3 December

Shooting Rosemary

by Jon Katz

Rosemary was bleeding all over the barn and the pasture the last few days, we did some research online and on the phone, and I went out to the barn this afternoon and shot her.

The blood was coming from under her tail. None of the possibilities were good.

Rosemary was, I think, our most beautiful sheep, an independent Romney with wonderful, curly wool. People love the yarn that came from her. Because I was always with Red, she got wary of me, and although our relationship improved, she never quite trusted me.

She always expected a dog to pop up behind me.

I always did this quickly, enclosing the animal in a small space so if it’s wounded, it can run off and disappear.

I say a few goodbyes and take aim at the heart, and also the back of the head. Usually, I fire three or four bullets in quick succession, and it takes the animal 10 to 15 seconds to die.

It didn’t work out that way today. One bullet went into Rosemary’s heart, and she staggered and lay down on the ground. Then, for the first time ever, my rifle jammed.

This had never happened to me before while I was putting down a sheep.

Maria and I always make these decisions together. We were sure about Rosemary. I was on the way to my gym to exercise when I had this anxious, almost panicky feeling and turned the car around and went home.

When I got there, Maria came out of the pasture to tell me there were pools of blood all over the pasture and barn and she saw blood on Rosemary’s backside. The blood was deep red.

The rifle was old.22 I bought last year but had only used once. There was a lever that released the jammed trigger but I couldn’t figure out how to work it.

This was always my nightmare that an animal I shot might suffer and be in pain.

I made a point of staying calm.

Rosemary was lying flat on the ground breathing heavily, losing consciousness. The single-shot had hit its mark. She appeared peaceful and I had two options. To try to fix the rifle or call a neighbor and ask him to bring over his rifle.

I worked on the rifle. I moved slowly, safely, and carefully. Maria was standing away from the Pole Barn. I told her what was happening, I said I was okay and would figure it out.

I found the right lever by accident and was able to fire two more shots to the heart into Rosemary and I apologized to her and thanked her for being such a good and beautiful sheep. I wanted to fire two or there more times so it would be quick.

But I couldn’t fix the rifle.

It took her three or four minutes to die – I just couldn’t unjam the gun – and she gave a great sigh and was gone.

It was what I most feared, and it had happened.  Our neighbor Jack came right over with his tractor and took Rosemary away. He brought her out to the deep woods for the wild animals to eat.

We always choose to give our sheep back to nature.

We’ve only buried one, Zelda, on the farm.

One of my first introductions to country life came soon after I bought Bedlam Farm. I misjudged the seasons and bred my ewes early and I found myself lambing in February in the midst of a record-breaking three-day blizzard.

Several lambs died of exposure – their mothers were panicked and abandoned them – and one was gravely ill, barely alive at birth.

I called a large animal vet, but they said they could never get through the storm and it sounded like the lamb needed to be put down.

“Do you have a gun?” the vet asked me. Yes, I said. “You need to shoot the lamb in the back of the head.” And he hung up. I did shoot the lamb and I remembered thinking, Jon, you are not in Kansas anymore. Or maybe you are.

Over the years, we’ve had a lot of sick sheep. The farmers have a saying, Sick Sheep Suddenly Die, and it’s true. When sheep get sick, they rarely get better.

The large animal vets know a lot about cows, but not about sheep. They leave a lot of medicine and a big bill.

I figured out that every phone call to a large animal vet cost between $200 and $500 dollars – they leave behind so many ills and syringes –  and the sheep always died.

I didn’t care for the way the professionals euthanized sheep, wrestling them to the ground, inserting IV’s in their legs, injecting them with lethal drugs.

I realized the most merciful way to euthanize a sheep was to shoot them in the back of the head or in the heart two or three times quickly.

The .22 rifle was the gentlest way to do it and it was quick. I thought a shotgun was overkill. This way, they get to die around people they know with no needles or IV’s. It’s also a lot quicker.

Over the years, I’ve shot about 30 sheep, maybe more. On the first farm, I’d haul them onto an ARV and ride them out into the woods.

On this farm, we call our neighbor and friend Jack Macmillan, and he comes over in his tractor, scoops up the body. We are blessed to  have him and Kim as our neighbors.

When I first wrote about shooting our sheep people were shocked and disapproving. Most of my readers live in cities, and they know animals as pets, not farm animals. I got a lot of hate mail.

If you try to save every sick sheep or cat or chicken, you won’t have  a farm for long. We live on the boundary between pets and animals, we often treat them as pets but will make hard decisions when they get sick or are suffering. Sometimes, the most merciful thing to do is end the suffering of an animal, not prolong.

More people seem to understand that now.

I am glad I shot Rosemary, it was the right decision, but this one shook me up, Maria too. She was a beautiful sheep, and we enjoyed her and appreciated her. I am sorry it didn’t go the way it should have.

I will make sure to practice shooting the .22 – it’s an antique- every week.


  1. I think you did good Jon. I waited with my goat Glitter for three hours before the large animal vet arrived to tell me she was not treatable. She cried and suffered in my lap the whole time, waiting for the vet, in a storm. Three hours. You did good Jon.

  2. Oh, this is so hard, but a very real part of raising animals. She was so beautiful. I would love to do a painting of your photo of her, if that’s ok with you.

  3. Ah, poor Rosemary. I loved her curly wool. It always reminded me of Ramen noodles. She seemed to have an air of dignity about her too. Lovely photo of a lovely sheep.

  4. always a difficult thing to do….and especially if it does not go according to plan,…….but I’m glad Rosemary came to a swift death. Sorry to hear this….but it does happen and you and Maria are vigilant and compassionate caretakers of your flocks and herds, and always do what is best for the animal. So sorry, rip Rosemary with the beautiful wool
    Susan M

  5. So sorry. Jon, that it was so traumatic. It can’t ever be an easy thing to do, but I know it is the most merciful. She was a beautiful girl. XX

  6. Condolences, Jon. Living a rural life means having to take care of things by yourself, and you did take care of things. I understand completely. It takes its toll, at times.

  7. Thank you for sharing. Thank you for taking care of your sheep in the way you do. Thank you for giving her body to nourish the wild animals. I understand your pain and your grief.

  8. Ask Santa for a new rifle. Then… take them both , the old one and new, with you next time you decide to put down an animal.

  9. When you have a farm with animals you have dead animals-never easy but if you must it is the respectful thing to do- have always talked to them and said my goodbyes

  10. When the vet was trying to euthanize by favorite, beloved mini donkey things went awry and it broke my heart to see him suffer. I wish we’d had a gun. My two grown daughters held me and cried with me. I was blessed to have known that donkey, and to have my girls with me.

  11. So sorry to read this post. Rosemary was such a pretty sheep and I enjoyed seeing her pictures and videos. Jon & Maria, you always do your best for your animals, even when it is hard on yourselves.

  12. Dear John and Maria, you both are an amazing inspiration. Both of your blogs are so helpful and fascinating. What a beautiful sheep. I am glad she was so cared for by both of you. All the best to you

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