This morning, while on the way out to an early appointment, I saw vultures squatting on the banks of the little creek that trickles down from our spring into Gooney Run. Since vultures are not noted as aquatic birds, this was not a good sign. Sure enough, one of our ewes was down in the creek, and, from the amount of vulture activity, there did not seem to be much to be done except carry her off for a slightly more dignified and less public disposal. I continued on my way and on returning a short time later, looked up to see about nine vultures in a nearby tree, with four more pacing impatiently on the bank. I walked over to see what was holding them off and found an enormous red-tailed hawk perched on the side of the sheep, which had now formed a small white island in the creek, water backing up behind and flowing around her. The hawk and buzzards scattered as I approached and hauled the carcass out of the water, leaving it on the bank until we could get down with the farm truck.
What happened to her and how did she die? I don't know, and after our flying scavengers had helped themselves, much of the evidence was gone. With sheep it could be almost anything. Sometimes I think they do it as a kind of hobby, there being nothing much else happening in the pasture. There is a cowboy poet who laid out the unvarnished truth in one of his opuses:
Of all God's creatures in this world,
And I can't tell you why,
None can match a woolly sheep
When it comes to ways to die.
. . . (Here follow fifteen stanzas laying out in detail how his sheep have shuffled off this mortal coil. The first time I read the poem I showed it to my wife and said "See! It's not just us!). . .
Yep, sheep're the only critters I know
Who see life with a Kevorkian view.
Why go to the effort of living
When dying's so much easier to do?
From Woolly Ways to Die by Milo Yield.