There’s one subject guaranteed to cause confusion amongst horse owners…
With the Rams starting to strut their stuff and curl their top lip in anticipation of what lies ahead in October, I knew it was time to make sure my ewes are fit and ready for “tupping” time. (I love that word – conjures up so much!)
The most time consuming job is checking and trimming feet and I knew that time was fast approaching as the odd ewe here and there was turning slightly lame. With 80 ewes and 4 feet each, I had a busy time ahead. To ease the workload I always graze my ewes in smaller groups so that when I have to undertake a shepherding task, like foot trimming, I was only faced with 120 feet not 320 feet. So in preparation, I got together my bucket of tools – foot trimmers, dagging shears, blue spray, antibiotics, syringes and needles – hopefully only the foot shears were needed as it was a blinking long way to walk back if I encountered other problems and needed more tools of the trade. Just as my dear shepherding mentor told me that you can’t shepherd without a good dog, he also told me, after a real shocking telling-off, that blunt and rusty tools are a disgrace to the trade. (If you read this Richard, they are sharp and shining – what you taught me has always stuck – couldn’t face your wrath if I didn’t do it right!)
I always set up a large pen of metal hurdles in each field so that when a job needs doing, I could get on with it straight away and not be searching for hurdles, string and a penknife – there must be so many knives left all over this farm – a metal detectors paradise.
I thought I would use my young dog Nell, who was working well but hadn’t done much pen work – it would be good for her – probably not for me as the job could get frustrating when the sheep realise the dog isn’t experienced at penning them up – it’s a myth that sheep are daft – they will take advantage if it suits them. I sent the dog out to the left – Come Bye – and soon the sheep came up the field grouped nicely together and yes there were a couple limping, but nothing on 3 legs, so not too serious. With the mouth to the pen wide open and the pen plenty big enough for 30 ewes, I thought this was going to be a piece of cake. Nell brought them fairly swiftly to the pen and suddenly on went the brakes and there they stood – they didn’t and wouldn’t move. It was like they had stamped each of their feet fairly and squarely into the grass and said “OK dog, now what you gunna do?” If they had kept moving, the job would have been easy. If they stop, then it could be game over, particularly with a young dog. Don’t shout at the dog, keep calm, and make some shushing noises, wave your crook and encourage the dog. Good in theory, not a chance in practice. As time went on, the volume of my dulcet tones did increase and it frightened the sheep more than the dog and eventually we penned them up. A fast move by Nell and an attempt at a fast move by me and we closed the pen up quickly.
My choice language must have been carried up the valley by the wind, because it wasn’t long before I saw a friendly face peering at me over the farm gate.
“What’s on Mother? Language a bit strong for a lady like you” (Everyone is Mother around here).
“Nothing’s the matter and you couldn’t do any better with your useless dog – at least they are in the pen – watching you the other day, I thought you had started a new business – sheep racing”.
He laughed as always and strolled over to watch me as I swiftly turned over one sheep after another and sat them on their bottoms between my legs and held them firmly by my knees – a technical manoeuvre but an effective one. All 4 feet are inspected carefully, trimmed if necessary, quick check of the teeth and udders and job done. Finally I place a small coloured crayon mark on their head to tell me I had done them. After about 10 sheep my back started to give me jip and the knees felt like they had been shot to pieces. Needless to say the turning over process became laboured – being stubborn and not one to admit defeat in front of a male shepherd I politely, but firmly refused help.
“What you need Mother is a turnover crate – you’re too old to be turning over sheep like that”.
“I can’t justify the expenditure for 80 ewes and just you mind your cheek – age is only a number”.
“Yes a big number in your case – ha ha, joke, honest. (He got one of my, don’t mess with me, looks) Listen Mother, I have got a turnover crate up in the yard, borrow it and give it a try”.
With that he was gone and no sooner had I done a couple more sheep (very slowly now), that said turnover crate was in situ. After a quick demonstration, I was once more on my own faced with this great metal monstrosity. I must say it did look easy to operate and fairly kind to the sheep as they lay on their backs, feet in the air, and no struggling between my legs and trembling knees. So with some trepidation, in goes the first ewe, 2 metal prongs slid neatly under her belly and I pulled the lever and over she went – piece of cake. Next please! And so it continued until we were nearly finished. This was easy and feeling very confident, I was rushing, my mind clearly on the next job, wasn’t concentrating, pulled the wrong lever and before I could react, the 2 prongs that go under the sheep to secure them in place, decided to dive into action and something hard, shiny and metal came up and smacked me in the mouth. The language pouring from my blood filled mouth was serious. I had put my tooth through my lip. Abandoning my task, I set off for home at speed and fell in through the kitchen door, clearly in distress, blood dripping from my mouth, to be greeted by my dear husband who asks…
“Are you alright?”
“Yes I’m fine – just thought I would modernise my face and have a piercing – no actually I am far from fine…”
A torrent of abuse followed as I cleaned up the mess. I took a lot of stick over the next few days as the locals viewed my battered face and swollen lip and dented pride. I said that my husband had landed a punch to which they replied – did he need stitches after you finished with him! We laughed a lot, which really hurt. Needless to say, the metal monstrosity was returned to its rightful owner and I am back with sheep between my legs, a back that is objecting and knees that have seen better days! Think of the number of back massages and pedicures I can have for the price of a turnover crate!