This morning, in Eriskay, the usual morning croft chores. To an interested but uninformed observer – someone staying in the nearby holiday rental, flats, for example – or one of our sheep, the day-to-day variations in running order may appear to be random, but that’s not the case. No indeed not: there’s method in the madness, I assure you!
Last on the list, this morning, was Near Park – the field just across the road from the croft store. That’s been Scott‘s domain ever since he arrived here last summer. For most of that time, for company, he’s shared the field with three wedders.
Every morning they’re to be seen waiting at the gate, anxious for me to cross the road with their ration of sheep nuts. It’s June now, and the grass and natural herbage is growing faster than they can eat it, so their ration is little more than a taster each: it’s enough to give me a chance to count them and look them over.
Despite my advancing years (next week I’ll be collecting my 60+ Travel Concession Card!), counting to four (that’s Scott, plus his three chums) still falls well within my cerebral capabilities. Or at least it did until this morning. Scott (he demands his ration before the others, from my hand – though he expects the same amount again as the others are eating), plus Rhubarb, plus the other two. That’s pretty much the order in which they see their own position amongst their peers.
So, this morning, from left to right at the gate : Scotty, Rhu … That’s odd: Scotty and the two others – and neither of them Rhubarb. Even with such forage abundant, and with a full stomach, that’s got to be a first – for Rhubarb.
Sensing something amiss, I leapt over the gate, and set about quartering the field (which is too uneven and rocky to be seen at a glance from any one place) calling Troaibh!, Troaibh! Troaibh!
I found Rhubarb in the shelter of a rock outcrop, where the ground falls gently away towards a nearby stream. The well-drained soil and lush grass are characterstic of a spot favoured by the sheep for spending the night. Rhubarb had settled down as for rest, legs tucked under him – but he’s slumped over on one side. His body was cold and stiff with rigor mortis.
There’d been nothing apparently amiss when I’d checked them all yesterday morning. And nothing at all to concern me when, yesterday evening, he’d trotted over to see me as I passed by attending to fencing work. The only indication of anything wrong with him, that I could see as I buried him in the deep peaty soils of Home Park, was a greenish runny discharge from one nostril.
It’s simply impracticable and uneconomic to conduct an autopsy and lab tests in a case like this. Our working assumption is that this was a bacterial infection, the effects of which – on an otherwise very healthy animal – were hidden … until it was too late. For now, we’ll assume this was a one-off. Let’s hope so!
Rhubarb was born last year, 2016, and one of two bottle-babies for that year (the other was Primrose). He had a very distinct identity – and a strong and lively character: so much so that – even after bottle-feeding was finally withdrawn, he never receded back into the flock to become scarcely distinguishable from his peers. And besides, how many other sheep do you know that have wool growing out of the ends of their horns? No, Rhubarb he was, and Rhubarb he remained until the last.
It’s such a pity. There’s the financial loss, of course: we’d expected to shear Rhubarb once again before he went to the abattoir late this coming autumn, at about 18 months old ; and our direct sales of his meat would cover the cost of raising him and produce a significant contribution to our living costs. But there’s also the loss of fruition of our gradually developing know-how, skill and hard work – and our respect for all the animals in our care, as individuals, regardless of the end that’s intended for them.
It’s such a pity that Rhubarb never got to enjoy the summer of ease and plenty that he was due.