Coun­try vet

When win­ter is as wet and soggy as this, it makes for a hard day for one poor ewe.

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Contents - WORDS TR­ISHA FISK

When lamb­ing goes bad

Idon’t think town peo­ple have any idea of the joys of farm­ing in July. They see the pho­tos on the cal­en­dars of fluffy lit­tle lambs gam­bolling amongst the daf­fodils, blue skies, cute calves slob­ber­ing over some­body’s fin­gers. It is all very pho­to­genic. And clean.

But just as the cal­en­dars about sailing boats don’t show the wet ar­ses and sea­sick­ness, the coun­try cal­en­dars don’t seem to get the essence of real farm­ing at all. July is about rain.

In the north west that means it is also about mud, the stink­ing greasy sort that gets into your skin and re­quires three hours in a hot bath with es­sen­tial oils to re­move. It is about cold. Ok, not the bonechilling snow and ice of the poor guys in the deep south. But those guys can walk over the frozen solid ground whereas up north we have to wade through it. That usu­ally means leav­ing the gum­boots be­hind by ac­ci­dent in a bog.

As for the an­i­mals, life is just as mis­er­able. Food is of­ten short, and it doesn’t con­tain the en­ergy and sweet­ness of grass in the warmer months. Their woolly coats might look snug, but fill them up with rain­wa­ter and they make mov­ing any­where an ex­er­cise in strength and pre­ci­sion. It is no won­der that un­shorn sheep of­ten end up cast with the weight of their sod­den fleeces, and the shorn ones end up with hy­pother­mia. ‘To shear or not to shear’ is a catch-22 for farm­ers.

Some­times the sun breaks through and the lambs lucky enough to be born on the good days rocket away, play­ful lit­tle bug­gers and a joy to be­hold.

But this story isn’t about those ones. This story is about a wet day, the re­al­ity of July, to hope­fully give wanna-be farm­ers a glimpse of some of the harsher re­al­i­ties of life.

If size is what mat­ters, Jan­ice and Ian weren’t real farm­ers, but they were quite good at it. They had about 6ha of tidy pad­docks and nice grass. They ran enough sheep and weaner cat­tle to keep it look­ing like a bowl­ing green most of the year, and the freez­ers of half the lo­cals full of prime lamb. The sheep got drenched, docked and shorn at the right time. The pad­docks got fer­tiliser and lime, and any weed that dared ap­pear was soon dealt to. “A never-end­ing job, thanks to the to­er­ags that farm around here, with all their car­rot weed and this­tles,” Ian com­plained about his neigh­bours. “Weed seeds for Africa thanks to that lot. ”

His sheep didn’t have names. But he cer­tainly recog­nised them all, and which ones threw twins or triplets, which of the young two tooth re­place­ments to keep an eye on.

And it is just as well he was so dili­gent, as the in­evitable hap­pened. One of the young sheep he was watch­ing be­gan to lamb early in the morn­ing of a wet mis­er­able July day. Still noth­ing was hap­pen­ing by the af­ter­noon.

“She is a beau­ti­ful young sheep,” he

Nor­mally vets don’t get called out to lamb­ings.

said when he rang the Vet. “But I reckon she should have got it out by now.”

Ian had driven the an­i­mal into his lit­tle hold­ing yards. The nearby barn pro­vided some shel­ter from the wind and he’d rigged up a few bits of cor­ru­gated iron over the race to de­flect the down­pour when the show­ers came scud­ding through. But it was inches of wa­ter un­der­foot.

Nor­mally vets don’t get called out to lamb­ings. If the farmer can’t sort the prob­lem, then the sheep is usu­ally des­tined for dog tucker or a deep hole. The eco­nomics of get­ting a vet and ve­hi­cle onto a farm just do not equate to the value of said ewe and lamb. But peo­ple like Ian are a dif­fer­ent breed and eco­nomics are not their only con­sid­er­a­tion.

“You re­alise if we as­sist her, then even if she has a good lamb, she’s not the sort of an­i­mal you want to keep in the flock,” the Vet said. “Not if you want to select for easy care any­way.”

Ian knew all that, but he just didn’t like see­ing a good sheep strug­gle. “It’s not her fault.” “Well, only in that she has been a greedy girl and a bit lazy,” the Vet said.

“Yeah I know, keep them fit, not fat. I thought we were do­ing ok, but she just kept get­ting big­ger and big­ger. I as­sume she has a load of twins or triplets on board.”

Af­ter get­ting down on his knees in the mud and get­ting a hand in­side the ewe, the Vet re­ported that the cervix was very tight and it was only a sin­gle lamb in­side. That was why it was so big, and why she couldn’t push it out un­aided.

Even Ian couldn’t run to the cost of a cae­sarean, es­pe­cially as the lamb was prob­a­bly dead by now any­way.

“Just do what you can,” he told the Vet.

What fol­lowed was not pretty. Ba­bies go in a lot eas­ier than they come out. That poor lit­tle sheep was stretched and wig­gled, pushed and graunched, she panted, she groaned, she bleated and bled. Even­tu­ally the lamb was out. It was nau­se­at­ing to watch.

There was no fairy tale breath of life ad­min­is­tered to the soggy lit­tle blighter. He was a slimy mess and very dead. His mother did not look back long­ingly af­ter the birth but stag­gered to her very wob­bly hooves. The Vet gave her a quick jab of an­tibi­otic and ant-in­flam­ma­tory and she was out of there as fast as she could wad­dle. She was not in the slight­est bit in­ter­ested in moth­er­hood.

The Vet him­self had bruised knuck­les and sore, soggy knees. Ian was hold­ing him­self to­gether by chain smok­ing. His wife had long since fled the scene.

At the end of the day, the score was one-all: one lamb dead and one ewe alive. But she would be no good for fu­ture breed­ing and would need care and on­go­ing an­tibi­otics to sur­vive the af­ter­math of such a bru­tal lamb­ing.

“I guess the good news is she didn’t go down and drown in a hole some­where,” Ian mut­tered.

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