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Mortality is always a part of owning animals. Some small percentage of them will die from disease, freak accidents, old age, and the like. When you only keep a handful of animals, you only get reminded of the “M” word every few years. But when you start keeping more critters, you see mortality more often. Our animals number around eighty, so our odds of witnessing death increase to several per year. And the fact that we keep some dumb animals makes that factor a bit worse! :-{ Here is one from yesterday.

This lamb got tangled in the Electronet. When I went to care for sheep last night, I spotted her out of the corner of my eye. I rushed to assist, but before I got to her, I knew by her stillness and the bloated belly that I was hours too late. The wire and plastic “stays” had twisted around her neck as she struggled to free herself. Her head was swollen, so she had not been getting adequate circulation to the brain. She likely passed out and then suffocated. Not to mention that ruminants will die if they lay on their sides too long, unable to get up. But If she had just been caught and unable to get free, she likely would not have laid on her side while she was conscious.

This was kind of a bizarre and freak accident. I’m pretty diligent with teaching the lambs to respect the hotwire. I try to never leave it off while they are growing up, which would give them opportunities to learn to slip through it or jump over it. But, inevitably when they are little, there are moments when they do manage to panic and dive through, and find they can squeeze through the squares. As they grow, they don’t have enough self-introspection to conclude I’m too big to do that anymore. So sometimes they still try. It gets less and less frequent as they mature, partly because they do eventually learn how big their bodies are, and not to try to squeeze through 6” squares. And partly because they get calmer and know the routine, and know that wire is hot, they are less tempted to panic and try to escape through fences.

I’m not sure why this girl tested the fence, or exactly how she managed to get it around her head and both of her front ankles. It was wound very tight, exacerbated by the fact that her tissues had swollen. I had a hard time unwinding her, and I didn’t want to cut the wire if I didn’t have to. My best guess is that she was trying to graze the greener grass on the outside, and stepped both front feet through, then reached her head through, then tried to back up and realized she was caught. And she was probably getting shocked too. From there, usually panic ensues, they bolt backwards and forwards, fall down, flip over, and then things start to twist and tangle.

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I’ve had lambs tangle in the hotwire before, when they were littler. Usually it’s just a leg, and they give up struggling after a while and sit there patiently until somebody comes to untangle them. Or often they free themselves in a mad and determined struggle, and leave a mess of pulled posts and twisted wire for me to straighten out. When I extracted her, I noticed that one metal clip that connects two sections of fence was unclipped. That might have happened while she was pulling on the fence. But if it was unclipped before, it may mean the fence was not hot in this section, thus tempting her to push it more than normal. It’s possible when I moved the fence, I failed to clip this section, or the clip just came undone.

I checked the voltage on the charger battery, it was at 9.8 volts (out of 12), so a little low, but still enough to charge the fence adequately to get a reaction out of the sheep. (The fencer has a DC-AC converter, which gets the actual shock they feel up to about 2,000 volts.) I charged it up full and put it back out there, to discourage any more mishaps. The rest of the sheep were definitely peering at her situation with suspicion, so hopefully somewhere in their limited brains, they absorbed a lesson and the fence!

I am surprisingly impassive about these things now, it’s amazing how you get desensitized to mortality after a while. I was disappointed for about ten minutes, mostly just from my adrenaline of kicking into emergency mode before confirming it was too late. My biggest disappointment was that this was one of my nicest triplet-born ewelambs, out of one of my best ewes. Why couldn’t it have been one of those tiny tots,  crossbreds, or a singleton? Ah, that’s the way it goes. I have been generally lucky this year with few losses, so I’ll just chalk this one up. If I wasn’t working such long hours, or if I was checking the sheep twice a day instead of once, I might have caught this one in time. But I didn’t.

I tossed her onto the back of the ATV, hauled her up to the house, strung her up on the tractor bucket and butchered her out for dog food. (Not having been bled out and having baked in the sun for who knows how long, I opted no to preparing her for our dinner.) Might as well not waste the meat, it’s good butchering practice, and a chance to inspect internal organs for health. The dogs, at least,  will be pleased with their vittles the next few days!

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