Okay, I must admit, there has been a pathetic amount of blogging activity here. And I must also admit, I worry that my blog is becoming an animal obituary. Yet this post has been weighing on my mind and I have to get it out so I can move on. As most of you know, I lost my dear ram, Renauld this past November to urinary calculi. I miss him. Everything in the sheep pen is different without him.
I love sheep. It is no secret. And when I was ready to get sheep again in 2008, I knew I wanted Icelandics. Its the triple threat thing - fibre, meat and milk that sealed the deal for me. And I have used my sheep for all three. Renauld and Freya were my first purchases. Purebred, registered sheep from an excellent breeder on Vancouver Island. I went to Chilliwack to pick them up in my minivan. I really had no idea what good quality sheep I was getting. I was lucky.
Icelandic sheep came to Canada in the 1970's. The first sheep imported by an Icelandic woman in Quebec. I believe all Icelandic sheep in North America are descended from those first sheep. Shortly thereafter Iceland closed its flock - no sheep in or out. The only way to get new blood now is to use artificial insemination which is quite an ordeal. But people who have the farms and the budget to do this get to choose from the best rams in Iceland. Both Renauld's paternal and maternal grandfather's were AI lambs. Here is his progenitor in Iceland:
You can see that Renauld very much has his body type. In Iceland sheep are used mainly for meat and the wool is just a useful byproduct. Renauld has a meaty type body - a bit shorter and heavier. And he certainly did have meaty offspring.
But a rare quality in a sheep, he also had amazing wool. He was by far my best wool producer. He would grow up to three times more wool than anyone of my ewes. This is a pile of freshly shorn (harvested!) wool.
Renauld was a happy, friendly ram. He had to be respected as a ram and I never went into the pen without tying him up lest he playfully ram me when my back was turned. But he was always happy for chin scratches and ear massages. He was always first to the fence to meet anyone new to the farm. You can also see in this picture another common trait of Icelandic sheep - he is 'rooing' which means he is naturally shedding his wool in the spring. He did not like his sides being touched so I never got to pluck any of it off and it has only fertilized the ground in the sheep pen. But his fall harvest was always plentiful and gorgeous. He was also very healthy and never had any problems with parasites or other illnesses.
He was so tame that if he ever got out of the pen, all I had to do was call his name and he came running to me. He knew his name. Anyone who thinks sheep are dumb has never really known one. Even though he came to weigh 200lbs at full maturity, I could always handle him by his horns. Really by that point, he was far stronger than me and could have easily overpowered me, yet he allowed me to continue to handle him this way. Unlike the ewes, he seemed to enjoy having his horns touched. They were a fascination - so warm all the time.
He took his breeding duties very seriously. By the time he was two, almost all my lambs were born in March or early April which means he was on the job as soon as the ewes came into estrus. But he was always checking just in case.
I loved Renauld but he was not my pet. He was my partner in sheep farming. Truly your ram is half your flock. His good genes live on in his daughter, Lifa and his granddaughter, Daenerys who remain in my flock.
I went out November 16 to give the sheep their juice pulp from Nature's Fare and he was down by the back fence. It became evident by the end of the day that he had a blockage in his urethra. Monday morning the vet came but the blockage was not easy to get. He thought Renauld had a good chance of surviving if they could get it out in the office with a catheter. So I took him into Armstrong Vet in the back of my Toyota Corolla. Two vets worked on him but the blockage turned out to be in an inoperable spot. They couldn't get it. In which case, urinary calculi is fatal. I had a choice to make. I could have the vet euthanize him or I could have him slaughtered.
It might seem that the thing to do would to be to have him put down. However, the drugs that they use to cause death would render him toxic waste. Although the idea of holding his head while he passed peacefully seemed like the logical thing to do, I just couldn't have my ram turned into toxic waste. It just seemed wrong. I called the guy who does my slaughtering and he was available. A 5 year old ram in full rut (breeding season) whose meat could possibly be contaminated because of his inability to urinate would not be fit for human consumption but a 200 lb ram would feed our 4 dogs for sometime. So I loaded up a now very sedated Renauld back into my car and drove to the slaughter house.
That drive was one of the hardest I have ever done and while I drove I bawled my heart out. I cried and cried. I did not think Renauld and I would be saying good bye for many years. He had been the father of my flock, their leader and protector for 5 years. He was a fixture on our farm. An animal always happy to be petted by children. And I loved him. I loved him more than words can say. I had tried everything to save him and now I was saying good bye. On that car ride I told him all of that. I thanked him for his service, for his life, for his friendship and oh, how I wept. I helped him out of the car and I sat with him on the ground and I looked into his amber sheep eyes said good bye. He looked back at me and I know he knew how much he was loved and appreciated. I left before his life was ended and cried my way back to Coldstream.
The sheep pen seems a lot emptier. Although it is certainly easier to do the chores without a full grown ram in the pen, I miss him. It is unlikely he will be replaced anytime soon. What I have learned over the last 5 years is that although I had an excellent ram, I don't really need one. In that time I have never sold a live lamb. My sales have all been for meat. Having him meant that doing anything with the flock took careful arranging and there was lots I couldn't do alone - like move the entire flock. With just ewes and lambs, they crowd around me and follow me anywhere like a pack of dogs. No ramming. Renauld, like most rams, loved with is horns... It is the end of an era.
He and Zeus (our guardian dog) were only 5 days apart. They grew up together and loved each other like brothers. It is Zeus who misses him the most. His buddy. They played tag almost every day. And anytime Dean went to spend time with Zeus in the sheep pen, Renauld was not far behind, running along like Dean's black dog. Now Renauld's remains are nourishing his old friend and although psychologically this is hard, somehow it feels right. Better than his remains being disposed of as toxic. And they are just his remains. What was Renauld, that ethereal, mystical substance that illuminated his black sheepy form is no longer in the sheep pen. But I think he is still here, watching over my little farm.