Strange things happen when you're away from a farm for nine or ten days.
We have twin yearling sheep, born late last spring. Neither was of butchering size last fall, so we decided to keep the female as a breeder and to butcher the male this coming fall. The female is as strong and healthy as can be, but the male recently developed a problem: his right horn began growing toward his face.
When we left on vacation early this month, the horn still seemed to have plenty of clearance; it was something to keep tabs on, but it didn't seem to require immediate action to cut off.
Imagine my dismay when we got home, settled back in, and I got my first good look at him. And discovered that the horn was not just pressing against his face --- it was growing straight into his right EYE.
I immediately grabbed some bolt cutters and lopped off the end of his horn, but the damage had unfortunately been done. His eye looked irreparably injured. He didn't like it, but I did my best to clean the eye socket up with hydrogen peroxide.
We kept close tabs on him in the ensuing days. Despite the mangled eye, he seemed to be getting around just fine. He came in and out, and grazed with the rest of the flock. We continued to plan to butcher him this fall.
Then, especially with the arrival of the recent heat wave, we began having second thoughts. He started going AWOL, hanging out by himself on the ridge (and down by the swampy area) on the far end of the pasture a lot. Last night, he didn't come in at all. I spent a lot of time searching the pasture with a spotlight, but couldn't find him anywhere. I worried that the heat had become too much for him, or that he'd gotten dangerously dehydrated, or that a predator had overtaken him. Surviving 95F and humidity is tough enough for us humans; imagine if you're wearing a wool coat and battling an eye injury on top of it!
This morning, I found him hunkered down along the fence by the swampy area. His coat was a mess, but he jumped to his feet as he saw me approach. When he began trotting away along the ridge, I grew even happier. Being spry enough to run away is a very, very good thing. He ran all the way up the hill to the barn, which really got me feeling optimistic.
And then, once I'd cornered him in the barn and grabbed him, I realized we had a problem. A big one. With the heat, flies had evidently been swarming all over his injury. All around the socket, I could see the quivering of tiny larvae. It turned my stomach, and I knew we had to do something.
Given that the heat would only be making the situation more miserable, and that trying to clean out the injured socket would probably bring only temporary relief, and that we'd been planning to butcher him anyway, and that he was now of a nice butchering size...it was fairly evident what course of action we should take.
The problem is that the local slaughterhouse where we take our animals only does sheep on certain days of the week. I figured I'd have to wait until next Monday or Tuesday to get him in, and a quick call over there confirmed that. I certainly didn't want to try butchering him myself in 95 degree weather (just imagine the flies!), but I wasn't sure he'd survive the weekend. And even if he did, he'd be miserable.
I described the situation to the woman who'd answered the phone, and she quickly put the shop owner (Jack) on the line. "How quickly can you get him over here?" Jack asked. They were done slaughtering for the week, but he was just finishing up a cow and said he'd have time to squeeze my sheep in today...if I could get him right over.
This is why I love patronizing Mom and Pop businesses.
Homeschooled Farm Boy and I put a tarp down in the back of our minivan, loaded up the injured animal, and set off for the butcher. Once there, Jack met us around back and helped unload him into a holding pen. We thanked him repeatedly for getting the sheep in on such short notice, and then drove home.
It's unfortunate we weren't able to get the sheep through to this fall, but I really don't think he would've put on much more weight between now and then. I'm just very grateful that we identified the seriousness of the injury before it got to be too late, that the sheep will not have to endure the heat and flies this weekend ... and that we were able to add 40-50 pounds of excellent meat to our freezer.