Every pair of eyes was staring straight at us. An anecdote from lambing season on the farm
|Word Count 1,303
"There's one," I muttered through exhaustion. We had already spent three hours wrestling sheep and it wasn't even eight in the morning yet. The sun was just above the horizon, giving the valley a hazy glow of light as it cut through the mist. It was one of those days that had the potential to be beautiful but you just knew something was going to happen. Down on the rolling hills between the National Parks of Dartmoor and Exmoor, in Devon, most days had the potential.
"Do we have to?" Emily asked from where she was sat perched on a hay bale. From our vantage point we had good view of all of the barns to watch for sheep that were going to give birth soon. That was our job; lambing assistants. What it meant in actuality was being left by the farmer for several hours at a time to act as midwife for just over a thousand sheep. We had been covered in faeces, urine and bodily fluids that I really didn't want to think about. That was only the first day. Welcome to the glamorous life of being a vet. Well, a veterinary student anyway.
"Yes," I replied. We had to assist. The sheep was one of the young ewes as denoted by the colour of paint on her back. "We have to." I didn't particularly want to as I had been up until after eleven last night, only to resurface for morning duty at four.
"Fine!" She huffed and placed the flash she had been clutching down on the hay bale for safe keeping. Caffeine had become our lifeline and we would do pretty much anything for a cup of the good stuff.
We trudged down the aisle that separated the pens in the upper barn to reach the area where the ewe was showing signs of birth. A massive bag of birthing fluids was hanging out of her back end.
"I like big butts and I cannot lie," Emily began to sing as we walked. It had become our theme song this past week. Looking out for lambing sheep meant checking to see if they passed their fluid bags. They walked around with these rather large bags of amniotic fluid hanging from them, until they were finally ready to push. Only then did they actually lie down.
"You other mothers can't deny, that when a girl walks in with an itty bitty waist," I sang back, doing my best rapper impression. Wearing highly flattering blue overalls a size too big so I could wear many layers of clothing underneath to stave off the cold, really added to the look.
"You get sprung!" We finished together. The lack of sleep was clearly affecting our mental stability. The sheep in the pen to our right turned toward us, wondering what we were up to. It wasn't unusual for us to walk the aisles, checking on things so they weren't skittish yet.
"Which one?" Emily asked so I pointed out the young mule sheep who was staring directly at us, like she knew what we wanted. "How do you want to do this?" We both climbed over the small fence to get into the pen with the sheep. At this point every pair of eyes was staring straight at us. The little chewing jaws had all stopped what they were doing.
"It's your turn to pull," I replied with glee. I had already been elbow deep in a sheep this morning and I must admit, despite the warmth, I wasn't too keen to repeat the experience. I wanted to eat breakfast without any issues.
Emily nodded in agreement, knowing that it was her turn. As a duo we turned to face the bulk of the sheep, taking calculated steps forward. It shouldn't have been this difficult to catch sheep, but it was. I went to the left as Emily went right, pushing the sheep back against the wall, penning them in. As soon as one of them was against the wall, they ran. We let the ones in the middle run between us; they weren't of interest to us.
I saw the little ewe run toward my side, aiming to run along the fence to freedom at the other side of the pen. As she sprung forward I lurched as well. We hit the fence at the same time. One of my hands went underneath her jaw, angling upward slightly in the way that we had been shown. It worked immediately, stopping her in her tracks. As my other leg came to the ground, I stumbled in the straw that lined it. My hand slipped down from her jaw, to rest in the fleece on her chest. Her back end backed into the fence and that's when I felt it.
A warm fluid splashed across my face and into my hair. I gasped at the realisation and then quickly shut my mouth. This was not happening. I thought to myself as I tightened my grip on her chest until Emily could wrangle her for me. Out of the corner of my eye I saw that the bag of fluid that had been full only seconds ago, was now empty. Trailing membranes were in its place. The fluid was warm and sticky, congealing already in my eyebrows and dripping from my nose. I spluttered as I desperately tried to not let any go near my mouth. It was one thing to have amniotic fluid on my face, it was another to have it in me.
The ewe stared at me with one eye, as though she was calculating what to do next to get away. She bleated once, her tongue sticking out of her mouth in desperation. Then she moved. I felt her muscles tense underneath my hand and I instinctively gripped tighter. Emily was still a couple of paces away and I had to hold on. With strength that I didn't know she possessed the ewe jumped forward, pulling me along for the ride. I pulled myself as close to her body as possible. I still hadn't got my feet under me from my stumble and the speed at which she moved, coupled with the straw ground, meant that I couldn't stand. I was dragged along by the sheep. Behind me I could hear the deep, roaring laughter of Emily as she struggled to contain herself to help. Just as I got purchase on the ground she bucked. Both back legs were brought up off the ground, her cloven hooves made contact with my stomach. She wasn't big enough to cause me pain but the surprise made me falter once more. My hands let go of her fleece of their own accord. I didn't have chance to regain my grip.
I slipped forward to the floor as her back legs came down from her buck. I half landed on her, my face plastered against her fleece. I wasn't swift enough to grab her and she sped forward. With no sense of balance due to all of the movement, I continued to move forward. As I slid down her rump, the membranes that were still in place slapped against my cheek. Then she was gone, returning to her friends at the safe end of the pen, away from us. I thudded to the floor, outwitted by a sheep. My elbows went first, into the deep straw followed by my head. My eyes had shut instinctively just before I made contact. Feeling my glasses askew, I opened my eyes to assess the damage. The first thing I saw was a pile of sheep pellets, freshly passed and stinking, mere inches from my face.
This was indeed a bad day. However, another couple of inches and it could have been a whole lot worse.