Random Thoughts on Lambing

Farmers who keep sheep are usually the ones blessed with most patience. Farmers with a remotely short fuse have long since given up. It is wise to ensure that you have no family predisposition to stress-induced disease before taking up sheep farming.

A sheep’s main ambition is to wake up dead. Remember that, and you’ll know what to expect. The different seasons all bring their assorted ovine worries, but spring is particularly fraught with cold winds, demented first-time mothers, and everyday tiny tragedies. It’s also a hard world in which to be an infertile or miscarrying wife when you’re surrounded by several hundred new mothers all taking a joy in their offspring. Or… not.

barn-1

The younger ewes who are bulging with milk have always had singleton lambs, and are fiercely opposed to the notion (headbutt: flying imposter lamb) of taking on any adoptees who may have become carelessly or inadvertently short of a mother.

The older ewes who have sad, empty udders and not a hope of feeding a thing, ever, have all produced triplets or quads, and have Nadya Suleman complexes to boot. If it wobbles on long legs and bleats, then they blartingly attempt to claim it for their very own.

Ewes with milk who have dead lambs are coerced into adopting either orphans, or the tiniest triplet or quad, who otherwise wouldn’t stand a chance of getting the faintest sniff of an udder with its own mother and siblings.  Sometimes the adoptive mother likes the look of the new lamb, and after a day or so of observation, they are turfed out to new grass and – hopefully – some sunshine. Skinning a ewe’s dead lambs and tying the skin over the adoptee does work sometimes, but it’s much pleasanter all round to put the sheep in an adoption crate – a narrow pen that stops her kicking and head-butting her new lambs –  for a couple of days. After the lambs have suckled for a while, they start to take on the familiar scent of her own lambs, and the ewe becomes blissfully contented with them. Deception isn’t always a sin when you’re a shepherd, although I would be mightily obliged if you didn’t mention that to John, who is already sufficiently mendacious regarding issues he thinks I don’t need to know about.

Of course, there are a couple of days every year when it all goes mad, and hurdles and adoption crates start to look like an illegal immigrant dormitory. Everything that can be turned into a holding pen contains a chuckling ewe and Meeep!-ing lambs. 

 newborns

Then, you have the sheep who have either taken a marked dislike to their own lambs at first sight, or, as sometimes happens with the novice ewes, are completely petrified by the sight of them. It’s so sad seeing a ballistic bundle of legs hurtling out of the pen, forcibly propelled by an alarmed mother. There are ways and means of encouraging the maternal instinct along a little. A dog who knows what to do, for instance (lurk outside the pen and snarl threateningly), can catalyse their protective reaction towards young. My spaniel Tebbit merely pants a friendly greeting to the ewe, gives the lambs a good lick all over, paying particular and revolting attention to their bottoms, and settles his fat behind into the warm hay for a comfy snooze. 

Hubby and I still reminisce about Psycho Sheep 2004, who succeeded in climbing the barn walls to an astonishing height in order to evade her leggy offspring, and ferociously attacked anything, irrespective of their leg-count, that came even vaguely close to her. I liked her enormously, but I distinctly heard Hubby muttering about chops.

Delivering a ewe of a long-dead belly of lambs? Far, far beyond hideous. Strangely, Hubby always seems to take one for the family team on those occasions, and is seen scrubbing his (already chapped and suffering) hands fairly relentlessly afterwards. Sometimes the ewe lives, particularly if she has milk and can be given a lamb to care for.

Vaginal prolapses are reasonably common, but having to replace a prolapsed uterus is unusual – and horrifyingly bloody, I discovered this year. Amazingly, the sheep in question is still alive, perky, and peritonitis-free 2 days later.

We have had lambs born with their insides on the outside, and others born with 5 legs. All very peculiar.

Sheep are extraordinarily and breathtakingly stupid. Every year, I end up stumbling at speed around a field or a barn with an abandoned lamb tucked under my arm, trying to catch up with its disinterested mother. Except I am now hauling a 22lb toddler under the other arm, which makes me even hotter and crosser, especially as I am trying to keep Harry a reasonable distance from anything coated in either shit or amniotic fluid. 

