[Part of the life of a rancher is dealing with loss, or as one rancher said to me one time, “where there are livestock, there are bound to be deadstock.” Still, with a small flock like ours, every loss is really painful. This morning at 8:00 I looked in the corner of our front yard and found Panties, the oldest of my retired ewes, all by herself by the water trough, curled up and with that “inward-turned” look on her face that I recognize as a sign of a ewe who is done with life. Panties was the oldest ewe in my small group of retired ewes, and she had been really slowing down, last to get up to eat, and generally not venturing all the way around the house to the front yard. It was a beautiful evening last night and I realized that after eating their alfalfa dinner in the back yard, the ewes must have made their way to the front yard grazing on the lush green grass. And at dusk when they headed back the shelter, Panties couldn’t do it. A sheep who is alone is a very unhappy sheep. I cradled her head in my hands and she seemed to appreciate it. But I knew it was my duty to honor the agreement we make with our animals to put their comfort first, and she was telling me clearly she was done, so I put her down.
Panties was legendary in our flock, the top producer for all of her years in the milking parlor, head and shoulders above any of the other ewes. While 1000 pounds of milk in a season is extraordinary, especially after first nursing your lambs for 5-6 weeks, Panties produced 1400. She was amazing. Panties was one of the original 25 ewe lambs I got from Everona Dairy in Virginia in 2008, and was 10 years old when she died, the last of those original girls. She got her name in 2009 when my cousin Linda and I were crutching ewes before lambing (shaving the wool from their butts to make lambing a bit cleaner and easier). Panties was a black ewe, but as she crutched her, Linda exclaimed, “Oh, my goodness, she’s got white underpants!” And so Panties earned her name, not the most dignified of names, but one that she somehow bore with great dignity. She was the top ewe without question, and so what if she had a silly name?
Panties was a great mother also, and one of only one or two ewes who we ever got to adopt an orphan lamb. It was in 2012, and one of our ewes lambed in the pasture and prolapsed her uterus. We weren’t able to replace the uterus and had to put the ewe down, so now we had a newborn orphan. I walked into the barn with the lamb, and Panties had just lambed with twins. One was grey, a lethal defect we were struggling with that year, and I knew it would die, leaving Panties with a single. I plopped that newborn orphan down next to Panties and slathered him with her birth fluids, and she loved him like her own. The grey lamb did die, leaving Panties with “twins” who she raised without any favoritism.
Panties was a legendary ewe, and in retirement, a great old lady. She even looked the part, sporting a slightly ridiculous curly “hairdo” on top of her head, that Lisa always begged John the shearer to leave intact. We will miss her.