A couple of weeks ago, I was approached by another 4H mom about some sheep that she new were for sale. The individual who was selling the sheep was going through a divorce and no longer had time for the sheep. After asking the specific questions about the breed, age, vaccination schedules …. Alex, Simon and I agreed that we would take them. It was at this stage that the phone numbers were exchanged and I learned just who I was buying sheep from. The individual that I purchased the sheep from is one of the same individuals that will that are accusing the large dairies in the area of destroying the environment and mistreating animals. It isn’t my point in this post to point fingers and call attention to the wrong doing of anyone, therefore I will not post the names of the parties involved. Although, I have read posts and blogs from this same individual that has no problem pointing fingers and stating names of everyone that in HIS opinion is doing wrong. Instead, I want this post to be a reminder to all those that are unsure of what to believe and looking for a place to learn the truth, to not just believe in blind faith that is being said. Instead, investigate and ask questions to the people that are working hard to provide wholesome and nutritious food for not only your family, but also our own families.
Back to the sheep story. Simon and I, along with Will and Alex, went to pick up the sheep and what we saw was devastating. It quickly stopped being a purchase and became a rescue mission. There were 4 sheep (two ewes, one ram, and one wether). They were housed in a barn/garage that at one time looked to be a nice place. Along with the 4 sheep there was a rather large pile of household garbage in the corner. We are talking a good 2-3 months worth of trash piled up in the corner. It was evident that the sheep were having to eat what they could find in the trash as there wasn’t much else for them to eat. There were empty bags of Fleet Farm Sheep Feed laying everywhere and a It is also important to mention that there was no water in the barn to be seen. (Sheep will eat snow to stay hydrated) Other disturbing things that we saw: as we walked into the barn/garage there was a dead lamb (yearling) frozen to the ground and half buried in snow. In the area where the sheep were housed, I counted at least 7 dead chickens laying in amongst the trash. At this stage, we didn’t look at the sheep very closely, we were just more concerned about getting them out of this situation. So we loaded the four of them up and paid the gentleman the money and left.
Once we unloaded to sheep at our place, we got a closer look at them. There are a least three breaks in the wool older ewe. For those of you that are not familiar that statement, it just means that you can see where the wool started to shed out, instead of being sheared off. This means that they had not been shorn in at least two years. During the cold winter months, having a good coat of wool is advantageous to sheep, especially in cold climates. But during the hot summer months, which during the past two summer Northeast Wisconsin has experienced some record heat, a heavy coat of wool causes heat stress on sheep.
The ram had a nylon rope halter on that was only about 12 – 18 inches long in the lead that was all frayed. At first I thought that the guy we bought them from had put it on that morning, as a way to help handle the ram. Those that know sheep, know that rams will be rams. Anyway, once we got home and went to take the halter off, we quickly realized that the ram had the halter on for much longer. The halter had cut into the rams nose and the skin had started to grew around the halter. We had to basically rip the halter away from the skin of the nose. There were also large sores across the back of the ears where the halter had been.
Within the first 24 hours of being at our place those 4 sheep drank about 50 gallons of water. An adult ewe or ram will normally drink between 1/2 and 4 gallons of water per day depending on climate and if the ewe is caring a lamb or lactating. It was very obvious that they hadn’t had open water to drink from in a long time. I am guessing that they were surviving by eating snow and what little bit of water they could find.
Four days after we got the sheep home and settled in, we were surprised to go do chores one afternoon and find a little lamb laying beside one of the ewes. He was a little weak, but a fighter. Simon quickly moved mom and lamb in under a heat lamp and made sure the little guy had his colostrum.
It has been 3 weeks since we brought the sheep home. They had had not vaccinations and considering the environment that they were housed in, they have some external (and I am guessing, internal) parasites. Due to these two things, we have kept them quarantined from our sheep. We are not shearing them yet either. The weather in Northeast Wisconsin has not been nice to us, and we are pretty sure that the sheep do not have a lot of body mass under their wool. It is obvious that they were not feed properly for a very long time. Once the weather warms up and we have had a chance to feed them a proper ration for a couple of months, we will shear them. I am assuming that at that stage, they will look much happier and healthier.
The whole purpose for this post isn’t to point fingers or blame the individual for the abuse and mistreatment of the sheep. (although there is justification to do just that) The purpose of this post is to demonstrate that one of the individuals that can state that large operations pollute our natural resources with water “laden with antibiotics and hormones” will leave dead animals laying all around his property, wont properly dispose of his own household trash and has no problem with mistreatment of his own animals. The purpose of this post is to ask those that are accusing the large dairies of so much to look into your own backyards. For those that are unsure what to believe, please take time to look at the facts, to talk to the farmers and learn where your food comes from.