Our old llama gelding, Winchester, passed away yesterday. He was 19-20 years old, so we were expecting it to happen sometime in the next year or so, but it was still sad and a shock for all of us. Winchester was one of the original animals we purchased shortly after moving onto the property in 2007, and he had been a likeable (albeit crusty) fixture on the farm ever since.
We had been telling him for months and months that he (along with his two pasture-mates, George & Judge) were going to be moved into a huge new pasture with lots of grass and room to run (i.e. that giant portion of our property that we just finished refencing). Well, Saturday morning we moved the boys over. The two young ones were ridiculous to get moved, but Winchester was calmly and easily haltered and walked into his new pasture. He found a lovely patch of grass near the lady llamas and the water trough, and spent the whole day munching. Later that evening, I was working in my garden (which shares a fence with their new pasture), and noticed Winchester walking slowly and stumbling a bit farther on in his new pasture. I remembered thinking that was odd - I had never seen a llama stumble like that. But he kept on walking, so I assumed everything was ok.
Ryan and I had had a labor-INTENSIVE Saturday and most of Sunday, and then we were scheduled to make a brief (and hopefully relaxing!!) appearance at a birthday party Sunday afternoon, then come home and do evening farm chores, make a lasagna together, and pass out. Well, we got home from the party and did evening farm chores, and as we were finishing, Ryan went to check on the boy llamas. He found Winchester on his side, in that patch of grass by the ladies' pen where he had spent most of Saturday. I don't think he had been dead very long, but it seemed like his passing had been peaceful. It was about 7 pm at that point, and we now had to bury a 500-lb llama in heavily compacted clay soil before dark (because we didn't want the raccoons/etc. chewing on it during the night - the poor guy deserved better than that!). Using the tractor, and our neighbor's help (I was SO thankful he volunteered to come over!), we got a hole dug that was about halfway deep enough. The soil - even after a good soaking with the hose - was still SO hard that even the tractor couldn't dig very deep. So, we put Winchester on a hastily-constructed wooden platform and attached a chain from that to the tractor in order to haul him out of the woodlot and into the makeshift grave (he was far too heavy for us to haul by hand). Then, we buried him as best as we could. There wasn't much soil over him, and I worried through the night about scavengers, but today we took a bunch of straw and hay and piled it thick and high over the grave. Last night we were simply too exhausted to do more than bury him with the pile of soil made from digging the grave. Then we put an apple branch (a symbol of life and rebirth) over his grave and said a prayer.
I am still in shock I suppose. He was SUCH a fixture on the farm, and for all his crustiness, I really liked him. I really, really miss him, and I know that his two young pasture mates are totally bereft and lost. George and Judge immediately ran over to us when we found Winchester and wanted neck rubs and love - I could tell that George especially was very upset. I don't know who will watch over those two and keep them in line now, but I guess that is part of growing up for George and Judge. You are on your own now, boys, and you are going to have to figure it out yourselves.
Sometimes I think that the hardest part about the passing of a friend or loved one is the realization that life goes on - no matter how much you think it shouldn't. Life keeps marching along, and eventually you realize that you have to keep going as well. There's nothing else you can do.
I'll miss you, Winchester.