I Never Thought I Would Be Doing This!

Last Sunday morning, standing on the edge of the hayfield, our boots damp from the wet spring grass, my mother spoke up. “I bet you didn’t imagine five years ago you would be doing something like this.” I looked up from the dead deer, its legs stiff with rigor mortis. I was carefully trying to maneuver it into the bucket of the tractor without rupturing its exposed guts. She had a point.

The deer is only one of a number of experiences I think I could have lived without attempting and still died happy! But there was Greg with the bucket tipped, and no way to scoop the deer without my help. We had first driven out in the Gator thinking we would treat this deer like a sheep, tossing it in the bed and driving to the top of the mountain to throw it off the carcass cliff. The missing underbelly sort of ruined that idea.

Next Greg went off for the tractor to bury the poor animal in the field where it lay. After all, we weren’t going to be tilling the hay field any time soon. Problem was, it has been a pretty wet spring, and there was no way to get proper traction for the tractor to dig a hole. Tractors aren’t really designed for digging holes anyway. That left picking up the deer in the tractor bucket, since tractors are designed to scoop. This went more smoothly than it could have and, within an hour, the problem was resolved.

I think I could make a list of “new experiences after 50” and either look at it and be proud or look at it and wonder if I have lost my mind. Then sometimes it takes looking at these things through someone else’s eyes to realize our life now is way beyond the urban-suburban norm!

So, let’s see, I have recounted the torn-off sheep’s ear, releasing the dog’s foot from a leg-hold trap, re-inserting a prolapsed vagina back into a ewe, fashioning waterproof pants for a young lamb to romp around our house, delivering lambs turned the wrong way, delivering too many lambs, delivering dead lambs, bottle feeding bummer lambs (okay, that’s not so bad), raising baby turkeys in the kitchen, priming a water pump (over and over), and giving shots to animals (lots of shots).

There are a few things still on the list. Mostly they have to do with lambs. Tubing comes to mind, as I was doing this today while speaking with a guest who was helping out in the barn. She watched me in disbelief as I slowly worked a long, thin, orange tube down the throat of a small lamb and then proceeded to balance the lamb and the tube as I poured milk into it, and thus into the stomach of the lamb.

This is a drastic measure I take when a lamb isn’t getting enough milk from its mom to become fully hydrated and nourished. It’s a life-threatening situation. Unfortunately for this lamb, he has been unsuccessful learning to drink from a bottle so he has to rely on sneaking drinks when his mom, or any other ewe he can tap, isn’t looking. He’s a bummer lamb (rejected by his mom) with a strong will to live. His name is Cute Tulip, named by a three-year-old. Didn’t seem right to tell her that was a girly name for a boy.

My newest experience had to do with castration, the kind where you use a scalpel, not the rubber band thing I had been doing for the past four years. My vet neighbor, Liz, thought this might be a more effective solution since I missed most of the balls last year (not that this really matters if the lambs are going to market…but I did have to separate the boys from their mothers after about month five!).

On a cool Sunday morning, Liz showed up with her stainless steel pail, disinfectant, a scalpel, a clamp, knock-out shots, and a smile. I had four boy lambs in the barn and for the next hour or so I struggled to get it right. At least the babies were knocked out for all my fumbling and pulling and cutting and, to my credit, I was getting faster by the last one. What I found harder was the recovery of these poor babies for the first 24 hours. After that, they were back to being bouncy, baby lambs and I soon turned everyone out for some fresh air and freedom from the meanies in the barn.

Liz said she would assist with castrating for this season, but reality has struck. My boy lambs outnumber girls 4 to 1 and there aren’t enough farm-fresh chicken eggs in a year to pay Liz back for that kind of duty, much less the cost of the sedatives. I have returned to banding. For our part, the lambs and me, we are a little more content not to be cutting things off with blood and slippery things everywhere. And, I have a better idea of what I’m grabbing for when I band!

I am sure there are lots of things that are escaping me at the moment in the realm of new experiences here on the farm. Being naive at 50 about this undertaking, however, has not escaped me. So much for wisdom and learning! The translation of useful knowledge from city to country is really pretty slim. Oh, well, at least I can now start a fire in the wood stove, understand the dynamics of an irrigation system, can see the Milky Way on a clear night, and appreciate the rugged, small-brained, playfulness of lambs.

Photo: This is Cute Tulip’s brother. Because I kept his mom and siblings in the barn so long trying to keep Cute Tulip from becoming a bummer, he and I had a game we played each night. I would hold out my gloved fist and he would butt his head against it. He still comes up to me from time to time and sucks on my pant leg or jacket. Here, he is just bugging his mom…I think that is Tulip in the background.

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2008 Scottie Jones

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