Hubby put two ewes and their respective triplets in the small field directly in front of the house at my specific request; Harry greatly enjoys looking out of the window and pointing at them squeakily. They had been there exactly half a day when triplets x2 became quads x1 and twins x1. This is typical ewe/lamb behaviour.

When turning the new families out into the fields after their 24-hour-barn-supervised hospital stint, the healthiest looking, perkiest ewes will generally be the ones that are lying mysteriously stone dead in the morning, with two tiny, cold, knock-kneed attendees lying alongside. 

The lambs are carted off back to the farm to either die quietly, or to respond to Rayburn Oven’s intensive-care system. We have heat lamps, but the old ways are often the best. 

I lost my second baby during lambing time, in 2006. I can remember running around a field with an abandoned twin lamb under my arm, hot and exhausted, tears pouring down my face, chasing a ewe who thought that one lamb was plenty, thanks. I was 3 days post-miscarriage, and still suffering a fair dose of crampy agony. I should really have left the lamb to sink or swim 3 field-circuits previously – they generally find each other eventually – but I simply couldn’t leave the field and see the tiny lamb standing there all alone, bleating plaintively. I was so toweringly angry with that bloody sheep.

I was vaguely despairing of my FIL when all I had to admire from my windows throughout the 7 week period of consequential sick leave – during which I was a mess – were the handful of ewes who had miscarried their lambs and had no milk. He had applied bright red marker in a cross to their backs, and turned them into a handy-sized field. The field in front of my infertile house of baby-death.

The lambs are frisking merrily outside my window, perching triumphantly on every bit of high ground they can find, including their own mothers, and exuding a inimicable charm. During Spring, I always struggle to comprehend the scales on which the joy and despair of reproduction are finely balanced.

I appear to be ovulating, and I want another baby.

I don’t want to be pregnant again. I’m 3 stone too fat, too scared, and too tired. I’m full of cold and headachey.

I’m still stuck on the bloody Merry-Go-Round of indecision and vacillation, in short. You must be as bored of this as I am.

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I Spy, with my Beady Eye

I know nothing. About anything.

Harry was rampaging noisily around the bed this morning – having coughed and yelled and generally cried his way into spending another night with Mummy – when he suddenly sat back on his heels and took a good look at my bedside table. 

The surface is embarrassingly cluttered with mugs, cough mixture, earrings, coke cans, aging peesticks (you can feel my hot blush of shame all the way from here, yes?) Calpol bottles, dosing syringes, books of many assorted dimensions, nail polish… etc… and I was fully expecting him to grab the first breakable object that came to hand and smash it happily into something even more fragile.

Instead, he let out his – now signature – Mmmuuuurrrrrrmmm! Twice.

‘Bugger’, I thought. ‘He’s started doing it randomly for attention now. What a shame!’

I didn’t react.

Again, insistently: Mmmmmuuuurrrrmmmm!

A fat little fist reached straight towards a tiny ornament of mine which had been shoved unceremoniously into an unobtrusive corner; so long ago, that I had totally forgotten its existence.

highland-cow

OH! THAT cow! Yes! Muuuuurrrrrrrmmmmm! Clever Harry!

And here was me saying he could only recognise photos. How on earth he managed to correctly discern the essential bovinity of this little item, I have no idea. We have no Highlands. We have no ringed bull. None of our cattle (except the one who somehow managed to evade de-horning and sports titchy prongs) have horns. I’m damn sure none of them are that shaggy, or have such appealingly short-arsed conformation. I’m mystified.

As he’s become so clever, lets see how he goes identifying this…

sheep

About 200 of the buggers all lambed at once in the night, so there’s plenty of comparison opportunities!

Looks Moo’s (not) Talking

He’s back on his legs, and toddling happily again. First thing he did at the soft-play place yesterday? Hurtle straight over to the slide, and fling himself down it happily. I’m honestly not sure if we’re looking at a No Fear, No Memory, or No Sense issue here.

