When we bought sheep, we planned for two lambs. We were easily talked into three, as that is the basic minimum recommended for a flock. We were then offered two adult ewes, both ten-year-olds, who are the mothers to two of the lambs. They would provide motherliness to the lambs and teach them how to be sheep. Sure, we said. Five sheep, three sheep, what's the difference....
Then while loading up the sheep, we accidentally grabbed the wrong ewe. The only option at that time was to unload them all and start over, or just toss in the last one and go home with six. And that’s how sheep math works.
I decided to send the two old girls to the freezer come September. One of the old girls, Emelda, already has a loose tooth, and who knows how fast she could go downhill.
So I scheduled these two sheep for the butcher in September – no need to overwinter them and waste hay for a spring butcher – genius, right? The other old girl, Kiriava, never quite settled in with us. She was already skinny when we got her and only got worse in the weeks after the move. She never came near us, and her baby lamb, Aster, followed her. As June progressed, Kiriava started moving slower and slower. It’s a story for another time, but Kiriava never went to freezer land, she now resides in compost land.
That being said, Emelda chugs along. Except for her loose tooth, she’s still active and alive. Every night when the sheep race to the barn for their little bucket of grain, she's right in the thick of things. And after meeting Helen Steele’s 18-year-old sheep, it sunk in that maybe Emelda has more time in her.
Kay and I talked over our scheduled butcher date, now for just one sheep, and made the decision: Emelda can ride the earth for another rotation.
First off, only bringing one animal to the butcher is the same amount of work for half the reward. I’m also now saving all of the money that would have been spent to butcher the animal, which will probably be used to buy meat from local farms like Mountain Breeze and Remick. Next, I accidentally bought twice as much hay, so feeding Emelda will not be a burden. She is one of the sweetest sheep in our flock (as is her baby lamb, Clover) and she offers leadership within the flock. Roxy has “alpha” vibes and Emelda has matriarch vibes. They do a good job keeping the three lambs in check. Clover is as docile and attentive as Emelda, but Aster and Mittens are dummies. They still need some guidance from the ewes. Poor Mittens looks lost sometimes and once tried to crawl under a gate that was only six inches off the ground. And Aster tried to headbutt the same gate. Yep, they're dummies.
More reasons to keep the sheep around: our freezers are already pretty full. By keeping the animal alive, I have calories on the hoof. I also now have an incentive to learn how to butcher, myself. But next year I’d like to get a few lambs of a meat variety and if I bring those to a butcher, I can consider sticking Emelda on the truck with them.
Lastly, we will get Emelda’s wool. We are raising these sheep for their wool, and Emelda is an expert wool producer. She has ten whole years of experience! In fact, I felt her wool recently, past the lightly greasy lanolin coat and down to the fleece. It was soft and pleasant to touch. Like a cloud wearing a rain coat. What a wondrous miracle that these big-bellied bleating lawnmowers produce such an amazing product right before our very eyes! Come springtime, we’ll have more wool than we know what to do with!
So congrats Emelda. You get to ride again. Keep all your hooves and hocks inside the vehicle at all times and hold on to your fluffy butt.