Some of you may remember Morgan our Jacob ram, father of the flock.
Morgan came to us handsome with his kissy lips, slightly crimpy fleece, broad horn set, nice leg and face markings, and generous temperament. Most sheep have a fault somewhere, and his was that he was overly dark-fleeced for a Jacob sheep. But I like dark wool, and he threw lambs with a good balance of dark and light in their patterns. He learned to walk on a lead almost the first time we haltered him. He came happily to the fence to be led by hand to graze on the lawn. I don’t think Morgan ever challenged me, though I do try not to give a ram the chance to make me prove I am the bigger sheep.
You will have noticed I am writing a kind of eulogy here. Maybe I will let a guest writer in at this point, and quote Richard’s recent letter to his friends.
“Richard is feeling a little guilty. We had a terrific windstorm about a week ago. Fall leaves whipped everywhere, including, we think, a place that wasn’t good. Cherry leaves are toxic to sheep in the fall. We think Morgan, our flock ram, ate some and got sick. [ed. note: there is no reason for Richard to feel guilty about this. He could not have stopped the wind. ]
Susan had led him down to the ewes for his annual romp, but he showed no interest in them whatever. Over the next several hours, he lost control of his legs and sat down. [ed. note: this was at a time when he normally would have been showing his most charming self. Morgan was always a gentleman with his ewes. He courted them graciously before asking permission to give them his seed. On this day, I saw him lying in front of the shed in the breeding paddock, and my heart hit the bottoms of my boots. Something was very much not right. He was gnashing his teeth (since sheep have only lower teeth, maybe it would be more appropriate to say he was gnashing his jaws), a sign that an animal is in pain, and breathing a little roughly. When I tried to look in his eyes, he just rolled his big old head off to the side. Foam dribbled out the side of his mouth. This was very acute and very disabling.]
We fed him activated charcoal and Pepto Bismol [ed. note: not really Pepto Bismol at this stage, but kaolin and charcoal in suspension. I borrowed this from a more prepared friend. Later, we did give him drugstore Pepto as a follow-up.], consulted with the vet who would have done the same thing except he might have pumped the stuff into Morgan, even though Morgan cheerfully took these offerings by mouth. We fed him warm water laced with molasses, fed him hay and, for him, the rare treat of the ewes’ ration. Later we gave him B-complex shots because the Vet called back to suggest that he might have developed a condition akin to polio as a result of a reaction to the toxic cherry leaves. [ed. note: Polioencephalomalacia is not the same condition as human poliomyelitis. I’m not sure he had polioencephalomalacia anyway, because he should have had trouble seeing, too, if that was it. But it was hard to tell, since he wasn’t even rising. We were at a loss how to treat him, and the B-complex injections were certainly not going to harm him. If it was polio, it probably wasn’t cherry leaves, but some other toxin. There are plenty of those in plants in the fall. The notion that animals know what is good for them to eat, and what not, is clearly false. Put a plant in front of a sheep, and he will most likely eat it.]
We considered putting him down almost from the first day but postponed it because, in spite of his condition, he seemed cheerful, eager to see us, and always enthusiastic about hay and grain. Over the week, though, he began to develop sores on his legs which were folded under him. Yesterday, reasoning that he might now be suffering from that tingly, “my foot’s asleep” condition that plagues all of us who lie awkwardly on them, we contrived a sling that supported his trunk but let his legs hang down to touch the ground. Indeed, he showed signs late last night, of lunging forward to get at his hay. He drank water, even though it was an indignity to be slung up by ropes to the rafters. [ed. note: But he was so good about it all! He broke my heart, watching him be sick and cheerful, honestly cheerful, to see us.]
This morning, Susan found him deceased. It took a decision we didn’t really want to make out of our hands, but it’s still sad – he was a gentleman, as Rams go. It also leaves us without the seed we need at this time of year. Breeders no longer loan livestock for fear of disease. Under the circumstances, I don’t think we’d try, even if we could find a willing shepherd.
So our choice is to go lambless next year or to use one of the less than perfect culls that we’ve accumulated. I’ll let Susan make that decision – the sheep are really her project.”
Well, so, we are indeed without our breeding ram at exactly the moment in the year I planned to write a panegyrical piece about the wonders of the fall urge to mate and reproduce.
You normally choose your flock ram with a considered eye. You want to use him for a number of seasons, and he is going to be the father of all your lambs. While you can reasonably accept quite a lot of compromise in your ewe flock, you do want to bring them a ram with some high-end qualities. I’m not going shopping for a ram at this point along the calendar. I’m not happy, either, about using a ram that we found to be not good enough to sell to someone else as a breeder. But it’s fortunate we don’t castrate our male lambs. It’s a trauma I’d just as soon not bring to the flock if I don’t have to, and we don’t have so many sheep we have to create wethers in order to house them. For you city folk, a wether is a castrato in the sheep world.
So I cast my eye over the boys out there, and decide that Ninja Throwing Star might get a chance.