Saturday, May 26, 2012

Death of Favorite Sheep, Sadly Missed

Everyday thousands of sheep are slaughtered, destined for the meal table, or to become pet food. Nobody notices their lives. These sheep are born specifically to be killed. A few lucky ones will be used for breeding but they too are usually killed, shipped to slaughter later in life, very few sheep get to live their natural lifespan. Favorite sheep was a beloved pet, but her life was somewhat complicated by a problem, as such when she died, it was also premature, but at least it was not at a horrific slaughter house.

When we moved to the farm in 2005 we needed some sheep to keep the pasture grass down. It was May and the grass was already knee high. We decided to purchase four ewe lambs. We picked out the four we wanted from a larger flock of about 20. The seller delivered them to us (with two llamas) later that day. We agreed we would not name the sheep.

Fate had other plans; the lamb my daughter had picked out, became very friendly, she had a unique brown spot on her back which was why my daughter had chosen her from the flock. She was a Suffolk Dorset cross (as were all the lambs we bought that day), and because of her friendly nature she became my daughter's favorite sheep and was soon referred to as “Favorite”, which soon became her name; Favorite Sheep. The other lambs got names too, Diamond, Speckle, and Teardrop, all names relating to their appearance.

Favorite Sheep at a year old, before her stroke

Favorite sheep had a pretty good life, grazing on 10 acres, she had lambs. But one summer, she had a stroke. I had noticed one of her ears was floppy, and something was not quite right. I later realized she had suffered a stroke, her tongue hung out and she got a fat cheek as she would have problems eating and her food would build up inside her cheek. When sleeping she would have great globs fall out of her mouth. She had a constant smell bad; a result of food in her cheek and drooling.

That year we did not think she was pregnant, but she surprised us with lambs, lucky lambs in fact. It was January (in Canada) she had given birth and wandered off. My daughter and I happened to be going out to take pictures of other lambs and found them, still wet, one still in the sack, with temperatures below freezing they would have died if not for the timing. We realized it was Favorite sheep who had given birth, she had blood on her rump, but was not producing milk, so we had to bottle feed the lambs. We did put Favorite and her lambs in a stall together for bonding, and she did look after them as a mother, with the exception of being able to feed them. When we let them outside she kept them close to her.  We kept one of these lucky lambs, and named her Blackie.

Over the next couple of years we had make sure Favorite sheep had enough to eat especially in the winter, and had to watch her carefully at lambing. 

Most “farmers” would have culled (slaughtered) her long ago, but our sheep are more pets than livestock. Although she was a burden in some ways her sweet friendly personality was also treasured. As much as she was not the brightest sheep in the barn she still seemed to be the leader.

She had two more years of having lambs, twins each time, each time having one lamb with a spot on its back.

Favorite sheep with her 2011 lambs (after her stroke).

Last Sunday I went out to feed dandelions to the sheep, they grow tall next to the house where the sheep cannot get them. I noticed Favorite sheep was missing. This is not unusual sometimes she is off by herself sleeping. But upon walking around the pasture I knew something was wrong, and I would probably find a body. There were piles of wool strewn across the pasture, often a sign that predators have been dragging a body. Sure enough I found her partially eaten remains.

I am guessing that she died rather than been killed, a predator would have been more likely to kill a smaller lamb, but of course I have no way of knowing.

Her this year lambs (born in March) are old enough to be without her but it was sad, I saw them standing in one of the piles of her wool calling for her.

I write this to share her memory. Many sheep go through life with one destiny, to be slaughtered for lamb meat. Favorite was lucky to be female, and lucky to have ended up on a hobby farm of soft - hearted fools, who could not slaughter their own animals. She may not have known it, but she was loved.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Thorsby Critter Auction Buying Pigeons

The Thorsby Auction market is located in the town of Thorsby, Alberta.  It is an auction market that holds cattle sales once a week (Mondays) and horse sales once a month.  They also hold an odd and unusual critter auction in which sellers bring many odd and unusual livestock animals and exotic pets (mostly rabbits, caged birds, and guinea pigs), and interested buyers can bid on them.  These auctions are in the spring and fall.

They auction off the birds first, often chickens, peafowl, ducks, pigeons, and so forth depending on what people have brought.  After which they sell goats, pigs, sheep, llamas, alpacas, miniature horses, donkeys, and some cattle.  Every auction is different,  you really never can be sure on what will be there, and what the prices will be.

The first year we attended laying hens were selling for fifty cents a piece.  There were well over 40 birds, Isa Browns I think.  After that year I never saw laying hens so cheap again, one year there were only 5 laying hens in the whole auction (there were other hens sold as a pair with a rooster, or specialty breeds such as Silkies).  In some cases laying hens sold for over $15.00 a bird.

King Utility Pigeons

We have seen llamas sell for $20 a piece but at one auction the auctioneers were paying people a dollar to take a llama. 

You see it all at these places, including some signs of neglect, such as donkey's with neglected feet.

Sometimes you get a bit of information on the animals (such as the miniature horses) sometimes you do not even get their name. 

In the past we have bought and sold sheep at the Thorsby Auction Market, I find the prices tend to be rather low, as such fewer people bring sheep to sell than in the past and many opt for private sales, or take them to other auction markets where "meat" prices are high. 

This year we sold a bunch of farm equipment that we were not using and bought 2 pairs of pigeons.  In the past we have purchased laying hens, but this year we want to take a bit of a holiday and to have fewer birds to look after in general.  Although hens are great to have, they are more work than pigeons.
Tumbler Pigeons

One pair we bought were King Utility Pigeons, apparently people eat them; not us, they are pets.

The other pair we bought were Tumblers, these being pigeons that fly and then "tumble", it would be cool to get a video of them in flight, apparently though this also puts them at risk of being taken by hawks.  I am not sure I fully understand the behavior, why they fly this way, but it sounds interesting.

I took pictures of the pairs, I should like to get better pictures in the future, as the colors on the Tumblers did not show up well.

At this particular auction I managed to purchase the birds for less than $10.00 each. 

The Thorsby Auction market is less than an hour south west of Edmonton and has unusual critter auctions every spring and fall.  To find out the dates call the Thorsby Auction market at 780-789-3915.