On the day I discovered the limping ewe, my heart plunged into my boots. Being a diligent heart, it continued to do its job but you could tell that its own heart wasn't really in it. The poor thing had been slowly getting heavier over the previous weeks, weighed down by an assortment of stresses, including an injured back and Farmer Wan's absence.
The ewe didn't look too happy either.
I waited a couple of days to see if she'd come right by herself. Nope. She got worse. I, in turn, got more stressed and bleated long and loudly over the phone to Farmer Wan in Oz. He rang one of the local farmers back here, who then rang me. (If this sounds convoluted, that's because it is. I suck at asking for help, especially from people I don't know.)
"Sheep are the biggest wimps of all farm animals," the farmer told me. "They're the first to let you know when something's wrong with them. Cows are really robust, deer will just drop dead on you without warning, but sheep act as if they're going to cark it for the least little thing."
This was reassuring but it didn't help with my herculean problem, which was how to catch Hopalong and get her into the paddock where the livestock yard is, ready for the vet. Our paddocks are all 1.6 hectares (nearly 4 acres), and the one relevant to this story has manuka scrub on the northern boundary. The sheep are half wild and I, if you recall, have a bad back.
My knight in High Vis and polar fleece appeared in the form of our neighbour, Andreas. He's a strapping young German bloke who gets a kick out of chasing livestock around paddocks and rugby-tackling them to the ground. I saw him in action back in February, when we needed to separate Spiderbuilder the Ram from the rest of the flock. Andreas ran him down, hoisted him up and heaved him over the fence. It was beautiful, I tell you.
So, thanks to Andreas, we got the ewe into a trailer on the back of his 4WD, drove to the other paddock and installed her in the yard. After my sheep wrangler left, I realised I needed to fill the yard's water trough. There was a 25-litre container full of water in the shed. I could put it in the 4WD and drive it up to the yard. Great idea!
I crunched my back so badly lifting the damn thing that for the next five days, I had to get dressed sitting down. I couldn't bend over at all.
By now, I was in so much pain and so strung out generally, that I was half-expecting the vet to have a go at me for not knowing how to care for our sheep's feet. He didn't, of course. He was terrific.
"A bit of advice for the novice farmer," he said. "If you have to yard a sick sheep, always put another one or two in with it. If you leave it alone, it thinks it's the last sheep left in the world and it panics. If you have two or three in together, they keep each other calm and they're easier to work with."
Duh. It was obvious as soon as he said it but I doubt I'd have come to that myself.
He checked Hopalong's teeth, confirmed that she was approaching four years old and then had a look at her foot. He showed me how to compare the feet, then the toes, to isolate where the problem is. One of Hopalong's toes was swollen but there was no obvious cause. The diagnosis was "bad bruising" and he gave her two injections: an antibiotic and an anti-inflammatory. He demonstrated how to clip the hooves. He talked about foot-baths. And then we discussed the need to section off one of the paddocks for lambing.
Farmer Wan came home the following week and, with Andreas and his family helping, built a mighty fine set of sheep yards. Hopalong slowly healed, over about ten days. My heart climbed laboriously back into my chest and my back improved.
"But what about the herpes?" you ask. "That was in the title. What's that got to do with any of this?" To which I reply:
"An episode of shingles, dear friend. The wages of my stress. Very painful and un-fun. I don't recommend it."
So I've decided I need to change the way I view things. We came here to escape a certain type of stress, not to incubate horrible mutations of it while living in a charming alpine setting. I'm in a place that I love, with a life that I've chosen and new experiences that I've invited. It's time to relax a little, rest a little and look forward to the arrival of new life at Muntanui. Lambing's due to commence in the first week of September. Stay tuned!
Posted by Farmer Nik
About Ewan and Niki
Scottish mechanical engineer with a deep and abiding passion for good food. Outstanding cook. Builder of lots of stuff. Cattle whisperer. Connoisseur of beer. A lover rather than a fighter.
Kiwi writer and broadcaster who hates cabbage, even though she knows it's good for her. Chook wrangler. Grower of food and flowers. Maker of fine preserves. Lover of dancing and wine. Definitely a fighter.