We dodged the Chicken Pox bullet by a single day – Harry’s little friend came out in his rash 3 days after we saw him. I then spent a day agonising over whether to take Harry round for a proper germ-contracting, seeing as his hip was on the mend. I reasoned that it would be better for him to have it early rather than later, and that we didn’t have much on in the next week or so. Surely it would be better to get it over and done with? He’d be bound to catch it the week he starts school, or the week we attempt to holiday otherwise.

But I just couldn’t do it, no matter how fast I talked at myself. It felt too calculated and clinical. And as it happened, it was the right call, as he promptly succumbed to an evil snotty cold. He was patently an utterly miserable little man yesterday evening, and it resulted last night in him being upgraded to our bed, Hubby being downgraded to a spare room, and me being thumped and kicked at regular intervals. Despite wanting to be cuddled to sleep in the Mummy-arms, he also wanted to throw himself violently about the bed at 30 minute intervals, holding his (obviously) aching head, and roar loudly about how crappity he felt. I was patient with him, as I generally feel much the same mid-cold. 

I was enormously relieved to still have boob-milk on tap, as feeding was the only thing that calmed him down sufficiently to let me Calpol him, and enable him to rest a little. I have been occasionally viewing this extended breast feeding as a bit of an albatross around my neck lately, but I was thankful for it last night.

*strikes portentous note*

We have made exciting new progress towards Speech this week, although without actually quite arriving at it. He has begun to moo. (The madness comes to us all sooner or later…)

I was showing him photos of cows on the net to amuse him,

Cow photo

and he suddenly made a lovely little ‘Mmmuurrrrrrrrrmmm!’ sound. I blinked a bit, processed his meaning, and then went nuts with praise. When he sees the photo-card, he now does his cow impression simultaneously with applauding himself enthusiastically, because hey! The parents are going crazy over there! I’m clever!

After all, an impression is nearly a word. Yes? It’s got to count as a nearly, surely…?

Interestingly, baby-book pictures don’t trigger a glimmer of recognition, only photos;

Usborne farm animals

perhaps he sees real bovines, ovines and tractors too much to recognise a drawn rendition. I have also spent months pointing at various real-life things and repeating their names, without them seeming to sink in very fast, either, until recently. This thought, combined with his emerging ‘point-at-the-item’ skills, got me thinking, and I printed out lots of different photos off the net, and arranged them into picture cards. He has spent the last two days on a crash-course of learning to point out diggers, tractors, cows, sheep, hens, cars and dogs: I arrange the cards in front of him and ask where the diggers are. He has a look, and stabs a finger towards the diggers. Mummy claps dementedly. Harry claps excitedly. Etc.

This afternoon, I felt as if a cloth had been unwound from my eyes. We went for our daily 4pm constitutional to feed the hens, and have a wander round the menagerie owned by our neighbours and ourselves. Usually this consists of Harry pulling insistently in one direction, whilst I have to cart him off, protesting, in another. Today was a revelation. We fed our hens, and then I asked him where the Sheepies were. He turned straight around and toddled up the drive towards the sheep field. After a little look at the ewes, I said we were going to see the other Henny-Hens! And bugger me sideways… he headed straight off towards the hens, holding my hand as happy as Larry. We then visited the geese, the dogs, more sheep, our hens, and my car, in a pre-announced tour.

I realise that parents of toddlers everywhere are shaking their heads and wondering why I’m so blown away by this. It’s just that it’s first ever time I’ve been able to verbally communicate a series of information to my 19 month old son. He understood me. Without any non-verbal clues, too. And… OMFG… the difference! There was no pulling, no struggling, no kicking and no frustration, despite his mucus-ridden, washed-out state. He simply toddled happily from one Learnt Named Item to another, following my words as opposed to my insistently-tugging arm. He suddenly felt like a much, much older little boy.

I know that he will talk now. I’m over worrying that the suspected CP has permanently damaged his brain’s ability to talk. He’s just on his own time-line with that first proper word – half a year or more behind most other kids, I know, but moving forwards. I feel that he has begun to tune into my words rather more in the last couple of weeks, and his walking has improved significantly with his new supportive boots, too, which has made me exceedingly cheerful.

