As farmers, we are not supposed to be sentimental about our animals, but we are.
Particularly about our bottle lambs – those lambs abandoned by their mothers, who we scoop up into our arms and care for like they were our babies. Asterix was a bottle lamb, born to a yearling ewe in April when the sheep were out on pasture and the dandelions and daffodils were in bloom. Sometimes a yearling ewe-mom will take good care of her first born but that is rare.
Asterix – named after the Belgian anti-imperialist comic-strip hero, who belonged to a small insurgent group of Gaulois who resisted the Romans invasions, confounding and defeating Caesar’s legions again and again– became our pet.
Espresso- and- cream colored, he followed us around everywhere, bounded up our front and back steps, and if the door was left open, he would prance right into the house where he would dance around, springing into the air and tapping his little hooves on the floor, his little tail trembling with happiness.
Lambs grow up to be aloof, not-so-cuddly and easily spooked, even the bottle lambs, but Asterix grew up to be a gentle werther, who liked to stand beside us and have his chin scratched like an old Golden Retriever.
We always intended to give him away; it was only after he bumped me a couple of times that we decided it was time. Then one day he rammed me in earnest– he came at me from behind and knocked me halfway across the paddock – where I landed in a pile of shit. Then he backed up to come at me again. And again.
That was it.
That afternoon we offered him as a give-away on Craig’s list and right away we received several responses. Two days later, two large men showed up in a pickup truck to collect him. I had spoken with a woman on the phone, who told me that she and her husband raised goats and that her husband “just liked to watch the animals out on pasture.” I warned her that the ram could be aggressive. Her husband could handle that, she said. When the man showed up I was a bit relieved, as he was a giant of a man who was easily a match for poor old Asterix.
The man lifted Asterix onto the truck single-handedly and sealed him in a plywood box. The other man just watched. Neither of them looked like farmers. They did not ask any questions about the animal they had just adopted; they did not even ask his name. In truth, they acted as if they were taking him straight to the slaughter.
“He will need to be sheared soon,” Art said.
The man looked up at Art. It seemed to me that he had no intention of shearing him, and that the only “soon” for poor Asterix would be the butcher’s knife. I could hear Asterix through the plywood – his hoofs tapping on the cold metal bed of the truck – a new sensation for him – in his agitation.
I had decided that if someone wanted to take Asterix for slaughter then I would accept that. The animal posed a danger. Why else would anyone want him? Ewes can provide mowing services and wool, but without the menace. But that night I had nightmarish thoughts about his journey in the dark cab of the truck, having never been apart from his family and having never known any life but this one – here on these few acres. For Asterix the world was these pastures and the old barn, the shade of the elm tree and the willow, the hum of the road and the chickens.
Every winter, a few of our lambs are slaughtered right here on the farm, so that they never have to go through the trauma of being hauled on the back of a truck and then rough-handled by strangers at the slaughterhouse. Art is there to say goodbye to them. I stay inside the house and do not hear a thing, and when I go outside, I find the flock calmly picking through their hay or chewing their cud, as if nothing out of the ordinary has occurred.
But this, I fear, was not to be the end for poor Asterix.