top of page

Ode to the "Training Wheel" Sheep

Can die from fright. Can melt and spill open. Can bloat randomly in the pasture. Can die from parasites fast. And being dead isn't enough. They have more lessons for you.

Back in 2014 my next door neighbor Dean, peered from his pristine property into my rambling overgrown pasture. "So. What are you going to DO with your land now that you've fenced it in?" he asked. He sat on his quad, chatting across the fence with me, puffing on his cigarette. I felt social pressure. His place always looks PERFECT. But he was retired and livestock was long gone. He used to have sheep on his land decades ago, and he'd been telling me I should get sheep. I expected a sentimental word of support. "Sheep!" I proudly answered. "Perfect for these sandy hills. Easy on the land. Profitable. Small livestock that I can easily handle."

Then he surprised me when he shook his head and said, "Why did you choose sheep? You don't own a backhoe." and chuckled a little too enthusiastically for my taste. I didn't know whether to feel challenged, chastised, or intimidated. I should have felt warned.

So we started with Dorper x Katahdin crosses for meat, and Icelandic for fleece. I figured I'd learn what worked, and specialize and get into breeding after that.

Within the first 2 years, I learned that I needed to do a lot more self-study and treat sheep with a bit of trepidation as they seem to try to kill themselves like other people have said.

Apparently sheep will commit accidental homicide. A piece of plywood that I left leaning against our run-in shed as I was doing something else - yep. Somehow one youngster flipped it onto another who promptly fell down in a panic and stroked out. I was outside at the time. I noticed it within 5 minutes of happening. I ran over and lifted the light wood off the sheep. I figured he was ok, the board couldn't have weighed more than 5 pounds. But alas. I stood in astonishment, feeling like the WORST person on the PLANET.

I tried to burn that lamb's body because I had a lot of construction materials, very dry, and the sheep was very much intact. Not a good idea. Not only was it not successful, but it still attracted vultures to the burn pile later. So... yeah. I don't do that anymore nor do I recommend trying that.

A month later, I lost an Icelandic lamb to parasites. When she and her momma arrived they were both pale in the eye and I'd trustingly accepted the seller who said they'd be fine within 3 days, she had just dosed them. The lamb languished and succumbed within 2 weeks despite my best (rookie) attempts. Mom barely pulled through. The lesson: prior owner wasn't dishonest. She was incorrect but I'd placed my confidence in what she'd told me. Lesson learned.

That lamb passed away inside the barn, in a stall where I'd put her and her mom for treatment. Apparently it happened right after I'd left for work one morning. My kids did the afternoon chores and apparently didn't notice that the lamb wasn't just sleeping in the corner. I discovered the body late that night when I went to check on her after dinner. It was dumping rain and there was nothing to be done so I just removed the momma sheep from the stall and put her back out into the pasture. I wasn't able to dispose of the body that night in the dark downpour, nor the next morning before work, so after work I went to pull the dead lamb out of the stall and roll it onto the front bucket of the tractor. To my horror, the legs separated from the body and skin tore open spilling liquids and innards all over the bedding in the stall. It was like she had 'melted' apart. THAT was one of the worst messes I've had to clean up. I had no idea that could even happen.

I couldn't really burn the body because everything was sopping wet and I had partially liquified animal, so I decided to compost under a truckload of wood chips. Entirely unsuccessful as my woodchip pile wasn't fenced in? Apparently all kinds of vermin will dig up a dead animal from under a truckload of woodchips...? Even gooey ones that had a head start?

That single lamb's passing taught me a LOT. Talk about a triple lesson.

I had a lamb killed by a black vulture at 3 days old. Apparently Llamas and momma sheep don't look up for predators. And the vultures only want a single eye. More about that in a separate blog post.

I had two siblings bloat and die, three years apart, in the EXACT same place in the pasture. I'm still scratching my head about that one. One was early Spring, the other was late Summer. That place is now known as Bloat Spot.


Bodies that I have left out in the open for coyotes and vultures on the furthest corner of my property have been the best outcomes.

Why not bury? Because, as my neighbor so wisely pointed out, 8 years ago, I don't own a backhoe.

2 views0 comments


bottom of page