I will spare you pictures of today’s happenings…the mental images will be disturbing enough.
Birthdays are supposed to be all about you…aren’t they? Happy, somewhat self-centered, carefree days, right?
Well, on a farm…it ain’t never about YOU…never. That is just one of the things that makes farming hard. Forget the actual hard work, the life and death struggle, the weather worries and economic concerns. You can’t take a day off (sick or vacay), completely forget about everything, and put your feet up. Nope, you’re a farmer…buck up, kiddo! …and, get back to work.
Today is my birthday, not a momentous one, so no worries…I wasn’t looking for a whole lot of exciting celebration. All the kids are all coming for supper over the weekend, and I’m not even doing all of the cooking. I am really looking forward to that. But, you’d think I could catch a bit of a break today…the actual day, wouldn’t you?
The Boss got me a whole bunch of goodies for birthday presents. We usually don’t make much of a to-do, so I was so touched at all the things he thought to get me. He’s something…really something! Love ya, Boss!
I knew the day wouldn’t go like I would have liked, we had a meeting to go to that I really wasn’t looking forward to (a story for another time). But, we would get to see our good friends, and make a sales delivery, so it wouldn’t be a total loss.
The good friends…proving what really good friends they are…took us out to lunch for my birthday. We talked and laughed and vented prior to going our separate ways. (Friends, You guys may never know how very special you are.)
When we got home, one of the ewes was in labor. I’ve been waiting for her to deliver for two days now, so this was a good thing. Well, so I thought. She was bleating, making this stressed sound that I know far too well is not a good sign. Labor is usually a short, intense episode, resulting in healthy, vigorous lambs. Signs of distress are…well, distressing. Her water bags were hanging out, but nothing was “happening”. This was an indication that intervention was necessary. As the self-appointed “vet on call”…action was up to me.
After getting the Boss and my vet box, I put on my OB gloves to assess the situation. One foot, two feet…there should be a nose…NO nose. The PG version of my comment was “oh crap!” I pushed in further…(you do realize that I had my hand in a sheep’s butt?...just wanted to make sure.) All the way in, still no head. She began to push down on my arm. OW! I pushed in further, she moaned. I was “in” up to my armpit. The labor contractions began again, I moaned. She struggled, The Boss moaned. Yeah, this was going great. (not) I located the head. It was turned completely backward from where it should be…the neck twisted in such a way that the head was pointing up instead of down...but the movements indicated the lamb was indeed alive. But, it was HUGE. My guess would be 16 to 18 pounds. (that’s a very large lamb) As she contracted again, struggling to expel the lamb, I believe the neck was broken. From that point on, I didn’t feel movement from the lamb. But, we had to get it out. She was bleeding heavily and fell to the ground. In order to continue working, I laid down on the ground (my arm still in the sheep) becoming covering in hay, blood and excrement. (yeah, I smell great…and my clothes…well, use your imagination) The Boss continued to handle the struggling ewe that was in incredible pain. He managed to keep her down so I could work on her, and keep her from kicking me in the face. (no small feat) The physical exertion of this task defies description. Muscle cramps in my hands and extreme pressure on my arm only added the difficulty of the task. After over an hour of unsuccessful struggle, we looked at each other over the weakening ewe, knowing that the decision was already made. It was time. This old girl was at the end of the line. The Boss went to the house for the pistol…
I tell you this story not to horrify you, not to make us out to be bad people and failures as farmers. I tell you this story so you will understand the life and death struggle we (and other farmers) face on a daily basis and yet, we keep going somehow. This is a hard life. We continue on because the successes outweigh the failures, the good surpasses the bad, and we know that certainly another day will be better than today has been.
Then, we had to dispose of 250 pounds of dead sheep. An unexpected trip to the landfill followed. Yeah, we have to do something with dead animals. Most times it is easy enough to dig a grave on the farm. Large animals pose a completely different problem. This birthday is getting better and better (not). Okay, bad thing out of the way…deep breath…onto chores. Things just gotta get better!
On my way to the barn, it occurred to me that I really needed to “do the tails” from the most recent lambs. Another educational point…we band the lambs’ tails in order to dock them. This means that the sheep all have very short tails in order to prevent issues like fly-strike that result from the constant contact of a feces-laden tail. After a few days, the tail becomes swollen and we remove it. This doesn’t usually cause the lamb any discomfort (the band has cut off blood and nerve supply).
Unfortunately, since today was just “one of ‘em days”…the tail removal was problematic. #1 tail was removed, no problem. When #2 tail was removed, blood went everywhere. ..and I mean, everywhere! Keep in mind what I had done earlier in the day…more blood was NOT what I wanted to see. For the second time in less than 5 hours, I found myself saying that word I REALLY try NOT to say.
The blood wasn’t stopping. I grabbed paper towels. More blood. I used the antiseptic spray I always use. More blood. More paper towels. I ran to the shop for iodine. More blood. Blood-stop powder didn’t seem to faze it. I was beginning to get just a little woozy. More paper towels. More blood-stop powder. Was it finally slowing down? I hoped so.
In a fit of frustration, I went to the house and told the Boss. He was involved in another task and told me it would be okay. However, when he finished and ventured to the barn, he was slightly taken aback at all the bloody papertowels in the barn trashcan.
Finally, after what seemed like countless paper towels, a quarter can of blood-stop, bunches of iodine and lots of frantic prayer, the bleeding slowed. Then, it stopped. …and thankfully, the lamb was not dead. No, she was happily nursing her mama last time I checked.
At some point prior to supper, I lost it in a weepy fit of frustration. I hate when this reaction is the only way to deal with things. My present troubles pale in comparison to some of my friends’ situations. Where is that tough girl/woman I know I am? I reckon the physical stress, the lack of sleep and the emotional rollercoaster all took a toll. A few dozen tissues and I’m back on track.
I better be. It will be time to check the sheep again at 10pm, 2am, 6am, and so on. There is picking to do for winter sales, the actual sales, and the continual day to day stuff of the farm. This is hard, this is tough, and this is what WE do. This is who I am.
Tomorrow, if nothing else, will be different. The struggles I had today will either pale in comparison to some new and different issue, or they will be forgotten in the wonder that is a beautiful day on the farm.
It’s just been one of them days…