I asked, “When you go for hay, can you pick up needles too?”
It all started with that simple question. Long time friends were at the farm for our regularly scheduled ‘Gang Day’. My question was followed by a flurry of jokes about needles and haystacks. Then, Liam asked why I needed needles. I explained, that the next day when we tagged sheep, I wanted to inject them with Vitamin B and Iron. Somehow, that casual question led to a hot, sweaty, slightly bloody, sheepish adventure.
Hufflepuff and Old Faithful*, my two best friends, insisted it would be an ‘adventure’. They also pointed out it would be easier to catch the sheep with extra bodies available. Godson #3, who should have been born a farm boy, immediately decided he was going to help. He’s one of those people who derives great satisfaction from hot sweaty physical labor. So it was that, two hours later, my family of five was joined in the sheep pen by our friends.
Old Faithful has two sons, Godson #1, who’s an amazing Special Olympics athlete and Godson #3, who is (recently) ex-Army. Hufflepuff has one son, Godson #2. He was game to help, but his clothes were not compatible with flying muck and sheep rodeos. So, he became the designated rodeo photographer.
I drew up all the doses of medicine and placed them in a bag. Old Faithful held that bag, as well as an empty one for spent syringes and one containing oral medication with tubing attached. Hufflepuff had the ear tags in a bag and another with the backing pieces. Our sheep came with collar tags when we bought them. So, we needed to ear tag all of them, not just the new arrivals. Godson #3 had a rope for catching sheep. Godson #2 was armed with a camera. We made our way to the sheep’s night pen. This pen is a cross-fenced section of an old drive pen. It’s about three yards wide and about 75 yards long. There’s a tarp covered temporary shelter at the near end.
We entered the pen and ranged ourselves across it. We knew we were in for a game of chase followed by another of tag. But, as we stared down the sheep, we had to look like the Dirty (almost) Dozen transported into the film High Noon. The showdown was coming, and we all knew it. I could almost hear the shoot out music from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Yes, it was a Spaghetti Western game night montage.
However, number 31 hadn’t read the script. Ignoring the tension in the air, she wandered up to nose the bags. She’s the friendliest sheep and will do anything for food. So, I’d expected her to be the first one caught. Liam and Grace got her head and held her steady while I went around to inject her. She seemed to remember the last shot I gave her, because, the moment I touched her back leg, she began to kick non-stop like a cat trying to shake water off its paw.
Flying feet aren’t really conducive to giving shots, so we paused. Everyone got a better grip, and someone came in to catch the flying hoof and hold it steady. That’s when I discovered the game had changed. We were no longer geared up to play chase. Imagine three people holding a sheep, and a fourth person attempting to ‘shoot the sheep’ in the rump. The designated shooter finds themselves in a game of Twister the likes of which hasn’t been seen since 1968. I had to worm my way under and around bodies to reach my target.
Now, not to brag, but I’m good with a needle. I’m a nurse, and I’ve been injecting animals since childhood. I used to take insulin, so I’ve injected myself. In recent years, I’ve given sleeping babies shots without rousing them from dreamland. And…perhaps the highest testament to my skill: When I was an adult ICU nurse, I had a junkie tell me I was almost as good with a needle as he was! All this to say, animals rarely notice when I give them a shot. (Except for Finn, but he’s a paranoid shot-watcher.)
However, 31 was on the qui vive! The moment I poked her, she let out her best six-pack-a-day post-tracheotomy Tarzan yell. Unfortunately, her mouth was lined up for maximum effect with Liam’s right ear. Liam didn’t yelp, swear, or loosen his grip. He simply moved one hand around to her face and clamped her mouth shut. 31 continued to bawl (though it was muted). The noise escaped in short bursts along with wooshes of air that puffed out her lips with each breath. I was quick with the needle. Liam let her mouth go. She continued to lustily express her displeasure.
At this point, Old Faithful appeared. Like a trained scrub nurse, she took the spent syringe from my hand, pulled the needle cap from between my teeth, and slapped an oral syringe and tubing in my palm. I crawled out of the pileup and made my way to the epicenter of the sonic Tarzan blasts. Taking advantage of number 31’s great gaping maw, I shoved the tubing to the back of her throat and clamped her trap shut with my free hand. Occasional droplets of medication phoofed out of the sides of her mouth along with puffs of air and a few decibels of Tarzan. Old Faithful whisked the oral syringe away, and Hufflepuff handed me the ear tag tool.
The tool was pre-loaded with 31’s tag and a backing piece. I creakily stood and positioned the tool on her ear. I warned the sheep holders to get a good grip and squeezed the plier-like tool. Number 31’s bawling ratcheted up a notch. I released the tool and noted with disgust that it had ‘misfired’. The hole was on the side of the backing piece, and 31’s ear had been pinched, but not pierced.
Hufflepuff reloaded the tool, and I tried again. Same song, second verse, and we all wanted to join in the Tarzan chorus. We decided 31 (and our ears) had been through enough. She was furious, and when released she stomped off pouting. Her fury lasted until Grace brought out the scoop of feed we were using as sheep bait. At that moment, number 31 announced, she would gladly have another shot on Tuesday for a scoop of grain today! (Yes, I gave her some grain as a peace offering.)
