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High Heels and Gumboots

Call the midwife

The ewe had been walking around for three hours with the nose, eyes and sometimes the tongue of a lamb poking out her tail end. It was looking less like the miracle of birth and more like a gargoyle on a Paris cathedral.

I was pacing the paddock at binocular distance, stressing like a father in the waiting room. The ewe was grazing under the lemon tree.

I Googled: How long should a ewe be in labour? The answer was no more than two hours after the feet appear. Sometimes I could see a foot.

“Patience,” my neighbour counselled, after my fourth text.

I rang the vet clinic. The vet couldn’t get there for two hours. The ewe moved to grazing under the feijoa tree. The gargoyle followed.

In four years at Oceanspirit, I’ve never seen a lamb being born here. This is good because it means they have all happened smoothly, but I still wanted to see one arrive.

Barack, the black ram lamb, was intrigued that the ewe had a face at both ends. Every time the ewe looked like actually doing something about being in labour, Barack’s unwelcome attention made her walk on again. I didn’t want to interfere because surely Mama knows best, but Barack was disrupting labour. I separated the flock into two groups with Barack in the paddock and the labouring ewe in the orchard.

Sheep are flock animals. They don’t like being separated. They all started stressing, which stressed the ewe in labour so I put them all in the orchard. Barack continued his obsession.

Barack doesn’t know how lucky he is. He was one of 14 rams born this year, from 17 lambs. That’s a high rate of ram lambs to ewes. Normally all the rams would be neutered to wethers and fattened up for the freezer or, as my friend’s farming father used to tell her, sent to a happy place in Motueka.

The rams are neutered to make them delicious. If they are kept entire and start working, their meat will be tainted. Entire? Working? This is Farmlish.

Entire means they keep their balls and working means sexually active. When a farmer told me how to put a ring on a lamb’s testicles, he said: “Make sure you get both stones in the bag.” That’s Farmlish. Like my schoolgirl French, I can understand it but it’s all wrong when I try to speak it.

Of those 14 ram lambs, only Barack was allowed to stay entire. He replaced Willy, who got fired. Willy came to Oceanspirit gentle as a lamb at nine months old, but at age two, he was a ram by name and by nature. One day I tried to move Willy against his wishes. He laid back his ears and eyes and charged: 120kg of ram. He had three serious goes at me. I kept him at bay with a big scary voice but our friendship never recovered. He even tried to charge me through the fence.

Willy may have lost his natural fear of me during the drought when I fed him and his girls sheep nuts. For sheep, that’s like Rose’s chocolates and you can’t fear someone who feeds you chocolates. Motueka was looking good, but I felt sad about it so Willy went to my neighbour’s farm.

That left a job vacancy. Barack was the successful applicant because he is black and will, hopefully, make black lambs.

But, right now, Barack was endangering a lamb rather than making one. I rang Tim. He thought the lamb might be stuck. “I’ll be there in 20 minutes,” he said. “Get a bucket of water and soap.” It was like Call the Midwife.

I rushed up to the house. Grabbed bucket, soap. Rushed back. The ewe was still under the feijoa tree. Licking her new lamb: a ewe.

Typical. You scramble the cavalry and end up looking like a duck in a swan plant. That’s Farmlish, too.


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