always welcome, I think.  We hoped the mobility problem would go away when she was no longer encumbered by her heavy fleece but it didn't and veterinarians, like any other medical doctors, can only offer so much help.  It was time.


Platinum Fox said...

I'm sorry. Even though she wasn't quite the pet that Holly is, it's still hard to have to put them down. I bet she's begging animal crackers from the angels in sheep heaven.

Laurel said...

Poor thing. I'm so sorry. It's such a heartache to lose an animal.

Carolyn at Walnut Spinney said...

Thanks for the thoughts, guys. I really believe it was the best thing but, as I often tell DS, that doesn't mean it's an easy decision.

Yes, PF, that's how I'm picturing her -- cavorting around like she used to. ;)

A Brush with Color said...

What a beautiful introduction to Abby you gave me here, Carolyn. I almost cried hearing of her death. Such a loving tribute. Sounds like she will live on,--in memories, photos, and in woolly goodies you no doubt have created...