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Monday, December 8, 2008

Sheep Rescue and Donkey Whispering

A routine trip to the barnyard turned into an exciting episode recently. I was in the barn, watering the cows, when I heard a chorus of bleating. I hurried outside to see what the fuss was about.
The sheep had returned from the pasture and were gathered around the hay feeder. When I came out of the barn, they turned and looked at me. One by one the lambs came over and nudged me nose-to-nose, in our usual greeting. Then they rushed back to the feeder, with a little skip. I was heading back to the house when I saw something that made me stop in my tracks.
One of our lambs was stuck under the hay feeder.
The Farmer had warned me to watch for this. The lambs are small enough to burrow under the feeder and eat the hay that is poking out the bottom. But when snow or hay piles up around them, the often can’t get back out. This little lamb was so firmly wedged beneath the iron belly of the feeder, I doubted I could get her out on my own.
First I cleared the hay, snow and muck away from her face so she could breathe. Then I dug out around her. She had been stuck there for a while, obviously, trying to dig her way out. Her legs were lost beneath her, so I couldn’t get hold of one. I grabbed handfuls of wool and tugged. Nothing. I sat down beside her and weighed the options.
I could wait for the Farmer to return, so that he could nudge the feeder off her with the tractor. But he might not be back for several hours. I didn’t know if she would last that long – and I had no idea how long she had been wedged under there.
As I tugged helplessly on her wool, the lamb tried to help by paddling her feet in the snow and the mud. But she was obviously very tired, shivered a little and gave up. I felt really terrible for the stupid little thing.
Finally, I decided to give the feeder a big shove to see if I could lift it. With half a round bale of hay on it, I didn’t think I could but I surprised myself. I guess I had just the right amount of momentum and up it went. The lamb just lay there, not recognizing her freedom. I gave her a little shove with my boot and she jumped up, limping a little but otherwise unharmed. I felt like one of those women you read about who suddenly develop superhuman adrenalin-charged strength in order to lift cars and other heavy objects off their young.
The next morning, our Donkey escaped again. We had locked all the sheep in the barn in order to sort them for sale in the morning (I know – I don’t want to think about it!). Donkey was locked on the outside of the barn, and he wasn’t very happy with the situation.
Quite a wind whipped up overnight, and the backdoor of the shed door blew open, giving Donkey a pass-through to freedom. The next morning, when his escape was discovered, I set out to find the beast. I was pretty sure I knew where he was.
Stuffing apples in the pockets of my barn coat and donning my fleece-lined rubber boots, I trudged down the driveway whistling and calling the runaway. He wasn’t at either of our three closest neighbours’. Just what I suspected. I went back to the house for my car keys. Just then, the phone rang. It was our neighbour down the road, with the horses. Donkey had gone to visit.
Now, at times like these, I almost feel sorry for Donkey. I’m sure he would rather be with horses than sheep.
When I arrived at the farm, there was Donkey, in the horse paddock with his new friends. Except they didn’t seem to be sharing their hay with him, and he had a few scratches – no doubt earned while breaking through the bushes and into their pen. He looked surprised to see me. I walked up to him and grabbed the end of his lead and tugged. He was a concrete wall. Immovable. I showed him the apple and he took a bite.
Step by step, and with plenty of stops along the way for sniffing and looking around, Donkey followed me out of the paddock. Following the apple.
I looked at my little green Cavalier and wished it was a truck with a trailer hitch. I really had no plan at all. I just got in the car, and wrapped Donkey’s lead around my hand. I gave him the other half of the apple, looked him in the eye, and dared him to defy me.
“Come on Donk. We’re goin’ home.”
And that’s just what we did, very slowly, with lots of stops along the way for sniffing and looking around. I am the Donkey Whisperer.
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