Yet I’m still so desperate to hear his piping little voice speak to me. From the very moment I first saw him, I have felt Harry to be a tiny enigma. I am longing to have a deeper understanding and enjoyment of the emerging character of my son; to better interpret the – fierce! – wants and needs of this small person with the towering personality. There is so much within him to explore that only his words can properly open up. Our bond is already formed, but I ache to have the closer ties to him that only language can give us.  

I console myself: just as there was a blessing inherent in our difficulties to conceive, there is also a blessing in this speech delay. I will never take his chatter for granted, and will take a special joy in its arrival.

Non-Ambulatory

He still can’t walk. He is highly, highly pissed off about it.

Awesome Dr Neighbour came round at 7.30am this morning and had a good look at Harry’s mobility, followed by a scientific prod in his hip region. Harry obligingly yelped a little, officially confirming a diagnosis of Gammy Left Hip; essentially, Harry’s joint has been yanked about and strained, but he didn’t think the damage was sinister. He estimated that Harry might start to put some weight on the leg Wednesday, and perhaps be starting to toddle again on Thursday. He’s invariably dead right about these sort of things, and we waved to him fairly happily as he drove off to his next bunch of patients, who are all considerably larger than Harry, being, as they are, an entire rugby team. 

After a few painful, unsuccessful attempts to walk, Harry has consented to crawl instead. This looked odd for a moment or two, but because he’s hardly changed facially in the 5 months he’s been walking, I adjusted pretty quickly. 

Harry felt differently. We have passed through Puzzled, Indignant, Frustrated, Tetchy, and Meltdown. We have watched an imperial shitload of TV. We have looked at every book he owns, several times. We have played anything – lego, click-clack cars, telephones – that involved sitting quite still. Mum came over for a while in order for me to go to the gym, but I seemed to weasel out somehow, and spent the time loading the dishwasher instead.

Bloody slides.

Oh, and the little boy that Harry played all day Wednesday with?

Now has Chicken Pox.

Broken?

So. I’ve been chuntering on for a long while now about Harry’s difficulties in walking for more than a few feet, yes? Well, although I’ve not got around to posting it yet, his new boots have helped his walking substantially. He’s been falling over quite a bit less.

Except he can’t walk at all now. Not one single fucking step.

Because I took him to the park, and helped him to clamber up the steps to the slide that is probably too steep, and several feet too long, for a 19 monther. And I watched from the top of the steps as he slid down several times on his tummy, feet first, with a smile that lit up the cloudy afternoon, before running back around to me where I was waiting on the steps to help him climb.

He slid down again, disappearing from my view half-way. And didn’t reappear at the bottom. Dozens of people in the busy park all stopped and looked to see who was emitting the shrieks of pain.

When I ran round to see what had happened, I found him wedged at a horrible angle, half-way down the slide, with his left ankle stuck up by his ear. He cried and cried and cried. After I had cuddled him tight I tried to put him down; he took one step and collapsed. And he cried some more. And tried to stand again. And couldn’t. He looked at me piteously, in total puzzlement and distress, and held up his arms to be carried instead.

The local minor injuries nurse looked at him with me. We agreed he was in pain. We agreed it was his left leg. Where on his left leg, though, puzzled us both. Paediatric x-ray should be limited to the smallest possible area, so looking at the whole leg on spec was not in his best interests. She told me she couldn’t properly diagnose the problem area, although her instinct was telling her that it was muscular/tendon in nature, and not a greenstick. She left it up to me whether to take him to our district hospital for a (probable) several-hour wait to be seen, or see how he went overnight.

He’d stopped crying – unless he attempted anything ambitious, like, you know, standing – at this point, so I brought him home. I Calpol-ed him to the max and fed him all the treats that I usually dole out by strict rationing for tea. He was insanely frustrated and miserable about his non-ambulatory status,but went down to sleep quietly enough, and we shall see how he goes through the night.

The Family Doctor/Sports Injury Specialist contingent of the Delightful Doctors Next Door has told me to bring Harry over very first thing tomorrow if he still can’t walk, and he will try to assess exactly what the trouble is.  Have I mentioned recently that our neighbours are awesome?

 My poor little boy. Why does everything happen to you? And why can’t I suffer your pain for you?

