09 September 2005

Hog-Tied and Milking It

In this last week, I've helped catch and hog-tie a ram, milk a mama sheep, and bottle feed and give meds to a sick lamb. Pastorella Plustest.

Last week, we noticed that one of the lambs wasn't kicking along with his cohorts. He was lethargic, lagging behind the pack, and struggling to breathe. His nose was running. Pretty soon the entire flock's noses were running, and approaching their pen in the mornings was like visiting a grade-school classroom in late November. Wet sniffs, snotty noses, innocent faces.

Lamb little, dubbed Coco Bello, worsened. One morning, after successfully leading the whole flock into their day pen, I came up in my count with one lamb short. One, two, three, four, five. One, two, three, four, five...? The little ones are sometimes hard to spot from behind the big bellies of wool... One, two, three, four, five. Little one down??!

I looked up, scanning the field from where we had all just come. My eyes alighted on a small speck of white, and I took off for it. Coco Bello was lying in a ditch on his side, breathing in shallow, labored lamb heaves; he didn't lift his head when I dropped to my knees next to him, and he didn't respond at all to my touch. An ambulance alarm went off in my head. I told him I'd be right back with help (Do I leave him? Move him? Where do I move him?), and I jumped in the Macchina Rossa and beat it for the farm.

I was looking for Nikki, and luckily came across her on the road, where she was driving out to meet me, with some new meds for the lamb. I gave her his update, which she took in stride. She calmly told me she'd give him his first dose of medicine, and that I could continue to my other work back at the farm. Perhaps a cute little curly-haired, sweet-faced lamb couldn't perish from a trifling cold?? Coco Bello gave her a show, though - when she found him in the ditch, he had changed position so that his four little hoofed legs were all pointing skyward. (Did he smile when she wasn't looking?)

Part of caring for Coco, who had stopped nursing, was to milk his mom and bottle feed him. I learned from Nikki that to do this, I first had to embrace a full-sized sheep, reaching around the belly to squeeze the udder, then pull on the teat. If I was successful, a good tablespoon full or so of sheep's milk would splatter into our pot. After laboring over two squirming mamas, we managed to get about a half cup of milk. We gathered Coco Bello and headed up to the farm, where bottle and sick bed were waiting. He occasionally lifted his head from my lap on the bumpy ride up the hill and looked around wide-eyed, as if to ask, Where have all the other sheep gone? They are a pack creature, for sure.

Bottle-feeding is easy. As in milking, you have to hug the lamb, though this time it's around the neck, rather than around the rear (attenzione!), and you have to hold both the bottle and the lamb's neck at an angle. Adorable. The medicines we've been giving him - crushed pills and drops, diluted in water, given via syringe - have helped tremendously, and after four days of indoor(ish) confinement with his mom, he's been reunited with the group. Fris-ky!

But on to hog-tying and the Ram that got away. The ladies of the flock are entering breeding time, and part of the process involves a new diet of oats (rather than the de rigeuer barley) and separation from the ram (aka Rambo). Separation of the ram from the group involves catching him, laying him on the ground, and folding his legs in proper hog-tie fashion. Nikki and I wanted an extra challenge from this experience, so we made sure that it rained the day before making pasture really muddy, and we parked a goodly distance away from the tie spot.

I truly hope that gripping his wool like I did doesn't hurt him! Nikki tied his legs - after we got him to the ground, everything was cake - and we dug in to his thick cover for the slippery walk to the car. Another bumpy ride up to the farm from the Casseta property, and we untied Rambo in his new pen, a rather small and incredibly solitary home just behind the main farm buildings. Wide-eyed and quiet, Rambo seemed unimpressed and unhappy. I made a mental promise to visit him whenever I could.

Perhaps the trauma of the hog-tying got to him, or maybe he missed his harem, but Rambo made his feelings about confinement known later that afternoon, when he rushed the door, pushing past Nikki who was bringing straw for the pen floor. His nimbleness out-performed her leap, and he escaped into the forest. Searches for him later in the day proved futile. As with the pigs, that escaped their pen days before, we decided ("decided") it best to let him have his roam time.

We picked up the search, unintentionally, when we were all setting out for another group project the next day. His flash of white caught someone's eye, and we scattered, dropping tools, trying to corral him into a fenced pig pen. This particular breed of sheep are superior jumpers, as we witnessed. With some interns on Pig Hill Road, some on the upper piano, and the rest of us in the pig pen (pig pen proper?), we tried to slowly advance in silence, as best at 10 excited interns could. Rambo was freeeeeeeaked out, and proceeded to try to run with the pack of piglets that lived in this particular pen. Pack creatures, I tell you. It was hilarious.

At one point, someone got too close for Rambo, and he bolted past them, jumping UP to a higher piano, then racing out to Pig Hill Road. "He's coming out to the road," someone bellowed, to alert the other interns. "He's heading towards the officina!" "He’s by the pool!" Our chase continued around the farm, with sightings of white, hollered instructions on his whereabouts, and only two near catches - one being a bit of a ram by the Ram, into Nick. After about 30 minutes of sustained high heart rate activity, and fewer ram sightings, we dropped back into our original work plan, and gave up. Rambo, where are you?


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