Polly Pullar tells of red deer Ruby’s lucky escape
Renowned nature writer Polly Pullar takes a lighthearted look at rural life.
IHAD a wee operation on my knee just before Christmas and Iomhair had to feed the sheep. We felt it best if I stayed out of the field to avoid slipping and hurting the healing knee, but I still pottered down later in the day to see them all.
This particular day, Ruby, our red deer hind, would not come to the gate. Her ears seemed droopy and she just didn’t seem right.
I asked Iomhair if she had come for the hay earlier on but he said she hadn’t. She wouldn’t come into the shed and uncharacteristically hung back.
In the end I had to go in and, with a great deal of persuasion and pushing, managed to get her in, and had to bring in her best friend, a little ewe called Juniper, too.
We had to put Juniper in the next-door pen where Ruby could see her, otherwise she would certainly eat all we put out to tempt Ruby.
Ruby wouldn’t eat a thing. She turned away from all her usual favourite foods. We called Andrew, our excellent Irish vet, who came quickly.
Unfortunately Ruby was not a good patient. She took an instant dislike to him and panicked, and she didn’t trust me, either.
I did my best to help him but in the end he had to grab her and instruct me to give her a couple of antibiotic injections with speed whilst he hung on tight, hair flying in all directions.
Andrew was brilliant, but with my dodgy knee, I was not properly able to help with Ruby and was scared of causing damage to myself after the operation.
All we could do was wait. It was too early in the year to find fresh succulent green leaves, but I kept on thinking these might have tempted her to eat.
Instead we bought lovely cabbages and carrots, apples and kale – all shunned. And every time I went in she looked frightened and would not even let me stroke her, which normally she relishes.
After two days there was no improvement at all and we had to call Andrew out again. The problem was there was nothing obvious.
This time, thankfully, Iomhair was about and he and Andrew managed to give her more medication, but not without another huge struggle.
Being pessimistic, I hoped this was not because she was giving up the ghost. But Iomhair and I were reminded of when she had first arrived on the farm some seven years ago as a tiny calf.
We had thought she was a hopeless case, so debilitated by a massive tick infestation, but she has shown us she has an extraordinary will to survive.
Andrew didn’t think she was too bad and suggested, as it was a sunny day, we put her out in the paddock with Juniper. She looked so frail to me, and I was feeling so worried that we were going to lose her.
We did as suggested and she began to pick quietly at some grass and gave herself a good shake. This was a good sign.
By lunchtime she and Juniper were lying side by side chewing the cud.
It looked as if Ruby had turned a corner. The weather, however, was erratic, with sleet-laden showers, and I was lucky that they both willingly came in that night.
She trotted in and once in her pen put her head on my shoulder and breathed softly into my face. Then she let me scratch behind her ears and rub her face.
It looked as though she had forgiven me. She continued to improve, though it took longer than we hoped.
Now thankfully she has returned to her normal buoyant self, and is back to her position as matriarch of the flock.
Iomhair and I adore her and feel lucky that once again she seems to have had another lucky escape. n
Checking in on Ruby.