Yesterday was a historic day for our little farm. Our first lamb born here, went to butcher. We took two lambs last year but they were wethers we had purchased at the age of 4 months. This spring our first two lambs were born on the property – a ewe and a ram – and in just 8 months, the little ram had grown big enough to butcher.
We might not have been in quite such a hurry if we had been able to wether (neuter) him. Unfortunately, his testicles did not descend at birth – or in the weeks following. According to my google research, he was an anomaly as this rarely occurs in sheep. One forum contributor said she’d raised over 1000 lambs and never had one undescended, so it seemed rather unlikely that our only ram lamb was such an anomaly. But I had him examined by both a large animal veterinarian and my shearer, who both agreed he was the rarity. He did descend eventually – but not until he was way too big to band.
Over the summer it was not an issue. We allowed him to grow and play with his sister and learn the business of becoming an adult sheep. The problems didn’t arise until the first ewe went into heat. That is when he discovered his manhood and our ram – his father – was not pleased. Since the first ewe went into heat there has been a shift in the flock dynamics as one by one they cycled, and the ram became ever more protective of “his” ewes and ever more determined to keep his son from impregnating them. While grazing he never totally relaxed, instead keeping himself between the ewes and his son, and the stress of it all resulted in an earlier than otherwise planned, trip to butcher.
The day before our appointment, I spent quite a bit of time on preparations, hoping that would result in an easy time loading and transporting. First I moved a black rubber stall mat into the bed of my pick up truck, to give him a firm footing. Then we loaded our cobbled together livestock cage into the back of the truck. Consisting of livestock panels wired together at the corners, the cage sits between the wheel wells and takes up most of the length of the truck. It is large enough to transport 4 lambs, so one would have plenty of room to move around. Next I prepared a small pen to herd the flock into, so that I would be able to more easily grab the lamb when it was time to load. Having been raised by his mother he maintained a natural suspicion of people, and did not like us to get within touching distance. Last, I recruited helpers; SAB and my neighbor, since HWA was away on business.
The preparations did indeed help to make the morning go smoothly. The sheep did not even need grain to be tempted into the holding pen – they ran in willingly and I then closed them in with a panel. The ram lamb had developed some lovely horns – or “handles” as we dubbed them – so in the small area it was actually quite easy to walk up to him, grab him by the handles and gain physical control of him. We then released the remaining sheep from the pen, put a halter on the lamb (this was at the request of the processors), and dragged/led him to the truck. My neighbor kept a tight hold on his horns, while I lifted his front legs onto the tailgate, then went to his hind end and lifted the rest of him up there. Once all of him was on the truck, I scrambled up and into the cage, then pulled him in behind me, while my neighbor pushed from behind to make sure he continued to move in the right direction. Once we were both in, she let me back out, we secured the door and we were on our way.
The processor is about a 30-minute drive and I kept a close eye on him in my rear-view mirror throughout the drive. He never relaxed enough to lie down but didn’t seem distressed either. At the processor, two employees helped to unload him and put him in a holding pen and after giving instructions to the office, I left. I will return in around 10 days to pick up the meat.
Several friends have asked me since: “Weren’t you sad?” “Wasn’t it hard to drop him off after raising him from birth?” My honest answer is “No”. I gave him as good a life as I knew how. He was with his mother, naturally raised, until he was weaned, and from the time he first nibbled on a blade of grass, he had access to many acres of fertile, green grazing. He had clean water, shelter from the summer sun and was never bothered by predators. He never knew a moment of cruelty or unkindness in his life with us – and I ensured when talking to the processor that they would also treat him with gentleness and respect. My feelings about taking him to butcher can best be summed up here.