When I was six years old, we got a pair of lambs. We made them a special shelter. I petted them, bottle fed them, put on little collars and broke them to lead. I would have slept with them if I could have gotten them past my mother and into the bedroom.
And then they died.
For years afterward I blamed myself. Too much dragging around on the leash. Not enough milk. Too much petting and hugging. It wasn't until I married a man who raised sheep that I realized their passing had nothing to do with me.
Sheep just live to die. Which is true of all living things, I guess. But most of us don't go around looking for ways to expedite the process. Or simply lie down one day and decide, "Oh, heck, why bother getting up? It's just eat and poop, eat and poop. Who needs the hassle?"
How they manage to go lights out at will is a mystery. Not all sheep possess the ability. Which is why they resort to suicide. A portion of our pasture had fences made of smooth wire woven into six inch squares. The sheep weren't allowed in that section, after the first two stuck their heads through the squares and hung themselves. We also had to keep a sharp eye out for any gate rope or piece of twine with a loop in it big enough to form a noose, lest we find a sheep dangling from it.
And then there were the water tanks. My husband set out a thousand gallon tank, ten feet in diameter and two feet deep. The next morning there were two floaters. He assumed that, tempted by the stretch of open water, they had climbed over the side and been unable to get out again. He could fix that. He dragged sheets of plywood out to the tank and built a cover, leaving only an eighteen inch hole where they could put their noses in to drink.
The next day, he found a dead sheep stuck head first in the hole. He pulled it out. There was another sheep underneath. He yanked that soggy mass of wool out of the hole, only to find a third at the bottom of the tank. He was fairly sure the last one in must have had to jump up and down on his buddies in order to create enough space to get his own head under water.
At some point, you become resigned to the fact that if a sheep isn't dead, it's only because he hasn't got around to it yet. And once they're down, they rarely get up. A friend's young son once came running into the house in a panic after seeing his ancient horse stretched out, soaking up the sun. "Mom! Arm is down!" (Yes, the horse's name was Arm. They can't all be Trigger and Midnight.) He didn't buy her explanation that the horse was sleeping. In his short experience as a sheep owner, 'down' was a fatal condition. Nothing would calm Rex short of dragging his mother out to the pasture, where she nudged Arm awake.
Arm was seriously annoyed at having his nap disturbed. And Rex was mightily relieved to learn that, unlike a sheep, a flat horse isn't necessarily a dead horse.
Almost three years later this continues to be the most popular post I've even done. and by far the best part is the stories the readers added in the comments. And when you've read all the ones here, go here and read the stories from literary agent Janet Reid's crowd. My favorite is the one from Fawn, whose lamb had to 'go back to it's mother'.