10 September

Zelda. We’re Putting Her Down

by Jon Katz

Maria and I each went out to look at Zelda, our oldest and proudest sheep, today. We talked a little bit about how she was most often lying apart from the flock, struggling to get food down, looking disoriented, limping badly and walking stiffly.

We didn’t need to talk much. We almost always end up on the same page.

I got on the phone and called Jack Kittel, our large animal vet. He’s coming next Wednesday to euthanize Zelda. Maria said she was uncomfortable with my doing it, so I agreed and called Jack’s office as we both sat in the car. I understand.

Zelda is special. As we talked, we could see her. She was ahead of us in the pasture, slumped against the side of the barn, where she often is.

Zelda is a faint ghost of her youth, when she jumped fences, knocked Maria and me down, battled the border collies, and led two breakouts over the fence and up the road. She came to us in Hebron; we got her from a farmer friend.

She was, for some years, the unchallenged leader of the flock. She and Red respected each other, they agreed to a truce, but Red was careful around her, and she kept an eye on him. She also stopped plowing into me; she even let me scratch her nose and give her carrots.

She is so weak now that even Bud won’t mess with her. Fate never did.

Zelda is a great spirit, and she deserves to leave the world in comfort and dignity. We agreed that if she declines and suffers, I’ll shoot her. Otherwise, we’ll wait for Jack.

Typically, we take dead sheep out to the woods and leave them for the coyotes.

We’ve decided to give Zelda our highest animal honor; we’re going to dig a grave over the weekend and bury her in the pasture. She was a great spirit and deserves that, at least.

I no longer feel the need to justify or document these decisions on the farm, and people rarely come after me for doing it, as they used to do. I think the people who read the blog understand farm life better than they once did, and I am more patient about explaining it.

The good news is that I no longer feel that I have to.


  1. It’s the right thing to do. You never have to explain yourself to me. I am a city girl, but I spent lots of time on my grandparents farm and understand that this happens.

  2. The hardest part of being a two-legged livestock guardian is deciding when to help them go. No matter the species, size or age. You have made the right decision in your circumstance. My Zelda, whose name was Alphie, a 15 year old Suffolk ewe that started my love affair with sheep, left me last winter. I had called the vet to come out and when I went to the barn to get ready for his visit Alphie raised her head from the bale of hay that I had left for her the night before, looked at me and baaaa-ed, laid her head down and left this world. She left behind a flock of sheep that were her charges and many happy memories. She battled wayward dogs, cattle and bulls who were in “her” paddock and loved many lambs, although she never had any of her own. She went to the woods and now her memory roams the farm. Miss her every day. Zelda will roam your farm along with Red. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Jon and Maria,
    Even if it is only on a blog and Facebook friendship, I am grateful to have you, kind and compassionate people, in my life. Thank you for sharing who you are with me. At 72, I have also found I don’t care what people think about my decisions. It has been a long journey to get here. I am feeling grateful to know you.

  4. You are just reporting the news, status updates from your farm to mine. Your blueprint on farm management strategies are essential for successful animal husbandry.
    We have a sloping hillside below the big pasture that is the designated large farm animal burial ground.

  5. I lived on a farm much like yours for 24 years. I love the seasons and the reality of life found
    in farming. Zelda is coming to the end of her season and you and Maria honor that. Farming teaches so much.

    1. I’m so sorry for your loss. Zelda sounds like she lived her best life under your care. I know it was hard to let her go. I hope I’m that brave when my lgd’s time comes.

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