Saturday, September 22, 2012

A tale of derring-do, lambs and my jeans...

Here we go again. No blogs for months, then two at once.

This is a fairly typical bouncy fat lamb, very naughty.
As most readers know, I am not a mother and not much given to maternal instinct. Give me a puppy instead of a baby anytime, quite frankly. Yet over the years it has become apparent that I have a peculiar affinity with lambs. I've no time for sheep, stupid things, but lambs... they are terribly sweet and so well-meaning but, when all’s said and done, not too bright either.

By some peculiar twist of fate in among the general noise of farm life I can distinguish a 'bah' or a 'bleat' that says 'help' from all the other bah-ing that’s going on. I’ve fished out lambs from pools of pooh, I’ve pulled them out of brambles, from between hedges and fences and extracted their trapped legs from branches, hedges, gates - you name it, I’ve done it. But by far the most popular lamb rescue is the 'head in the fence' job.

This was one of my first livestock encounters when I moved her some 17 years ago. I’d been kept awake all one summer’s night by the repetitive, rather sonorous, ‘bah’ of a lamb in the field behind the house. Unable to stand it any longer, I’d marched out at 5am to find it stuck fast with its head in the fence.

Now, fencing on farms is an interesting subject - believe me, it is. They clearly play
a key role in the very structure and life of a farm and yet farmers seem to have a totally cavalier attitude towards them. If a fence falls down, prop it up in a half-hearted manner. If a hole appears, stick something totally unsuitable in the gap, like an old wooden pallet, or better still, try lashing it together with bailer twine.

Greg, of course, is the past master at fence mending. He has fences that would earn Tracey Emmin a Turner prize. He could probably stage his own exhibition at Tate Modern given the chance. No gap is too large or gateway too small to be half-blocked up and rendered useless with bits of corrugated iron, old hurdles, broken bits of farm machinery and, of course, yards and yards of bailer twine.

I digress, anyway on a livestock farm, fencing will generally be of pig (larger) or sheep (smaller) netting - wire fencing made of squares, think of it as the big brother of chicken wire - topped off with strands of barbed wire. Effective as a fence, yes, but I never cease to be amazed at how accurately the manufacturers must have taken measurements to exactly fit the head of a sheep. Brilliant!
The sheep, or big lamb in most cases, sees an irresistible blade of grass and just has to have it as it’s better than any other blade of grass in the vicinity. Trouble is, it’s the other side of the fence. This is no problem for the sheep as its head fits snuggly through the nice squares in the fence. Well, it does when it reaches through with its head at an angle. Very comfy. The trouble comes when it wants to get out again.

As the lamb attempts to reverse the move, the backs of its ears come into contact with the square sides of the netting. So it stops. It is quite beyond the wit of a lamb to turn its head at an angle as it can’t see behind it, nor to understand that its ears do actually have a bit of ‘give’ in them. So, there it stands, in its mind trapped by some dreadful device that has crept up behind it and accosted its ears.

And so the bah-ing starts.

My first sheep rescue was rather unbecoming. Dressed randomly in whatever was around, it being 5am, I tentatively approached the lamb (these are big woolly lambs, not the little bouncy sweet things you see at Easter) and attempted to wrench its head out. At which point my (slightly) superior intellect realised I needed to turn its head to get it on the diagonal for the extra space. Not being au fait with livestock at this stage in my ‘countrification’, I got astride the lamb as I rather cautiously turned its head to release it.

Having spent all night trapped you’d think it would be:
A. tired and B. extremely grateful.
Not a bit of it. Having been thrusting itself wildly into the fence to try and escape as I approached, the moment it was free it shot backwards with great strength and speed and then legged it to join its pals. I was unceremoniously dumped on my backside in a dew-soaked field in slippers and shorts well before breakfast time.

The one on the right is showing its teeth, very amusing,
well, to me anyway...
Well, the latest lamb incident occurred on Friday. As Tilly and I sauntered back down the hill, my finely-tuned ear picked up the ‘bah’ of an unhappy sheep. I located it up in the field near the gate onto the Back Lane.

“Hello,” I said rather pointlessly as sheep aren’t known for their conversation, “You’ve got your head stuck, haven’t you?”

“Bah,” came the reply from above me. I staggered up the steep path to the old metal gate (nicely tied in place and unable to open). As I climbed over the gate, I heard a ripping sound - ‘Hmmmm’ I thought. The trapped sheep was, by this time, doing the ‘flinging itself into the fence’ routine in a desperate bid to force its entire body through the small square of netting.

“Stop that!” I commanded and grabbed two handfuls of fleece and shook it. This always seems to stop them struggling and they then, unhelpfully, go limp. Remembering not to stand astride it, I reached forward, deftly flicked back the left ear turned its head and pulled it out. It all took about 5 seconds. I must say, I was pretty impressed by my technique, honed over all the years. The rescued lamb proceeded to bounce a couple of times, as they do, and then bolted away to join its pals.

Job done, and feeling rather heroic, I clambered back over the gate, to a further ripping sound accompanied this time, by a sudden thrill of cold metal on flesh. My jeans had rent asunder and I could truly claim to have managed the latest lamb rescue by the seat of my pants. Damn it.

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