Injecting, dosing, and ‘not tagging’ the other sheep went much the same as it had with 31. After one more attempt, we nixed the tagging. We decided to get a new tool and do it next weekend. However, catching the sheep was something to behold! The six adult sheep raced from end to end of the pen barreling past and occasionally into us. The six lambs are just at the end of the ‘cute fluffy balls of bouncing white popcorn’ phase. However, they’re still young enough to spring straight into the air when cornered. With twelve of them and ten of us, we used a modified zone defense. It was modified, because, we occasionally switched to man-to-man offense!
At one point, Jonah managed a solo take-down of one of the big ewes. He had her in a full-body lock. I came up behind to give the injection. The moment I stuck with my needle, I heard a very loud human YOWL from the head of the sheep. I had an urge, like a cartoon character, to look down at my needle and ensure I had stuck the right rump. I refused to engage in such an undignified response and instead looked at my son. Grimacing, he waited until I was finished injecting and someone had grabbed the sheep, then tugged up his shirt. It seems the moment I’d poked with the needle, the sheep had kidney punched my son. The rough hoof left not only a bruise but a pretty decent scrape. I think Jonah was relieved there were no great gouts of blood pouring down and soaking his trousers. After ensuring he would indeed survive the attack, he shook it off, grabbed the sheep, and placidly smiled in revenge as I shoved a plastic tube in her throat.
Grace is by far the most aggressive sheep wrangler in our gang. At one point, she grabbed one of the larger sheep. She didn’t weigh enough to take it down, but she hung on like a champion PRCA bulldogger as it hurtled forward about fifty yards. Her arms locked around the sheep’s neck, she surfed along beside it on her knees. The sight of her body being dragged and her ponytail streaming behind was equal parts hilarious and disturbing! Both knees were slightly bloodied and the jeans were a total loss when the sheep surrendered and stopped running.
Grace and Jonah then teamed up and herded several sheep into their temporary shed. Jonah kept them from escaping, while Grace chose one and wrestled it into submission. Then, she brought it out to be treated and released, before heading back for another victim. I don’t even want to think about the nature of the muck that was smeared into those nasty shredded jeans!
At last, we were down to just Pinto and one other lamb. Pinto is number 31’s lamb. His eventual number will be 04, but due to the tagging malfunction, he’s still Pinto. He’s larger than the other lambs and much braver. From birth, he would come over to investigate us with his mom. However, in sheep terms, bigger means faster! He also was very aware, that we’d made his Mama yell and bawl. He wanted nothing to do with us! The other lamb was tricky, only because he and his sister look exactly the same. We have to examine their bits to know who is who.
We were all walking toward the far end of the pen. Half the sheep were there, and the other half were in the front. For some sheepish reason, the sheep at the front had a desperate urge to join those at the back. So, they came racing our way. Hufflepuff turned and saw one of the identical-ish twins. She was focused on it, trying to see its bits. She was so focused, she completely missed the other twin barreling straight at her. I saw the collision coming and hollered a warning, but even I wasn’t expecting the lamb to suddenly go into African springbok mode. Things switched to slo-mo for a moment.
Hufflepuff heard my shout and turned her head slightly to see what was wrong. That slight turn lined her up perfectly to collide with the head of the lamb when it rocketed up in a three-foot vertical jump that would’ve made Shaquille O’Neal proud. Hufflepuff is 5’4” and the crown of that lamb’s head made solid contact with her jaw, mouth, and cheekbone. I watched helplessly as her head snapped back like she was in a bad (and bizarre) martial arts movie! She staggered back two full paces as the lamb ran off without even offering to swap insurance information.
When I pressed her about injuries, she gave me a very un-Hufflepuff-like stare and insisted she was fine. She said, “fine” in the ‘mom tone’. You know, the one that brooks no argument. About that time, we heard Grace shouting. She’d caught both Pinto and the mystery lamb. She was barely able to hold them. The boys ran to relieve her of one squirming ovine, and I ran to stab, jab, and dose them both.
It wasn’t until the last sheep was done, that we realized Hufflepuff had cut her lip and bitten her tongue. She looked like a true warrior as she swiped blood from her mouth with the back of her hand. We took her in to rinse her mouth and get some arnica for her battered face. When she was sitting comfortably and the arnica was making the rounds, she said she’d seen the sheep the same moment it saw her. She knew this, because, she’d watched its eyes widen and ears stick out in surprise a split second before impact! I don’t know about y’all, but the image of Sean the Sheep, from Wallace and Gromit, hurtling through the air and colliding with passersby keeps popping into my head.
As we were chuckling at the thought of wide-eyed flying sheep, the guys came in. They announced they’d discovered why the tag tool wasn’t working. Assuring us they’d solved the problem, they presented a sample assembled ear tag. Hufflepuff and Old Faithful immediately said, “Well, we could have another try when it cools down this evening!” What can I say? I have amazing friends! Neither heat, nor poop, nor flying sheep will stay them from their self-appointed awesomeness!
No, I didn’t take them out for another try. I think two sheep rodeos in a day might strain the bonds of friendship! I also think I owe them chocolate…and maybe wine. Although, perhaps a meal of grilled lamb chops would be a better treat for Hufflepuff and her ‘puffy’ cheek!
Do you have friends that are really family? Do you have martial arts trained attack sheep? Can you get this stupid tag tool to work consistently?!? Please leave a comment if you have the time! I love hearing your stories!
*All three of us are within four months in age. (Although, I am the youngest 😉 So, ‘Old Faithful’ as a sobriquet isn’t a dig at her age. It is a comment on her personality.
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