Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Unlucky Ewe

Last week was not a good week. I hesitated, fingers hovering over keyboard, wondering whether this is even a bloggable subject, but this isn't a censored or fictionalised account of "Banceithin Life", it's a warts and all story, an expose of the idiot things we do. As the title says, "still learning, still making mistakes".

An unplanned loss of life on a smallholding, and especially on a small smallholding like ours, is always a tragedy. We've suffered mercifully few in our five years, just two chickens (obviously I'm not counting all the bee deaths to which I've unknowingly, clumsily contributed). Alas, we must now add an unborn lamb to the body count. Myfanwy miscarried a few days ago. I'm doubly sad as she was empty last year so this was her second chance to prove that her first born, Ceredig, was not a one off. A "proper" farmer would not have given a second thought to "having her killed then eating her" (that very advice was given to me just yesterday). There'd be no second chance. The harsh truth is that without identifying any external cause for the abortion - such as dog attack or some other fright - we have to face the fact that Myfanwy may not be a viable breeding ewe.

Much of the foetal development of a lamb occurs during the last six weeks of pregnancy, so with at least ten weeks still to go there wouldn't have been much to abort, and there was certainly little evidence besides a bloody patch of grass and a bloody sheep's arse. Veterinary advice was to "get in there" to check for "retained material", which if left inside would lead to infection pretty quickly. Never having been required to go anywhere near "there" before now, we enlisted neighbourly help to supervise our first time. However, Myfanwy had no intention of letting anyone or anything near her "there". She jumped the fence in one and left us standing open mouthed at her agility for one so bulky. In hindsight, we probably shouldn't have arrived as a team of four carrying buckets and syringes, wearing high-vis jackets, and striding purposefully towards Myfanwy's temporary prison. Never underestimate a sheep's sense of self-preservation. It is surprisingly strong for an animal with a reputation for spending its life trying to die.

That was Friday. Two further attempts the following day to pen and treat Myfanway also failed. The rest of the flock milled around, nudging me, sensing the possibility of tasty nuts or crunchy hay, but no amount of bucket rattling or hay rustling would persuade Myfanwy to come anywhere near me. She has always been the wariest of the flock, and now she was on high alert.

Sunday morning arrived and with heavy hearts we filled the buckets with hot water yet again, primed the syringes and headed out to the field. Luckily Myfanwy was showing no signs of infection and appeared as normal, if jumpy. On the plus side, this rendered an internal inspection unnecessary. The antibiotic injections, however, were still a necessary precaution, so we couldn't allow another refusal. We abandoned the pen and opted for hiding Dave in her blind spot, waiting until she was nose deep in the nuts bucket, then going in for the ambush. Third time lucky and Dave is on the ground spooning Myfanwy, one leg thrown across her woolly bulk, firm hand under her chin, whispering reassuring words into her twitchy ear. As wonderful a photo opportunity as this was, Myfanwy would not put up with this undignified embrace for long, so it was down to business - tail up, peer in, wash down, two jabs, hooves clipped, feet sprayed, back on four legs, one less ewe to lamb come spring.
Does she even know what happened?  I guess it doesn't matter whether she does or not, as long as she recovers, and besides, I think I'm sad enough for the both of us.

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