Death is such a part of raising livestock that even children get used to it. Even though they might be sad when an animal dies, they are able to toughen up enough to drag it out to the back pasture. There the buzzards will pick most of the carcass clean, and then the sun, rain, insects and microbes will finish returning an animal back to dust. Kids learn to take death it in stride — unless it’s a pet or special animal that they get attached to.
One of our friend’s little daughter lost her special show sheep the other day. It wasn’t just the death, but the timing that made it particularly difficult. Sydney is seven, a second grader. Her parents bought her a white Dorper ram to show at the county show. She and her daddy came up with the catchy name of George Bush, GB for short. They bought him from a local rancher who insisted that he had the makings of a champion. He said that Sydney ought to show him. He already weighed 150 pounds, was already halter broke and extremely gentle.
Every afternoon, except Wednesday when she had art class, Sydney went out and worked with him. She would lead him around and brace him up like her dad had showed her how to do. Even though he outweighed her three times over, GB never was rough with little Sydney or tried to butt her.
As he continued to mature, Sydney’s parents thought that the breeder was right, GB was a winner. Not only might he top the county show, he would sire some good looking lambs. Sydney was so proud of him; she called him her grand champion.
GB shared a large pen inside the barn with a Dorper ewe. Sydney’s parents made sure that GB and his mate had the best alfalfa hay, special show feed, a salt block, a mineral block and a heat lamp to help them stay warm on chilly winter nights. Occasionally, some sheep in the adjacent pen would challenge GB and they’d head butt each other through the fence. Sometimes, Patty, Sydney’s mom would find dried blood on the posts and knew they’d been at it again.
Patty checked on the show sheep each evening before bedtime. There were a few days when he was down and seemed a little lethargic, but showed no symptoms of illness. The night before the stock show, she went out to his pen at midnight, and he seemed fine. But before sunrise the next morning, GB was down. It was obvious he was dying. There was no use calling the vet. His mate stood over him nuzzling him and trying to lift his head up with her own. Before Sydney left for school, GB was dead.
Her parents didn’t dare tell her because they knew she’d be too sad and upset to get anything done at school. When she got home that afternoon, she asked about GB like she always did. Patty hesitated and said they’d have to talk it about it later, but her red and puffy eyes and quiet demeanor let Sydney know something was wrong. The animal’s body had already been hauled away by a ranch hand and all that was left was GB’s pen mate who was bawling pitifully.
Patty held her daughter and told her what had happened and they both cried together. The heartbroken girl went into her room and made a grand champion sign for her sheep out of purple pipe cleaners. Patty thought that Sydney would be fine, but the next day during class, her teacher said that she’d burst into tears and told her tragic tale to her classmates. They were very sympathetic and in turn shared instances when they’d lost pets and other special animals.
His untimely death remains a mystery. Was it a cerebral hemorrhage caused by all the head butting? Or was it something else, maybe a vitamin deficiency, as another rancher suggested later. But at the time, it seemed immaterial.
Even though her precious GB was gone, he’d left behind his progeny growing inside his favorite ewe and two others as well. So maybe Sydney will have a good lamb for next year’s show. ❖