I'll start by thanking everyone for their prayers, thoughts, and notes of encouragement on this very sad day. I cannot express how much they all mean to me. And now, for those who don't already know, I have to tell you that two of our beautiful sheep were killed this morning by what we believe was a loose dog. Could have been a coyote. Could have been more than one. It was hard to tell.
When I was a young girl, I rode horses every chance I could get. I rode at camp. I rode at friends' houses. I took a few lessons. I rode every horse I got close to. And I never fell off. I thought I was quite a rider to be able to boast that no horse had ever "thowed" me. But then someone I respected said to me, "Well, you can't be much of a rider if you've never fallen off." HUH? Truth is, if you ride enough, and challenge yourself enough to grow, you will eventually fall off. Probably numerous times.
Guess I felt the same way about shepherding: I'd never lost a sheep. I must be doing everything right. But the reality is, if you have sheep long enough, you will eventually lose one or two or three or more. I stubbornly refused to believe that this truism applied to me, until today.
Sheep fall prey to so many dangers: old age, injury, worms, dogs, each other, themselves for pete's sake. (I have often saved Shadrach from killing himself.) Sheep are not the sharpest knives in the drawer. Sheep are vulnerable. They have only one defense: speed. And their speed is often matched by the critters who want to eat them. They need protection. Their need for protection has to be balanced with their need for the freedom to graze in the open. Freedom and constraint battle constantly in our husbandry decisions. We do our best. I know I'm not perfect and that the world is an unpredictable, dangerous place sometimes.
But nothing prepared me for the sight that greeted me in the pasture this morning. Our beautiful Esther down. On the other side of the paddock, little Eli down as well. And the remaining five huddled against the shed. (Mordecai sustained a small wound on his throat that I don't believe is serious, thank God.) I thought of all the plans I had for Esther's exceptional fleece, about her incredible journey to come to the farm, and all the progress I'd made in making her less afraid of me. And little Eli - the only non-bottle-fed Gulf Coast sheep who enjoyed a good long face scritch, and the one who insisted on eating his hay standing in the middle of the trough while all the other sheep ate around him. My heart broke into a hundred little pieces. Then I got hopping mad. So mad. I vowed right then that this week, I will learn to responsibly use the 16 gauge shot gun we own. Nobody takes my sheep from me.
I've been through the grief spectrum several times: sad, mad, disbelieving, fearful, accepting, blaming, flippant. Right now, I'm feeling very vulnerable about the critters, both sheep and alpacas, left in the pastures. How can I protect them better?
Well, I'm a pragmatist. And an optimist. God brings good out of every evil - sometimes we get to see it and sometimes we don't, but I believe He does. So what good will come out of this tragedy? One thing I can do is to make a list of the most reasonable improvements we can make in the field, and get a plan in place to implement them. Next on the calendar: tighten the existing fences, and put up real fences in the day pasture where only electric netting sits now. And while that's going on: start the search for a good guard dog. Or two.
And lastly, make myself believe that "the best I can do" is really the best. I. can. do.