Don’t panic. I have not fallen off the edge of the earth, I have merely been away from Rocky Springs for a couple of weeks.
So what does a cattle farmer do when she goes on holiday? Well she goes shearing and lamb marking of course ……..
Up until last week I knew nothing about sheep and now I am proud to say I know next to nothing about sheep. My ovine education – call it Sheep 101 – was kick started when Brian and I visited Dairy Park where we have cattle partaking of green grass.
The proprietors of Dairy Park were flat out shearing when we arrived so Grant put us to work in the yards behind the shed – much to the kelpie’s disgust.
Although I thought I was doing a reasonable job of moving the sheep the dog, called Cog, just shook his head and muttered something about amateurs.
And this is what I learnt about sheep on Day 1:
- They kick
- They headbutt
- They stamp their feet
- Their fleece has murderous prickles
- Once shorn there are no more killer prickles, but then the slippery little suckers are harder to catch.
For some reason I was only in the actual shearing shed for smoko and lunch and to listen to half of the Melbourne Cup. Being surrounded by non-believers I was glad I had a back-up plan of listening to the Cup in the car because at the half-way point the shed reception failed and I was the one muttering about amateurs.
Day 2 was my introduction to lamb marking, which involves an array of instruments and aids, the two most important being a Fraser and a Henry. At 11 and 9 years of age these boys taught me plenty about sheep and also about the finer arts of:
- Plumbing a tree-house
- Making gun-powder from pee, poo and charcoal
- Making a forge
- Making a tomahawk in above forge
Back in the yards, stationed at the rotating lamb marking cradle, I was put on tail duty, meaning I had to slip a rubber ring over the lamb’s tail. In time this causes the tail to drop off, thus reducing the risk of fly strike.
And this is what I learnt about lamb tails:
- They can be small and sleek
- They can be fat and fluffy
- They have prickles
- They can be covered in dry dags
- They can be covered in wet, gross, smelly poo
- They are attached to kicking lambs
The term “lamb” is deceptive. Some lambs weigh 4/5ths of a feather, others are an easily-picked-up 5-10kg, others would look good in my freezer,
and then there are the mega lambs. While I was providing comic relief for Fraser and Henry, it was Brian’s job to lift the lambs into the cradle. He had a lot of mega-lambs and just as he was mastering the technique of grab and toss, along came Gargantuan Lamb.
Gargantuan Lamb towered above the mob, booted Brian under the ribs (a week later he still has a souvenir bruise) and spilled out the sides of the cradle. Gargantuan Lamb had an enormous fluffy tail, which was, thank the gods, poo and dag free. Lizzie was on testicular duty and was looking concerned as the table turned but, thank the gods again, Gargantuan Lamb was a she!!
Gargantuan Lamb was tail-marked, ear-marked, ear-tagged, vaccinated, renamed “Lady Ga Ga” and released.
From my two day education this is now what I can tell you about sheep:
- A 500kg cow is easy to move. Ten 50kg sheep are easy to move. Fifty 10kg lambs will scatter in all compass directions.
- Greasy wool equals greasy hands
- You can physically scruff a 50kg sheep. You cannot physically scruff a 500kg cow.
- Lambs squirm
- It is not as easy as it looks to pick up a squirmy lamb and wrestle it into a cradle
- 11 and 9 year old boys make the above look easy
- I think I will stick to cows