Wednesday, December 09, 2009

A Do-Over Day

It would have been better if I had never gotten out of bed. The animals might not have thought so. But, if I had stayed in bed, I wouldn't have spent the entire day trying to restore water to our house or worrying about the lamb that was trying to die in our frigid barn.

They say western Oregon hasn't been this cold for so many days in a row since 1972. I say, "Why now?" Fifteen degrees is more typical for Wisconsin and, knowing that, they build with insulation around the water pipes and hose bibs. Here, I buy the Styrofoam covers and electric pipe wraps, but can only protect the stuff I can see. We use a heat lamp in our pump houses because there is no insulation.

The water ran fine yesterday morning in the house, although the hoses at the barn froze solid so it didn't make any difference for filling the trough. Then, in the afternoon, the faucets only issued air and a vast hollowness, usually accompanied by a "damn" as I realize I have left on the water somewhere and de-primed the pump. This time, there wasn't any place I had "left on" the water. This time we didn't have a clue what was wrong except I had recently emptied out the gallon containers of water, saved for just such an emergency, with the thought I would fill them fresh later. Of course, "later" hadn't happened yet.

Greg identified a spot in our orchard where the pipe was only 4" at best underground. Before leaving for work he hauled large timbers along the line and lit a small bonfire to try and send some heat into the frozen soil. Maybe this was the source of the problem. It was a valiant attempt, but ultimately did nothing for the air hissing through the line.

I spoke with friends and someone suggested I check the pipes in the pump house. The heat lamp had been overwhelmed by the unusual cold. It didn't help that at this time of year the sun never hits the pump house. Everything was frozen solid. I brought down a portable heater, turned it on, and left to go deal with the lamb in the barn.

When one thing goes south on the farm, there is something else that usually follows right on its heels. Earlier in the week, I had noticed one of our ram lambs looking sickly. I had scooped him up for a warm-up in the barn with a heat lamp and some extra food. Problem was, he just kept getting worse. Annie made him a special diet with molasses and grain. I kept pushing him back under the lamp. We brought in the other lambs as the temperatures plunged to keep him company and provide some group warmth. The lamb was becoming dehydrated and we added a saline drip to our medical routine.

With a week-long trip out of town planned for the next day, I scanned the to-do list for our neighbors who would be taking over the farm. No water in the house, but at least the cabin's well and pump house hadn't frozen over. No water to the animals - hauling from the creek was now the routine for those animals with no access. A lamb that needed a saline IV every 3-4 hours - beyond the expertise of most. It didn't seem quite fair to dump all this on friends returning from sunny California just to help!

Something needed to give. There was no change predicted in the forecast. As heartless as it sounds now, the lamb, which was steadily progressing down hill, needed to die on our watch. I made her a new bed of straw. I gave her a little water with the drench gun. I turned out the lights at the barn and headed back to the house for dinner.

At 11 p.m. I decided to go out to check on the animals. As I entered the barn, all the lambs in the pen were standing at one end away from the heat lamp and the stricken lamb. I knew, without looking, that our friends would not need to be taught how to IV a sheep. I removed the body from the stall and wondered why all our ministrations had come to naught. It does seem as thought sheep either get better on their own or decide to give up. Sometimes medicine has nothing to do with it.

At least the day was over. It was quiet in the barn. I could hear the ewes in their loafing shed chewing their cuds. The horses blinked again when I turned the lights off. As I walked back to the house, the cold crisp air was fresh and the stars twinkled in the atmosphere.

Photo: frost as thick as snow

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