Things Harry Can and Cannot Do

Things Harry has learnt to do:

Open the kitchen door.

Not the door into the dog room. The door to THE OUTSIDE WORLD. The outside world that features a 4ft sheer drop

garden

and copious dog shit within very close proximity to aforementioned door.

Take his pull-up nappy off.

I discovered this yesterday morning, whilst lying in bed.

How it usually goes: Hubby takes Harry downstairs for breakfast, before disappearing to be a dour and exceedingly non-holistic Obstetrician to several hundred assorted obstreperous ovines. He delivers Harry back into the bedroom, knowing that my dazed and still bed-ridden form will not immediately detect the fact that he is handing over suspect goods, Harry having invariably filled his nappy on the trip back upstairs. Harry beetles around the bedroom for a few minutes, letting the smell penetrate my half-asleep nostrils. When he is bored of his books and CBeebies, he clambers onto the end of the bed, stands carefully upright and charges up the bed, emitting an ear-splitting warcry as he tramples. He generally falls over at least twice, but the duvet is essentially just dust beneath his chariot wheels, and he eventually arrives triumphantly at my head region.

Panting with the effort, he throws a leg over my dazed bonce, and wiggles until he is firmly sat astride my head. He takes a second to steady himself, before launching himself, legs rigid, into the air, howling with glee. Sometimes – foolishly – I open my eyes just as he is at the zenith of his jump, and stare horrified at the nappied bottom descending at speed towards my face. 22lb of toddler-bum crashes with a sickening thud into my face. I cannot tell what disturbs my peace the most: the bruising, the suffocation, or the fumes.  

I struggle wildly to remove him, and sensing that my wriggles portend the end of play-time, he begins a frantic series of rapid-fire thumps. His chubby little thighs are now pumping up and down faster than the most squat-thrusty of exercise queens, and he is squealing like an excited guinea-pig. By now, I am making gargling sounds, and am usually under the impression that a possessed kango-hammer has been unleashed into the room with the express intent of assaulting me. I emerge from the onslaught, staggering, and cart him off to have his bottom attended to.

As I say, this is how it normally goes. Yesterday was different, and not in a good way. Everything proceeded as usual, right up to the point where he arranged himself comfortably across my sleeping features, wiggling like a hen scooching down into a nest-box. I became instantly aware that it was a bare naked bottom that was applying itself enthusiastically to blocking my nose and mouth. And not a peachy-smooth bottom, either. My eyes slammed open in horror. The bottom that was in the process of hurtling joyously skywards bore unmistakable signs of heavily-encrusted poo. His re-entry into my facial stratosphere was highly unpleasant.

Inspection of the bedroom carpet, after I had unpeeled the nappy and pyjama bottoms off it, also proved disappointing. I was going to take a photo of the brown bum-prints, but then I remembered that on the two previous occasions I have posted photos of Harry’s escaping turdage, the comments were generally variations on a theme of ‘GROSS!’  So I didn’t.

Point out named objects.

We are still in very early days with this, but at nearly 19 months old, Harry can now leaf through his little First Words book and point correctly to (Ba) Nana and Drinkie. He has been completely and utterly bemused by this concept until this last week. I have been watching with narrowed eyes as various members of the Piddle, some of whom are 7 months younger than Harry, unerringly label eyes, noses, birds, sheep and people correctly. Sometimes with appropriate baa! moo! ing sounds. I have suppressed my snarls of worry and frustration. 

Run away from home

Harry has now sussed out the geography of the hillside swamp in which we live. If he is unleashed outside our front door, he promptly accelerates down our drive, round the corner, and straight up the hill towards the Delightful Doctors Next Door. He stops to look at our hens before scurrying onwards and upwards for a hundred yards; if their drive gate is shut, he hammers on it until it opens. If their front door is shut, he hammers on that, too, until it gives way. He has then reached Harry Utopia: a staircase with open treads to fall through, an Aga to burn himself on, new doggy friends that are nervous of him, kitchen drawers to pull open without permission, and new playmates that feed him lovely cake.

Things Harry has not yet learnt to do:

Speak a single solitary word.

Use baby-signs.

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