When we first got sheep, our worries all centered on the big problems than can befall livestock. We made sure the pasture was securely fenced. We got a Great Pyrenees guardian dog. Any time we heard coyotes howling, I had the 12-gauge loaded and was out the door.
But after nearly five years, we've never lost a sheep to the road. Or to a thief. Or to a coyote. Or to any other predator.
All of our losses have come from little things:
An unattended ram that got into a bag of corn and died of bloat.
A lamb that pushed through a poorly-secured gate, ate too much clover, and bloated.
A lamb that found a rusty piece of metal and got tetanus.
And then there are the parasites. When we first got sheep, we didn't know a thing about worms. But it's worms that have caused more problems than everything else combined. We've tried to keep ahead of the parasites' life cycle, but somehow or another events keep conspiring to delay our worming treatments.
Somehow, the big magnificent rams are the ones that get hit hardest. Pinch, an absolutely stunning animal, had worms creep up on him so fast we never knew there was a problem until he wouldn't keep up with the flock. An hour later, he couldn't get to his feet. The worms had literally bled him white. Meanwhile, the rest of the flock was running around just fine with the same worm load.
And now the same ugly story is replaying itself for Pinch's one surviving offspring --- an equally stunning ram we named Dilemma. I just wormed him about a week or two ago. Then, this morning, I noticed he wasn't grazing much with the rest of the flock. I caught him (another bad sign; he should've had enough energy to stay away from me), checked his eyes, and sure enough...he was getting bled white. I wormed him again, and drenched him with an apple cider vinegar tonic, but I fear it was too late. Even after drenching him again this evening, he's barely getting to his feet and certainly not grazing. And even if I kill all the worms, how can he regain his strength if he doesn't eat?
Tonight, as the rest of the flock eagerly grazed on some prime green stuff, Pinch refused to get to his feet. I sat with him for a long time, holding his head in my lap, rubbing his neck and telling him how sorry I was. And I couldn't help thinking about a passage from St. Josemaria Escriva's book, Christ is Passing By (section 77):
We must convince ourselves that the worst enemy of a rock is not a pickaxe or any other such implement, no matter how sharp it is. No, its worst enemy is the constant flow of water which drop by drop enters the crevices until it ruins the rock's structure. The greatest danger for a Christian is to underestimate the importance of fighting skirmishes. The refusal to fight the little battles can, little by little, leave him soft, weak and indifferent, insensitive to the accents of God's voice.
And as I asked myself why I'd not been vigilant enough about rotating their pastures, and making sure the flock was wormed on a hard and regular schedule:
It has been a hard experience: don't forget the lesson. Your big cowardices of the moment correspond — clearly — to your little cowardices of each day.You 'have not been able' to conquer in big things, because you 'did not want' to conquer in little ones. (The Way, #828)
As I came out to my office to prepare this blog post, Dilemma was still laying on the grass just outside that building. The rest of the flock had long been put away in the main pasture, and I'd decided to just leave Dilemma here to die overnight. But as I approached him, he surprised me by climbing to his feet and stiffly trying to trot off to join the main flock. I caught him and drenched him again, all the while saying as many encouraging words as I could.
Then I opened the pasture gate, let him through, and he bellowed to the flock as he approached. It wasn't his usual bellow, and I still wouldn't put money on his being alive in the morning, but it was a beautiful sound all the same.