(Apologies for the poor quality of these photos. Under the circumstances, you’ll understand why I used my smart phone rather than my ‘proper’ camera).
It was only when I befriended a farmer, that I learnt how a ewe might lie down, inadvertently roll on to her back and, tortoise-like, be unable to right herself. This is especially true of short-legged breeds on flat ground and pregnant ewes are particularly prone. And if the fleece is also soaked with rain … well, this is the result:
With the combined weight of wet fleece and belly the sheep is helpless and easy prey to crows and foxes. I saw this poor lass the other day and ran over to pull her up on to her feet. She hadn’t been upended long and was perfectly fine, if not overtly grateful. If you see a ‘cast’ sheep – do tell the farmer or failing that try to right her yourself. Just grab a leg and haul. Usually, the sheep will struggle to its feet, pause, have a big wee and totter off to join her unhelpful, fair-weather friends. Left unaided, her stomach might balloon with gas and she’ll die. Either that or she will be at the pathetic mercy of any passing predator.
Yesterday Margaret (who farms the fields around The Priory) yahooed across the garden hedge. Could I come and lend a hand with another cast ewe?
The sodden, pregnant sheep had been on her back overnight and was obviously exhausted, distressed and barely able to stand. Margaret decided to move her up to the barn.
The plan was to bring the tractor down from the farm; I would clamber into the bucket with the ewe, clasping her tightly to prevent her jumping out and waddling away to freedom.
You’ll remember from when you last did it, that crouching in a moving tractor bucket with a pregnant, sopping and stinky ewe clamped between your knees isn’t the most comfortable of experiences.
Interesting and unusual certainly, even a little bewildering but not comfortable. Margaret had at least kindly hosed out the bucket first (it had last been used for scooping out manure from the cow sheds). I thanked her.
“Oh. Well, I only cleaned it out for the ewe really,'” she replied.
“Ah. Yes. Of course. Obviously. Poor ewe. Good idea.”
We trundled several hundred yards up to the farm where I gratefully, stiffly climbed out of the bucket still grasping handfuls of wet sheep. We set up some hurdles under the barn roof and gently guided the ewe into her new straw-filled home.
Margaret gave the dejected, noisome one a bucket of water and the three of us agreed that the worst was over.
The barn was warm and dry and the ewe had other lambing mothers for company. A quick glance at her rear end and it was clear – even to me – that she would lamb imminently; perhaps induced by her misadventures. I just hoped I hadn’t squeezed her too tightly between my knees. (Which incidentally is the first time I’ve ever harboured that particular worry about anyone).
As I walked back down to the Priory, it was obvious why farmers don’t normally choose to drive tractors over wet pasture. In the far distance I could see Cyril the ram. As we had driven up with the ewe, he had marched through the opened gate and Margaret had asked me to shoo him back into his field. I cheerfully, naively said that I would.
Ha! Have you ever tried to shoo a ram? I now have and can attest that it ain’t easy. Rams don’t like being shoo-ed, I’ve discovered. I called to Cyril, conversed reasonably, ordered him sharply, cajoled pleadingly, waved my arms and shouting nonsense, got behind to drive him purposefully forward.
All to no effect. What…so…ever.
I took a deep breath and tried again. Which is when Cyril grew tired of my foolish antics, stamped the ground threateningly, lowered his head and charged. Repeatedly. He’s a big, hefty, bone-headed chap and though he didn’t actually butt me, I decided his patience was wearing thin. So, fearing for my bones, I fixed him with my haughtiest stare and stalked off – but all the while keeping an anxious eye out for a final murderous assault. (I learnt later from Margaret that the only sure-fire method of coercing Cyril is by rattling a bucket of sheep-nuts. He’ll follow anyone for a sheep-nut, apparently. Which is how she eventually moved him back to where he belongs. Now your ram-herding knowledge is equal to mine).
I often spend a little of my day helping Margaret with her cows or sheep and it’s fun to leave the garden for a while and play farming. But I couldn’t guess when I drove to work yesterday that I would spend half an hour in a mucky, steel scoop holding a reluctant, smelly sheep. And I didn’t realise how much I stank until the car heater kicked in on my drive home. As the car grew hotter, so did my trousers and jacket – releasing an overwhelming, eyewateringly pungent aroma of wet, soiled sheep. Embarrassingly, I had to stop at a warm supermarket and coloured a deepening shade of beetroot as shoppers and staff backed away warily, their noses wrinkling, eyes pointedly avoiding mine. Trying to explain that I’d very recently had a dirty sheep between my legs seemed inopportune.
After I’d showered and washed all my clothes on a very hot wash indeed, I got a text from Margaret. She had just hauled a huge, healthy lamb from the bedraggled ewe. Both Mother and Baby are doing handsomely. I needn’t have worried about over-zealous knee clenching after all.