Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Goodbye, Earl

Amongst all the new life springing forth comes a reminder of the fragility of life. We lost our friend, Earl, last week. True, Earl was just a lamb, but Earl had personality. He was born the runt of a set of twins in the spring of 2007. He was a gorgeous little tiny thing with his pure white wool and luminous dark eyes. His little black nose and perky ears added to the cuddly stuffed animal appearance.

Earl's mama, Blue, didn't quite know how to mother two lambs as last year was her first time to be a mom and she eventually rejected Earl completely. So Earl became a 'bummer' lamb, one who learned to sneak up on a ewe who had a happily nursing lamb. Earl would steal several swallows of rich milk before the unsuspecting and unwilling foster mom discovered him and indignantly bunted him out of her family's space. Never did I see Earl look discouraged after being sent away. Instead he was on the lookout for his next opportunity. What I could learn from that attitude!

When the slow-witted shepherdess (me) realized what Earl was up to, I began feeding him on a bottle. Oh, how his little tail would waggle in pure bliss as the creamy milk slid down his throat! Earl followed me everywhere and because he was so small would willingly ride around on my shoulders until he was a couple of months old. Bummers are always friendly to the people who raised them, but after the daily bottle stops coming and they are weaned, they realize they are sheep and hang out with the flock. Not Earl. If he wasn't able to follow me, he preferred to be alone rather than hang out with the other sheep - quite un-sheeplike bahavior. Earl found it difficult to relate to the others. Many times I would watch him try to play with the other lambs, but it seemed he did not know the rules. Earl would body-slam a much larger lamb, often one with horns. When the larger lamb followed through on the challenge Earl presented, the resulting head butt would leave Earl shaking his head and looking quite bewildered. He would glance my way as if to say "Is this not how a lamb plays?"

Visiting kids loved playing with Earl, though, and he loved them in return. Finally, someone to play tag with and scratch all the unreachable itchy places under that soft, fluffy wool. In early summer, Earl moved from his birthplace to Western Trails Therapeutic Riding Center. Here he was able to give love to kids with special needs and the fact there were no other sheep on the place bothered him not in the least. Earl had found his calling. Even though he had to tolerate a bath now and again and live with the two goat brothers, it was worth all the attention.

When riding lessons and animal therapy ended as the school year began, Earl moved back home along with the goat brothers. Although the three were quite bonded by then, Earl did start hanging out with the flock. We let him go at his own pace and allowed him to stay with the goats or sheep, whichever he preferred. Eventually he chose to mostly stay with the sheep and often grazed and slept close to his birth mother who seemed to enjoy snuffling his face. Can sheep say "I'm sorry I was young and made a poor choice?" Maybe that is kind of crazy, but there is no doubt she did remember him. Did her acceptance let Earl return to the flock and learn acceptable sheep behavior? I really don't know, but would like to think so.

We believe Earl died from internal injuries caused by the ram, Jim. Earl was still fairly small and Jim is quite powerful and can be aggressive during this part of the year. We recently had a day where Jim accidently got into the pen with the other sheep after which Earl began acting droopy. We put him in the barn with his goat friends and doctored him as best we could, but just couldn't save him.

Saying goodbye to Earl was heart-wrenching as we had made the decision long ago to keep him as a bellwether instead of a market lamb, meaning he would live out his days as a companion animal for the ewes. As most sheep become very anxious if isolated or left alone, it is good practice to have an animal available to fill that role if needed. Because Earl was too small to be a physical threat to another sheep, was so gentle and easy to work with, halter broke, and had a calming nature, he was perfect for the role. But that apparently was not to be. Instead, we were to say goodbye amidst all the hellos to this year's crop of babies. Parting is often sorrowful, especially when it is not our choice, but we will always carry a bit of our friend with us in memory.

Until next time, let not the sweet sunshine of a memory be darkened by the shadow of sorrow.


Paula said...

OH! I'm so sorry! I hope you and Jordan are doing okay tonight with the loss of your beloved Earl. I know he'd been sick and I'm so sorry that his healing wasn't to be. Good-bye little Earl. May you have much clover to munch in those fields in the sky...

Jeni said...

That is so sad to read about your loss of Earl. When you find an animal that seems to go above and beyond what your expectations of said animal might be, it is really even more difficult that when you lose them.
Sounds kind of like Earl may have been the lamb written about in that nursery rhyme doesn't it?

Melissa said...

I love your style of writing. I'm so sorry about Earl... just knowing that he was out at Western Trails, lovin on those kids, makes me sad for you!

Adrienne said...

What a sweet friend! I am so sorry you lost Earl. I know it's so hard because he really was a friend and companion. But you can always treasure the memories of his special ways. ~Adrienne~

Stacey said...

That is so sad!!!
Earl must have had a wonderfull, if short life & did great things in it.

Mary said...


I am so sorry that you had to say goodbye to Earl. He was adorable and I know you miss him.

The boys haven't been to the farm for a while because of illness and then my daughter's surgery last week but we're hoping to go this week. I'm not sure yet, as Brandon still has a terrible cough. However, we do know that many of the goats and sheep were shipped off to other places. The boys were certaily sad to hear that Pueblo had been sent to a petting farm.

There will be new babies soon and that will help ease the saddness of missing the animals that they knew best. They will have a chance to make new animal friends all over again. This is helping them to learn about farm life.

Take care and thanks for sharing this adorable little lamb's life with us.


Adrienne said...

Susan -
I hope you are doing OK since your loss of Earl. You've been in my thoughts.

Please stop by my blog when you get a chance. You've been tagged.

Yolanda said...

I am so sorry. All of life has value and animals of all types give us such joy.

Nora Lee said...

So sorry about little Earl. It is hard not to fall in love when a little animal has such a sweetness abou them.