Monday, August 17, 2009

Sheep farming

Align CenterThe road to the farm

Spring showers persist. The number of lambs I see each day is multiplying, sparking memories of lambing beats on the farm. That always leads me to give thanks when I hear rain on the roof that I am warm and dry inside and not out in the weather trudging around the hills checking on the new born lambs.

I've always been a bit forgetful and that's not a good thing to be when it comes to taking off a raincoat when the sun comes out, putting it down in a paddock somewhere and not thinking about it again until the next spring shower comes along. Of course, by then I'd be in a different paddock, on a different hill. Wet and cold!

I remember one particularly nasty August day when Bernie was about 9 years old. Bernie was not a born farmer but on this day he volunteered to come with me on the lambing beat - he must have wanted something. Sorry, Bern, but you know that would be the truth. Rain was coming down in sheets and it was blowing a gale. Our mission for the day was to take three little orphaned lambs we'd been feeding on a bottle at the house (and keeping warm under a light in a box on the back porch) out the back where the day before my ex and I had tied to fences three ewes who had lost their lambs. Bernie carried one lamb in a sack over his shoulder and I carried the other two, one over each shoulder.

We were sweating inside our wet weather gear by the time we got there and I decided we should move the ewes down into a gully to give them some shelter from the storm. This was a task in itself as fully grown un-cooperative ewes are quite a handful for a woman and a boy. But we managed it. Then came the task of convincing the ewes that the lambs we were offering up for adoption were irresistible. Yeah, right! We managed to get each of the lambs to drink from the ewes, and the lambs seemed keen enough to have real mothers. So we left them with matching marks on their backs. Say the ewe had a blue cross painted on her back, then the lamb would get a matching blue cross. It always amused me when there were a number of "mothered" ewes and lambs in a mob, the number of funny coloured markings we'd have to think of.

Anyway, we did our best and couldn't do more than that. The rest was up to the sheep. As we climbed up out of the gully we realized the storm had grown worse. Bernie asked could he run on home and I said sure, wishing I was capable of running in my raincoat and gumboots.

So away he went. He was a small child and when he ran he always looked "industrious". He didn't run with the easy grace of his older brother, his short legs had to work hard to cover the ground. The track we were following was a set of tractor tracks and we were following the tracks along a ridge. I could see Bernie getting further and further ahead of me in the distance but then he came to a fork in the track and he was in the right hand track, head down, making good progress. He just kept his head down and followed that track, not noticing that the other wheel track went off to the left, he carried on to the right, not realizing he was now going in the wrong direction, further from home.

I called and called as loud as I could but the wind and rain whipped my voice away. I just stood there, thoroughly dejected, not able to do anything. How far would he run before he woke up to what had happened? I saw him come to a gate and start to climb over it. No, no, I thought, if he went over that gate and down the hill he would be out of sight. But at the top of the gate he paused and lifted his head, looked around him, looked back at me and even from that distance (he must have been 100 metres away and it was raining very heavily) I could see his shoulders drop as he realized where he was.

He dropped back to the right side of the gate and set to work running back towards me. As he came to where I stood waiting for him he lifted his head ever so slightly, muttered, "wrong track" and I could see he felt foolish. And he carried on ploughing his way through the storm, heading for home this time.

Now he was safely on his way home I could see how funny it was. Poor little blighter, as if it wasn't bad enough being out in this storm, he had the extra 200 metres to run.

By the time I got back home Bernie was showered and warm in front of the fire. He didn't look up when I came into the room and I didn't say a word!

The photos here are of the old sheep farm, taken by my daughter Justine a few years ago on a nostalgic trip to see what had changed.

1 comment:

  1. Blogs are such a wonderful way of recording such incidents and sharing them with family and friends and even complete strangers!


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