Cyril And The Cast Sheep

(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:

Cast Sheep

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?

Cast Sheep 2

Flattened fleece

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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Margaret gave the dejected, noisome one a bucket of water and the three of us agreed that the worst was over.

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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).

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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.

Cyril

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.

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All to no effect.  What…so…ever.

Cyril 2

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.

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51 thoughts on “Cyril And The Cast Sheep

  1. A heart-warming story. I now feel much happier about my ability to deal with all manner of sheep-related incidents. 😉 Cyril looks like a stubborn so and so, I love those photos of him refusing to move. Are you now banned from the supermarket? 😉

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  2. What an exciting life you lead David! Our neighbour keeps a few sheep and when they go on holiday they ask us to keep an eye on them. This is always followed by the phrase “they’ll be no trouble”. So far, we’ve had one death (unknown cause), several escapees and one that got its head stuck in the fence. I just dread the next holiday! Helen

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    • Yes, I don’t think the words “sheep” and “they’ll be no trouble” should appear in the same sentence. One dying on you must have been particularly unsettling. I have helped Margaret lift a dead ewe into the tractor bucket before which wasn’t as pleasant as the above story. D

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    • Don’t be afraid, Lita. I found this explanation – “Sheep Nuts are a very palatable molassed mix of cereal grains and protein meals formulated to maximise stock health and performance.” “Very palatable” if you’re a sheep, I suspect. You can rest easy now. D

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  3. You have my every sympathy Dave – if a sheep can get itself into trouble it will – we kept a small flock for more years than I care to remember and they were intent on keeping us alert by getting stuck in hedgerows, heads stuck in wire netting, having triplets in the middle of a field, cast in the ridge and furrow – you name it they did it – not a brain between them. Glad the ewe and lamb survived to tell the tale.

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    • I’m not surprised you don’t keep them any more, Elaine. They are needy. A sheep farmer once told me that “sheep are experts at a hundred different ways of dying.” I’ve last count of the number of times I’ve pulled a sheep to its feet or freed it from brambles or barbed wire. D

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  4. Loved the post! Made me smile, the thought of you in the supermarket….
    We came from London and now live in the edge of Dartmoor, the things we have learned from the local farmer’s have extended our life skills immeasurably although I am not sure our city friends have much of a use for some of them ie how to fell a tree with a tractor and chainsaw to make sure it doesn’t fall into the road!

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    • Felling a tree so that it doesn’t fall in the road sounds eminently sensible and far more than I could manage. I’m very impressed. And I’m pleased my supermarket embarrassment made you smile. But I’m not sure you would have smiled had you been standing anywhere near me. D

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    • Hi Frank. Although I go and see Margaret’s new lambs every year, I’ve yet to see one being born. But perhaps one day, my midwifery skills will be called upon. But let’s hope not – for the sheep’s sake. D

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  5. Have had this happen here at our farm, often with a pregnant ewe. Fortunately I was around the farm when it has happened and was able to get her upright and on her way. Just a matter of getting hands underneath and rolling her a bit with some support. Glad to hear everything turned out fine for your farmer friend…..and the sheep, of course!

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    • It is remarkable common isn’t it? I was driving in Northumberland last year and had to stop the car to go and right a ewe. And Margaret had another one waving its legs in the air this morning. Dave

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      • Yes, I guess it can be remarkably common, Terribly embarrassing I would say, for the sheep , that is. Been spending a fair amount of time in County Kerry, have not yet had the opportunity to roll a sheep in your country as of yet.
        denise

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  6. I loved your story David. It sounds much more interesting than when I’m doing this lambing and farming lark all on my own. Don’t wish to be pedantic and nitpicky, but the best way to turn a sheep the right way up is to grab the back leg in the air and pull towards you. If you pull the wool too much, you can bruise the flesh. When I am selecting lambs to go for the chop, I am forever yelling at whoever is helping me not to grab the lamb by the wool because of the risk of bruising. It is best to neck them with your arm or use a crook on their back leg. I stood there this evening and looked at the roly-poly ewe and her lamb in wonderment. How could the poor dear have put up with all that yesterday? Thanks a million for your help. Margaret the farmer.

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    • You’re very welcome. It was fun. No really it was. Wouldn’t have missed it. I’ve amended the text above re the best way of righting a sheep. And I don’t want to think of your new arrival going for the chop, thanks very much. Bruised skin or not. D

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  7. Hi, I love reading your blogs but next time you are walking in Cumbria and you find a sheep upside down better use the word kessend not sure if that’s the right spelling but I’m sure you will get the idea

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    • Hi Julie, I’ve helped Margaret with all sorts of problems over the years. A new born calf smothered in maggots a few weeks ago particularly sticks in my mind. We got to him just in time – and he made a full recovery and is called, as you might guess, Maggot. D

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    • Hi Brian, I don’t doubt for one moment that Cyril could do me damage. At one point I thought he was going to hit my leg at full pelt. Hence my speedy exit. A cast cow? That sounds Herculean. Well done. Dave

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  8. I also learned a lot about sheep … and daresay I’ll never use it! What a hero you are. If only Cyril had recognised your lofty place in the ovine world. Lovely post.

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  9. Classic! That’s such a great story, Dave – and with invaluable information! I’m almost certain not to need it in London but, if I ever return to live on the edge of Dartmoor (as I did in my teens), I’ll now know what to do with upturned sheep – there were always plenty roaming around there, although they were usually the right way up. Well done for rushing to the rescue, glad to know Mum and Baby are fine. I love the lambing season although it’s very small scale at my local city farm.

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    • Hi Caro, glad you liked my tale. Because of the quality of the photos, I wasn’t going to bother relating it but my partner said I should. Margaret had another cast sheep today. She does an amazing job keeping on top of all the demands made on her. I’m not sure I could. Dave

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    • Hmm. Not sure I agree actually. Given the ultimate fate of the poor thing, I wouldn’t like to become too attached. Bit sad but then that’s why M has sheep. Whenever, I buy half a lamb or hogget off her, I always insist she doesn’t tell me which one it was and most certainly not its name! D

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    • Indeed. I was reminded of James Herriot too. There’s an incident when, I seem to remember, he has been calving and has to go straight to a posh do but doesn’t have time to wash. As he warms up so the aroma of the cowshed is unleashed. D

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  10. Well, I learned a lot about sheep today that I never ever knew. Very interesting and amusing, too. What folks don’t do to help out the four legged critters in this world. Thank you!

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