Day 2: Remembering Sheep
Updated: Jun 8
I have a shower
I have a toilet that flushes
I have a hot tap
I have a bed
I have spoken to four women today
I haven’t been told off for doing something wrong
It’s a 15 minute drive to the sea.
And yet this is the moment when I realise quite how much I love
But your profile said... ?
And suddenly all their faces come back to me, and I see for the first time the depth of attachment that had grown between me and 'my' flock, along with the extent to which I miss them not as generic animals but as individuals whose lives had become intertwined with mine.
One of the most memorable was Harness (number 14) who’d had a prolapse and subsequently worn a harness to keep her insides inside. She was quite old, and looking at her, the farmer said this would be her last year lambing. We weren't sure she was going to manage. One Monday morning we woke to the news that she'd had twins on our day off. Sadly, however, one of them died only a few days later, as despite having plenty of milk, she didn't have enough colostrum - the anti-bodies that ewes pass onto their lambs after birth - so infection had got in. We were there when it died, and laughed ignorantly at the spasms thinking the lamb was dreaming, only to be gutted a few moments later when we discovered water around its mouth and saw it was no longer breathing.
We bottle-fed Harness’ other lamb to make sure she was getting what she needed, since the mother's teats were hanging down on the floor. We named her Dobby since she had a little, pink, bald head and sticking out ears. She never seemed particularly hungry, and after a while it became evident that she was actually managing to suckle but only from one side - so we helped the farmer milk off the mother to make her more comfortable, and taught Dobby how to drink from both teats.
The farmer gave a pint of Harness’ milk for us to drink. From any other sheep we would have been grateful, but we’d watched those full udders dragging on the floor week in week out, and wondered how long the milk had been in there and if milk can go off when it’s still inside a sheep. “Fiver to down the pint”, we dared. It tasted salty and sour. Was sheep's milk supposed to taste like this? None of us had enough experience to tell.
61 had an on-going feud with 46, her neighbour, to the extent that she would jump over the fence that separated them just to headbutt her, and then had no idea how to get back. She had three lambs which developed strangely high-pitched, croaky-sounding bleats which verged on miaows, much to our amusement. A couple of weeks later, we let the families into the nursery pen together, and after a few initial shoves, trouble was soon forgotten. She became the most placid ewe to turn over when it came to trimming the hooves, and her deep brown face relaxed as she enjoyed the albeit amateur pedicure.
We took one of her triplets away to bottle-rear elsewhere along with one from 46 - sheep can only rear two lambs well on their own. Bottle-fed 46 was lame - something must have happened during its first week and an infection had got in leaving its foot swollen and puss-filled. I watched the farmer go visibly pale as he drained the pus off, and injected it with anti-biotics. A couple of weeks later, I sat it on my knee and repeated the process myself, lifting off a small scab to release the rest of the fluid before spraying it with "purple spray". Although we cured the infection, it seemed to have affected the joint and the lamb would, it seemed, be permanently lame.
The triplets from 56 were everyone's favourite, since two of them were born absolutely tiny. In commercial farms, they might have died early on, but here we fed them three times a day, and gave and received many cuddles. At first they would snuggle into our bodies as we fed them, all warm and woolly - until later when they began to brazenly jump over their hurdles to follow around any wellies that went past, in the hope of an extra feed.
The general favourite, however, was 451, who became known as Farenheit after a nervous, new volunteer assumed the farmer had read as much dystopian fiction as he had. Farenheit had a strong look of intelligence: he had been bottle-fed as a lamb and his affection had earned his place as a farm pet. This meant he had no fear of humans but bounded over and nuzzled your hands like a Labrador when he saw you, sniffing your face and hair if you bent down. If he heard the sound of a bucket, he would leap into the air in excitement, wriggling his back legs as he did so to give the impression of some sort of giant, woolly worm dangling on a string. Despite being castrated and therefore no match for Rambo the tup (uncastrated male), he always enjoyed attempting to shove the latter out of his way while he ate – almost always unsuccessfully.
My time at that farm reached its natural conclusion, but that doesn't stop me from missing all the animals that I knew by name, face and/or number. I miss Funny Head, 15, Butt Muncher, Freckle Face, Mumma Sheep, Rambo, Mini-Farenheit, Jumper, Lame Boy, Eye Liner, Cindy (bloody Cindy!), and Cindy's Lamb (aka Cindy or Orfy Boy) who galloped over and bounced effortlessly over the fence when I clicked my tongue, the signal for food. I miss 52, the first one I reached all the way in to retrieve, and the huge, fluffy lamb that I pulled out breach after drinking three pints of beer at a caravan party, returning to the event half an hour later with blood all the way up my arm, to the shock and amusement of all.
I miss talking to Sandy the sleek, brown Limousin cow, who was so calm she'd let you lean on her and stroke her, and play with her beautiful patch-faced calf who I'd watched being winched out breach by two vets - and the calf's father, an enormous bull who could kill you with a nod of its head if it so chose, but instead loved having the its curly forehead tousled and fussed over.
I also miss the people: the safety of belonging and being cherished.
One of us.
People are friendly enough here
But it’s not a farm.
They’re going to spray weedkiller over one whole field
To get it ready for campers
And the other field
They will cover in tarmac to make
A drive-in cinema.
This is not what I was looking for.