Sheep farming

Gladys is a metaphor

You remember Gladys —

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Left for dead but, given half a chance, she grabbed life by the teat and refused to die.

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  She’s still with us.

SONY DSCShe is at the bottom of the pecking order but is fearless and curious  (or bemused).  She is always last.  She’s the one that is missing, when one is missing — caught in the fence, or with her head stuck in a bucket, or wound  up in brambles, or trapped behind the gate, or stuck in the mud, or on the wrong side of the stream.  I’ve told you before that if you turn a sheep upside down it stops working,  shepherds call  this ‘being caste’.  Gladys falls over and becomes caste and frightens me to death, thinking she’s dead with her legs in the air.  I turn her over and off she trots.

When a stray dog approaches their field and the young sheep run together uphill (that’s the way to go) — Gladys runs the other way.

In Nature, she’s the one that would be picked off by the predator.  That’s  her role, her niche — she’s the sacrificial lamb .  I’ve told you before — sheep are biblical.

She’s different.  She’s the loner — the innocent — the vulnerable adult (just).    It’s my job to look after her.  She’s top of my list.

She is the unpromising success, the unlikely survivor, the loveable underdog, she is Kettering Town winning the FA Cup and a cat with nine lives.

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Humour, Sheep farming

Mothers and daughters — strong bonds, weak fences

We have weaned our 2015 lambs, and sorted them — with much baaing, a lacerated hand, a butted head, exposure to organophosphates (or similar), marital disharmony, horse-fly attack (despite aforementioned insecticide) and general fouling with mud and excrement — and that was just me..

Now the ewes are in one field and the ram lambs are happily in the boys-field. The ewe lambs are very unhappily in the girls-field. This is bound to lead me to extrapolate extravagantly upon the nature of the mother-daughter bond. The ewe lambs are screaming hysterically and throwing themselves against the double wire fence that separates them from their mums. The mums are lying down taking a well-earned rest and trying not to listen, you can see then clenching their teeth and staring into the middle distance.

Close to the fence but trying not to listen -- the mothers

Close to the fence but trying not to listen — the mothers

As night falls the baaing does not diminish and shortly after 2 a.m. there is a great crescendo and from the house I can hear the lower tones of the adult ewes joining in. I wait, it does not diminish, so I get dressed, grabbing the first garments to come to hand, the torch battery is flat — I stumble out into the starless night (where are all those shooting stars?)

When I get to the source of the din, all the female sheep are gathered around a crisis, all offering an opinion. Two ewe lambs are stuck fast between the two fences that separate lambs from mums; there is an old tree growing there that has pinned them down, resolute in its dimly remembered hedge-duty of separation.

I climb over into the narrow wire cage, ripping my new trousers on the barbed wire and pull the first lamb out backwards by its kicking feet and hug it tight then I carefully hook the lamb’s flailing front limbs over the top wire of the fence avoiding the barbs more successfully than I did with my own bottom (we’re talking 30 wriggling kilograms – the lamb, that is) then I heave. Amazingly it lands like an SAS parachutist, rolling like a pro, regains its feet and in a single movement disappears into the night. The ewes are impressed.

The second lamb is huge and heavy, I apply the same technique and deliver it as a breech from the womb of the old tree but, despite all the huffing and puffing, my strength then fails me. I do not let go; I shout for my assistant… No reply, not even from the dog. The louder I shout, the louder the sheep join in, and the denser is the silence emanating from the sleeping house.

Nothing is more motivating than having no other options, after a little rest, I hook its feet over the top wire and with all my might I heave and the second lamb disappears into the night.

Next morning at first light a morning chorus of ovine distress startles me from slumber but strangely not my spouse. Exploration, slowly as I am strangely stiff, reveals another lamb grabbed by the panicky old hedge. As I approach, the lamb butts at the base of an old fence post which, having rotted in the ground, slides to one side creating a hole and the lamb escapes.

Ewe-lamb trapped between two fences and (bottom right) escape route

Ewe-lamb trapped between two fences and (bottom right) escape route

In the light of day the problem is clear: the newer of the two fences is fine but the old one which it replaced is, though upright, not up to the sudden and unaccustomed onslaught of the mother-daughter bond. Hurling themselves randomly against it the girls have found all the weak spots. It will have to be removed as soon as possible.

Twelve hours later the last roll of liberated fencing wire is rolled towards the barn.

Recycling fence wire - the old will last longer than the new!

Recycling fence wire – the old will last longer than the new!

Remember Gladys ( our ‘should have been left for dead’ lamb — the one with economy ears but huge determination to survive)?  Well, on our final trip to the barn she passes us,  heading after the others, away from the scene and up the hill, far away from the mother’s field, tossing her head as if to say, ‘We’re grown up now — we’re off up the top!’

Gladys -- all weaned and grown-up

Gladys — all weaned and grown-up

My husband turned to me, ‘Did you notice anything odd about those ewe-lambs.’

‘No.’

‘One of them seemed to have testicles…’

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