Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Darwin's Farm Yard

Every time an animal dies as the result of a ridiculous accident, my vet says it wins the Darwin Award. She's a bit cynical, but she does have a point. Nonetheless, when one of our animals born on this farm has an accident, it makes me sad. We lost a ewe lamb yesterday for a stupid reason. She pushed her head through a small opening in the hay feeder, turned her head sideways so her jaw locked up against one of the metal bars, and then couldn't figure out how to turn her head in such a way that she could remove it. Ultimately, she suffocated because she went down on her knees and cut off the air to her windpipe. Damn!

Darwin would have said this wasn't a sheep we wanted to keep anyway. If it hadn't been the hay feeder, she might have been swept down the creek during a winter flood or found herself tangled in blackberries as the cougar approached. "She's a cute little black lamb with some Suffolk in her," I would have said. "This breeding tends to lend itself to larger lambs we don't have to over-winter with hay before we sell them for market. I like these lambs." Darwin would have said that 'liking' has nothing to do with his theory.

In the scheme of things, Darwin might have suggested that most of the sheep breeds could win his award with little trouble. To wit:
+ Sheep have a tendency to follow a leader no matter where that leader is heading.
+ Sheep will run for water if they see a predator even though they can't swim and will drown if they go over their head.
+ Sheep, especially lambs, will run straight into fencing to escape being caught and, while this hasn't happened to us (thankfully), they can break their neck doing this.
+ Rams have been known to butt heads through a fence so hard as to kill one (not sure if Darwin figures in here for testosterone or the thickest skull).
+ Once cast to the ground for worming or hoof trimming or whatever, a sheep will just give up and not move, even when released.
+ A lamb will stay caught in blackberries, bleating away and separated from the herd, until a person gets close enough with clippers to free it and then, boom!, it pulls free on its own.
+ If a sheep lies down in a ditch, it can often get stuck on its back and will die if no shepherd comes to help right it.
+ Sheep, when trying to avoid being forced to do something or go somewhere they would rather not, will jump right into the shepherdess, forcing her to think about carrying a 2 x 4 to hit them with next time this happens. (Okay, maybe the last one is not a Darwin Award, except for the shepherdess who was in the way, but it sure makes me mad when they do that!)

I've picked on the sheep for many of these Darwin Awards when, in fact, our farm yard includes turkeys. I was sure we would lose several this fall when they decided to roost in the raccoon's mulberry tree and would not come down no matter what we threw at them. Then it rained so hard and they chose to stay out in it, instead of following the chickens under cover.

Somehow, the Darwin Award, for an animal with wrinkled flesh on its face and hair coming out of places it shouldn't, seems more justified than for a soft, woolly lamb that only months ago was playing with its siblings and bouncing around the orchard. I think that's why vet Liz sighs in her cynicism. When tragedy hits the cute ones you have to wonder, what did Darwin see at first glance, that we seem to have missed?

Photo: (top) lambs and ewes in orchard in spring; (bottom) silly free-range turkey at back door looking in

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