Counting sheep!

For this Spring break, I spent three weeks on two farms in Northern Ireland as part of my EMS requirements for school. I spent nearly every waking hour delivering lambs and looking after them and their mothers, as well as helping do the same for some calves and their cow mommies. I got back last Saturday, and seeing how it’s been a week now, I figured a post about the whole experience is more than overdue.

I’m not really sure why it took so long. Sure, I had to prune through my photos and such, but that doesn’t take that long. I think this post, like many others, has been intimidating me because I know I’ve got so much I could write. Three weeks isn’t that long a time and Northern Ireland isn’t that far away, but I feel like the whole trip was like some sort of weird, stinky version of that kind of self-reflective, labor-intensive therapy retreat that some companies in the US make their employees go through every once in a while.

This post might end up rambling, but I’m thinking I’ll be punctuating it with loads of pictures, so hopefully it won’t be too arduous a read. :P (You have been warned.)

Where to start? This lambing trip turned out to be a very enjoyable experience, which was a huge relief. I had honestly been dreading it beforehand; I know I’m not one to fear the unknown, but I guess the idea of being so far out of my comfort zone in combination with how drained I’d been feeling by the time the Spring break came around kinda made me feel altogether disgruntled with the prospect of waking up in a stranger’s house at the sort of time in the morning when farmers tend to rise. (Luckily enough for me though, I managed to grab the evening/night-shift for myself on both farms, so that problem never came around. Thank goodness.)

Man, we worked hard though. I kinda wish I’d worn a pedometer or a tracker or something, just to have been able to find out exactly how much I walked and ran. Between shoveling; walking; chasing, catching and wrestling sheep up and down the hills of Ireland; carrying calves; and–not to forget–the hours and hours I spent with my arms elbow/shoulder-deep up the contracting end of a ewe in labor (occasionally pulling as hard humanly possible when just smart maneuvering proved inadequate); I managed to lose 4 more pounds over the three weeks, despite being fed as much potato, coleslaw, shortbread, and custard as the farmers’ wives could manage. I also still can’t feel the medial sides of both my big toes, courtesy of the steel-toed wellies I sported every one of those 22 days.

Pictured: a side-glance of my filthy waterproofs and wellies, as well as Nell, the sweet sheepdog who spent my last morning on the farm following me around.

I went from zero to pretty damn good at delivering babies, especially thanks to my solo-flying night shifts. I became acquainted with the side of me who apparently loves jumping from a moving quad to chase down sheep rounded up on a hill by a dog, and clearly also enjoys dabbling in the climbing and vaulting of gates. (Who knew?) I also did my first surgical-type stitching over this break: in the form of correcting and stitching prolapses back in in such a way that they can be loosened and opened up again when the time came for parturition to begin. (Dude, I had to use like a 5″ long needle for those!) I got pretty decent at milking animals, as well; hey, I’m sure it’s a useful skill to have in life.

Also, (I know I’ve already kinda mentioned it) but I LOVE quads. I must have looked like the dog eager to hop into the car every time the farmer rode by on that thing. Quad on the hills = fantastic way to spend the day. Better yet, the dog rode with us every time, and the sun came out for a lovely lucky streak during my last week there. I couldn’t really ask for much more. ;) Besides maybe not having had that snow the week before…

All the makings for a lovely afternoon.

I also finally got the chance to satisfy my oxytocin-driven needs, after such a long time of not getting much of that lovely animal contact. I kept my hands off of the most of the lambs as much as possible, to make sure I didn’t accidentally steal a baby from its mother (yeah sheep mommies can be kinda stupid), but the pet lambs (babies not fed/wanted by their mothers) were free to love. And indeed I did! They’re not quite dogs, but hell they’re cute, and some were downright cuddly! My favorite (whom I’m not ashamed to say I named Mr. Sniffy) would actually snuggle up and fall asleep if you held him for long enough, so you can rest assured that I used him as a portable heater every time the night shift was quiet. :D

Mr. Sniffy!!

The good stuff.

I also grew pretty fond of wool. Like the natural stuff, the real stuff. The stuff that turned everything about the sheep moving around quickly into an episode in an ongoing comedy inside my head. Dude, that stuff is so cozy. I really wouldn’t mind at all some day if I can somehow someday end up with a whole bunch of land and a small flock of whatever fleece-bearing animal can handle the heat of my tropical dream home. (Alpaca?) (If I can keep them well-shorn?)

I salvaged a few handfuls of the fluff from around the barn (off the fenceposts, stuck to the trough, dangling from a full-coat of floofiness..). I thought I might see if I can somehow rudimentarily card it to try and make a memento out of it.. (Yeah, I know I’m nuts.)

Oh! I also delivered a calf! Like a baby cow! It was AWESOME. We had to use this big, giant crank thingy… but I got to do the cranking and stuff! Proud moment for me, seeing that little guy walking around. (I’m a sap.)

My accomplishment!

Also, for your enjoyment: a lamb nearly the size of a small calf. This guy was an eager bottle-drinker–he never failed to lift my mood by trying to jump the gate (unsuccessfully) to get to my bottle first. (Seconds after the photo was taken, he tried his very best to suck the life out of my chin.)

Overall, it was a really relaxing trip. I probably haven’t made it sound like it, and it sure wasn’t relaxing on the nerd-front nor on the muscles in basically all of me, but it was definitely therapeutic, in some sort of way. I spent most of it busy as hell, but the kind of work it was, in such a gorgeous setting, too (and surrounded by cute baby animals, nonetheless), somehow lent itself to a good deal of meditative self-reflection. Plus, it was a massive ego-boost, the whole experience. So it was.

And hell, there’s nothing quite like having spent even just half an hour sitting huddled with a baby lamb in a makeshift seat made from a hay bale to block the wind and snow flying in through the barn “doorway.”

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One response to “Counting sheep!

  1. Such a pleasure to read and vicariously experience the lush Irish countryside. What an experience, Oli!

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