When I moved in with my hunky farmguy Joe 11 years ago, I brought 14 sheep (and a bunch of other critters) with me from my old farm. Martha, who died today, was the last surviving ewe.
She was 14 years old, which, as Joe reminded me, "is probably longer than sheep are supposed to live." (My 15-year-old pet wether Big Chip, the last of the original 14, is still miraculously with us, and still loves to give hugs. His brother, Skinny Chip, died last year. I called them The Chippers.)
Martha, who was sometimes known as the World's Best Pillow, had about the best life a sheep could ask for, though I'm sure she would have liked a few thousand more pounds of grain. A couple of months ago Joe started referring to her as Every Sheep because she demanded a treat whenever any other sheep was being fed—and she could hear the rustle of a grain bucket from half a mile away.
She was the loudest sheep I've ever known—which is saying something—and she was never one to keep her opinions to herself. Basically she never shut up. But in a good way. Mostly.
She'd been around so long that nothing freaked her out or fazed her, and she often came in handy. Whenever we had to separate a ewe from the flock (because they were sick or needed extra TLC), Martha, who knew there would be more treats and less hiking around the fields involved, was always a willing bunk mate.
Despite having retired from breeding several years ago, she spent each winter living—and eating—with the pregnant ewes (Big Chip is in with them this year, too). But despite all that extra food, by this winter she was down to skin and wool. When we sheared the sheep last month, we skipped Martha and Big Chip because they would need their coats to help keep warm.
It's always hard to lose an animal, even one who enjoyed such a fantastic run. I'm thankful that up until yesterday she was getting around fine and seemed to be feeling okay.
Two mornings ago, Martha sneaked into the barn when she knew I would be giving extra grain to three very pregnant Katahdin ewes who have been living separately from the rest of the girls. (She constantly reminded me that she really should be living in there with them.) Always a sucker, I grabbed one of the hanging plastic feed buckets, poured a little grain into it, and attached it to the fence panel in front of Martha.
"You'd better eat fast and be really quiet," I warned her. If she bleated the treat alarm she'd be trampled by a stampede of enormous pregnant sheep within seconds.
She buried her head in the bucket, and, for possibly the first time ever, she didn't make a sound.
I'd forgotten about this photo I posted back in November, which is one of my favorites, and which pretty much sums Martha up.
Goodbye, old girl. Your presence is already missed.
Want to see more of Martha?
2/28/06: Martha and Her Twins
3/16/06: World's Best Pillow
12/7/09: A Look Back at Martha and Her Twins
1/19/10: Oh, Look - More Snow (scroll down to see a not so thrilled Martha)
The Daily Donkey 52: Need a smile? Go see Dolores