Tragedy and Triumph on Our Homestead


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Homesteading is definitely not for sissies. Today, for the first time ever, I thought, "Maybe this isn't the life for me." 

I dismissed that thought pretty quickly, because I have a lot of reasons why I homestead and none of them have anything to do with easiness. Still, sometimes homesteading really, truly sucks. Today is one of those days.

Every morning, the sheep greet me at the pasture gate, hoping I will give them some treat to eat. Each morning, I tell them good morning and look them over visually to make sure everyone looks well. But this morning, someone was missing.

Our sweet little lamb, Bonnie, not quite 9 weeks old, was not with her parents. Unheard of. I wondered if maybe she was showing some independence, since Soay sheep, unlike more familiar breeds of sheep, don't always stick together every second of the day. I decided I'd give the sheep some molasses grain, which always gets everyone running to the manger.

No sign of Bonnie.

I went on with other chores, feeling troubled and praying that Bonnie was okay. After perhaps an hour, I returned to the sheep pasture. Still no Bonnie. And her mother was baaing incessantly. Not good.

I texted my husband at work. I was concerned about looking for Bonnie by myself, since cougar who have a meal set aside for later can and do attack humans. My husband said I'd better go make sure Bonnie wasn't caught in the fence or injured somewhere...so I grabbed my gun and my dog, as well as a fallen tree limb to make me look bigger to a predator. The dog and I walked the fence line three times. The first time, I was hoping to find the lamb stuck in the fence, even though she wasn't crying out, as I'd expect she would under those circumstances. The last two times, I looked for breaks or holes in the fence. Nothing. We wandered through the middle of the pasture as best we could. Our pasture is really a wooded area on a steep incline with brambles, so I couldn't walk every inch. But I figured if there was a body out there, the dog would find it. Nothing.

Bonnie, only a few weeks old.

No body, no blood...just nothing.

I cried as I realized our Bonnie was gone, likely taken by a cougar - or, as a friend suggested, maybe a bobcat (which supposedly can take a large, almost-full-sized Soay over a fence line).

I'm heartbroken and trying not to torture myself with "what ifs." And now, of course, we're concerned for our adult sheep. Although the people who lived here before us had sheep and goats with only one predator attack in many years, I can't help but think about what I can do to protect our sheep if a predator returns. A guardian dog is about the only real solution, but a guardian dog who is good with half-wild Soay sheep is hard to find...and a GOOD adult guardian dog with any sheep experience is almost impossible to find. And to win against cougar, you really need two dogs.

It just seems like too much. Too much lately has been bad, terrible, no good. And so I turn to God and I think about the stories of shepherds and sheep in the Bible and ask God to protect our two remaining Soays.

Shannon, Bonnie, and Shaun.
 

And then my mind turns to something good. A few weeks ago, I discovered a rabbit kit with a terrible and sudden case of wry neck (also called tilt head or torticollis). The kit - nor any of my other rabbits - had any sign of ear mites, the most common cause of wry neck in rabbits. After consulting other rabbit raisers online, most told me to cull the kit - to kill it. They said it wouldn't survive without months of careful and consuming hand-raising. A few said it probably had a parasite called E. cuniculi and I should treat it with Safe-Guard (Fenbendazole). My local feed shop did not have Safe-Guard in liquid form (which is the only accurate way to dose rabbits), so I ordered some online and hoped the rabbit kit would survive until the medicine arrived. In the meantime, I watched all my rabbits especially closely.

This kit's head suddenly was tilting severely to one side.
 

But as I read more about treatment, I realized there were no guidelines (at least that I could find) for kits. There seemed little point in treating one kit and not the others, and I didn't want to risk harm to the entire litter by guessing the medical dose. Yet I have always been one to give animals a chance to recover. I never cull runts, for example - even when I had one so small other rabbit raisers told me it had failure to thrive. Once it was weaned from its mother, it grew as big as its siblings. So...I chose to do nothing at all for the wry neck kit - except watch it carefully.

And a funny thing happened. Not only did the kit with wry neck manage to get around, albeit with great difficulty, since wry neck makes rabbits feel off-balance, but it seemed to be doing as well as its litter mates in every way except for that tilting head.

Weirder still, after perhaps five days, it seemed to me the wry neck wasn't as bad. And then two days ago I realized I couldn't discern which kit had the wry neck. In other words, the matter had completely resolved itself!

Healthy kits!
 

It goes to show that the crowd can be wrong. (Perhaps they are even frequently wrong.) And I thanked God that He saved that little rabbit.

Nature is cruel. Life is hard. No lifestyle is sunshine and lollipops every day - certainly not the farming life. But as hard as today is and as much as my tears are still falling, I am thankful for these little creatures. I am thankful for this land. And I am thankful for the homesteading life God has blessed us with. It's not for sissies, but if we can weather the hard parts, we are richly rewarded with animal interaction, healthy food, and a more realistic view of the world.

_______________________

"You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Sovereign Lord." 

Ezekiel 34:31


4 comments

  1. Aww, Kristina, I'm so sorry for the loss of your precious little Bonnie. Homesteading is, indeed very hard, at times. From November through April, we lost a critter. Every. Single. Month. 5 goats - more than half our herd - and a duck. It's May, and my older doe is due to kid any minute. I'm in near constant prayer for a - healthy multiplies and b - mama doesn't reject them, like she did her 2nd kid. I worked HARD for 2 1/2 days, too save the beautiful little buckling she had, last year, on mother's day, but he died in my arms. The year before, we had neighbors (who've since moved, thankfully), who allowed their husky and lab to run free, and they wiped out half our flock of chickens. Our garden harvests wouldn't keep a mouse alive, because rocks aren't exactly fertile planting medium, and we're only just now reaching the point of having enough composted ground to start seeing the development of actual soil. BUT!! That soil is very rich, and the strawberries, and elderberries I planted this spring are doing beautifully, my asparagus are the cutesy little ferns I've ever seen, the blueberries I planted last year and this spring are beginning to shoot up and fill out, the little apple tree I planted too early this spring is holding up beautifully, and thriving(despite my buck's penchant for scrubbing his horns on it!), my grapevines, hazelnuts and yarrow are growing like wildfire, the wild blackberries are taking over all the land we will let them have, and the day-old chicks I tucked under Miss Broody are doing beautifully, and she's the happiest of all my hens. Homesteading is hard and often heartbreaking - but, also even more beautiful and deeply rewarding. It brings me to my knees - where I'm supposed to be. Thank you for sharing your hard stuff, as well as your blessings. ~hugs & prayers~
    Carla

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    1. "It brings me to my knees - where I'm supposed to be." Spot on and beautifully said! Hugs.

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  2. Thank you for this. Beautifully written.

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