Friday, April 11, 2014


The ewe must have died in childbirth. Pete found her on his morning round, lying in the field with a bloody newborn nuzzled up. His son Craig helped him load the ewe into the back of the Landrover, and they all rode back to the barn with Pete cradling the lamb on his lap and Craig driving. They cleaned off the lamb and put it in a pen, then laid the dead ewe on her back. Pete took  up an empty bottle, then bent down to salvage as much colostrum as he could.
That’s when his hip dislocated.
He fell backwards onto a pile of straw, and lay there screaming whilst Craig called for an ambulance.


Once the morphine and Entonox have dulled the pain, we splint one leg against the other and then with Craig and some other farmhands, we slide Pete onto the vacuum mattress.

It’s a wonderful place to work. All around us in the muffled, straw-light and sun-warm peace of the shed, lambs suckle or chew intently with their snouts poking through the bars of their pens. Sparrows twitter and screech round the old oak beams, whilst out in the yard the chickens that were scared away by our arrival have returned to reclaim their territory, scratching around in the dirt. The lambs are all excited, trembling, watchful. Sometimes they spin around on the spot, or spring straight up and then bound away into the straw. They all have numbers sprayed in blue on their sides, the same colour as the vacuum mattress. Meanwhile, the corpse of the dead ewe lies off to the side just beyond the tail ramp of the ambulance, like an abandoned, upturned table, all four legs sticking straight in the air.


The ambulance bumps about on the road, but we’ve immobilised Peter pretty well and he seems content. We chat about this and that, farming, mostly, with Peter explaining about vaccination, vet’s bills, flooding, seeding problems and so on. He patiently hears me out each time I ask a question, holding the Entonox mouthpiece between his teeth and taking contemplative puffs, like he’s enjoying a pipe at The Bull.
‘Do you ever use any of the sheep’s milk for cheese?’ I ask him.
He takes another puff.
‘No’ he says. ‘There’s never any spare. It all goes down the lambs’ gullets, to fatten them up. You know – for chops.’
‘Lovely!’ I say. ‘I could do with a couple of chops.’ But for a moment and in spite of myself I feel a little dizzy. I think it’s the contrast between the beautiful lambs playing in the straw; the dead ewe lying on her back; the farmer harvesting milk to give the newborn a fighting chance; the warmth, the hour, the elaborate care of it all – and the fact that in a few short months, every one of those lambs will be killed, jointed, wrapped, labelled, table ready.
‘How’s the hip?’
‘Bloody thing,’ he says. ‘You may as well shoot me.’


tpals said...

A few weeks? I thought it was closer to a year.

Spence Kennedy said...

Oops - I think I meant months - have changed it... :/

Cassandra said...

Interesting contrast, too, right there at the end… the lively lambs that will shortly be slaughtered for chops, and then Pete, saying he might as well be put down. It's like they're both in the same boat. (Although I think that Pete would be noticeably less tasty.)

jacksofbuxton said...

Little lambsy diveys.

An interesting thought Spence is how we look at animals we eat.We used to eat,as a nation,masses of rabbit.Myxomatosis put an end to that for a while,yet it should be a regular thing on our plates.Lean,organic,tasty,plentiful in supply.Yet because we have them as pets and they look cute we protest when it's in a Butcher's window.(personally,I love rabbit to eat,even though we have 3 as pets)

Perhaps because we only see our beef,pork and lamb in pre-packed packaging at Sainsbury's (I like Sainsbury's,keeps the riff-raff out of Waitrose) that we don't associate that with the animals in the fields.

Spence Kennedy said...

Cass - I suppose it was the plain mechanics of the situation - his failed hip, the production of meat - cutting across such an idyllic setting. Both in the same boat (HMS Gravy). :/

Jack - You're wight about wabbits. There are so many round this way they have to queue for the holes. I never really got the rabbit-as-pet idea (much as the girls tried to persuade me). Or fish. Or snakes. I suppose I'm just a plain ol' straight up'n down cat n'dog kinda guy. (Tried hamsters - what's that all about? Come out at night. Work the wheel. Go to bed at sun up. Too much like me...)

BTW - What's a divey?

jacksofbuxton said...

It's a song Spence.

Spence Kennedy said...

I know - but I've never known what the hell it was all about. Until now!

Spence Kennedy said...

BTW - talking about weird old songs about sheep (!) - did you ever hear the one that goes: 'In a cottage in a wood, a little old man at the window stood, saw a rabbit running by....'?

It's a bit creepy - he invites the rabbit in 'happy we shall be' - but you get the feeling the rabbit should just keep on running... :/

Cassandra said...

Snakes-- have one. I adore her, but she's more of a daddy's girl. She likes me, but is fairly indifferent. (A ball python, constricter type. We feed her rats, which is both AWESOME to watch and terrible for a bleeding heart like me who used to raise rodents.) Hamsters-- had them for years, I adore them. They can actually be quite intelligent, rodents. ( Rabbits-- never had. Was raised in a very fundamental Christian denomination that interprets the Bible fairly literally, and Leviticus 11 bans rabbits from being edible, so… I've never had it. Is it good? (I've also heard that snakes are good eatin' too, but never had those either.) FINALLY had pork some point in this past two years but, go figure, it hates me and I can't digest it so back to the basic Leviticus 11 diet I go! LOL

"Happy we shall be?" More like "happy YOU shall be". Run, rabbit, ruuuuuuun!!!

Spence Kennedy said...

To be honest, I can't imagine a snake being anything other than indifferent (unless you were a mouse).

Hamster, schmamsters.

Rabbits - yum. Strangely specific instruction there about the old rabbits (and if they're in Levit. they must be old). Rabbit is good lean meat, very nice in a pie (does bad imitation of Homer salivating).

There were a whole load of actions that went with that rabbit song. And yes, they do make it even more creepy.