“Eeee-easy, Mama. I know, I’m sorry, you’re ok. Almost done.”
The words mumbled out of my mouth over and over again like a skipping record. The farmer laughed, possibly because of my uninterrupted repetitive monologue with the bleating ewe. Still, I didn’t feel right just poking my hand into her vagina without saying something.
I finally looked up, more out of concern than frustration, and asked, “At this point, is it dangerous for the lamb that I haven’t pulled him out yet? I really don’t want to kill him.”
The farmer smiled and got both front legs out, allowing me to gently pull the slimy gooey black ball of wool and legs into the grass. “Welcome to the world, little one,” I said as I helped clear the goop* from his nose.
*Goop is a technical term for mucus
Ah, the miracle of life. It’s nasty. Really. Newborn anything are gross. They are covered in fluids and mucus and blood. They are simultaneously slimy and sticky and there isn’t anything pleasant about the sight and smell of afterbirth (or the sight of farm dogs eating afterbirth). But after a bit of cleaning up and drying off, I’m not sure if there is anything on this planet more adorable than a newborn lamb…with the exception of a two day old lamb, sucking on a baby bottle.
I’m working on a farm in Perth for the next two weeks, helping out with lambing and just about anything else I am competent enough to handle…which as of right now, isn’t much.
The sheep live on a hillside. I ride up to check on them a few times a day in a trailer pulled by an ATV. Sometimes, I share the trailer with sheep or dogs. Most sheep don’t seem to mind making space for me in my mud-coated wellies and rubber pants, but some resent it a great deal. And there you have the source of my aversion to animals with horns…
So far, I’m really enjoying my extra mural studies. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m any good at them. In my first few days here, I’ve shown complete ineptitude in several areas:
1. Pulling a lamb out of a ewe. I think that will get better with practice. There really is no real way to prepare for it. Just imagine pulling a skinny bar of soap through a small rubber ring. It’s not as easy as it looks. On a slightly unrelated note: I don’t think I’m ever going to have kids. Seriously. Yuck.
2. General farm skills: I can’t drive an ATV, I get my legs caught up underneath me when I am climbing over fences and this morning I was outsmarted by a door. What can I say, I grew up in the suburbs.
3. Painting numbers on sheep. This is something farmers do to help reunite lost lambs with their mums. It’s quite practical, actually – a ewe with twins all get a number painted in red and a ewe with a single each get a number in blue. I was in charge of painting numbers on three sets of ewes and their lambs yesterdays. 8, 9, and 10. The farmer looked at my number 8 and quizzically, though not unkindly, asked,
“What number, is that, exactly?”
“Eight,” I replied, “Or infinity. However you want to look at it.”
When his daughter arrived and saw my number “10” painted with a shaky hand on a horned Scottish Blackface ewe (reference my earlier comment about my aversion to animals with horns), she asked, “Wow, are we already up to 50?!”
“Nope. That’s 10,” I said. And with a smile, added, “obviously.”
I am, however, not a total lost cause. I drove a Landrover up a muddy “road” earlier today and only stalled out once. Not bad for shifting gears with my left hand! I also successfully bottle fed a lamb, even though I was told I probably wouldn’t be able to.
The lamb, we’ll just call Sir Snuggle-luffagus (not that I’m naming the lambs or anything, but I’ll have to keep them straight in my stories), was either lost, abandoned or stolen from his mum. Currently, he’s with a ewe who won’t let him near her udder. Lambs gotta eat to grow, so we tube fed him colostrum yesterday and this morning I took him a bottle.
I picked Sir Snuggle-luffagus up and set him on my knee. He squirmed a bit, but being a two-day old, slightly undernourished lamb, hardly put up a fight. I then, tried to talk him into taking the bottle. It took a few squirts of milk and some insistence on my part before he began to suck. But I did not give him much of a choice. I was going to feed this lamb. I was going to be good at something!
As he drank the milk, he eased back into my shoulder until I was cradling him more than holding him upright. I leaned against the side of the pen, watching intently to make sure he didn’t spit out the nipple or start choking on the milk. Sir Snuggle-luffagus fell into a rhythm and closed his eyes. As I watched him, my own eyelids grew heavy and I sank down into the straw.
I was momentary revived as soon as my bum touched down, as apparently, I was sitting in a sizable pile of sheep shit. I didn’t even bother moving, it was unavoidable.
The farmer came in to check on me just as I was dozing off and told me to go ahead and take a break until tea.
With a full belly, Sir Snuggle-luffagus curled up for a nap in the straw.
I ran up to my room and grabbed my book, grateful for a break. Feeling tired and slightly disorientated, I checked the clock, expecting it to be around 2 p.m. It was 9:55 a.m.
A few hours later, we went to check on the sheep again. The rain was coming down hard enough to wash three days of mud, placenta, and dried dung off my pants.
Fortunately, none of the ewes were lambing, so it was a quick check. When we got back to the barn, the farmer said we’d be taking a ewe and her twins back to the hillside tonight. Then, he reached into a cupboard and pulled out the most amazing thing ever:
We lambie raincoats!
Dear Scotland, I think I love you.