I love farming, I really do. If I keep telling myself that over and over again I just might remember why. I've had a traumatic experience recently that could only happen to those living on a farm. Now that I have sufficiently recovered to be able to talk about it, here’s what happened.
I was sitting at the computer, having a friendly chat session with a friend when Graeme came tearing up to the window and shouted, “Sheep in the dam! Ring Justin and come and help now!!!” With a very dramatic “Got to go” message to my friend, I disconnected, rang Justin and followed Graeme to the shed, with pictures of half our stud flock wallowing up to their necks in sticky mud.
As you most probably know (I think I’ve mentioned it once or twice) “Spring Rock” is currently drought ravaged. Most of our dams have either dried up or are in the process of drying up. When a dam is in the process of drying up the edges become very sticky with sloppy mud up to a few metres deep. This is not your average, brown innocuous mud, oh no – this is slimy, oozy, very smelly, stagnant water, black mud, and it is this wonderful stuff that sheep seem to find irresistible. Once a sheep puts two feet into the mud they are trapped and being sheep they do whatever it takes to make their situation worse and the task of getting them out as difficult as possible.
I caught up with Graeme while he was loading whatever he could find that might act as a sheep extraction tool into the back of the old Range Rover (our paddock basher). One look at Graeme and I knew this wasn’t going to be simple case of pulling the ewe to the edge of the dam where the ground is firm. Graeme was caked in the black, smelly muck up to his knees, with generous splatters reaching up to the top of his head! I tried not to breathe too often during the drive as we headed for the dam.
On arriving at the dam I was relieved to see only one ewe stuck there. She was up to her very generous middle in the stuff. Getting this ewe out was going to take a Herculean effort. She is one of our larger ewes and heavily pregnant with what looks like twins. At that moment she was resting with her two front legs on top of the mud, but with her back legs deep in the mire and no where to be seen. She didn’t look at all distressed; on the contrary, she looked for all the world like a drinker propped up at a bar and all she needed to complete the picture was a glass of beer in front of her. Her position in the mud explained Graeme’s mud caked clothes; he’d managed to turn her around and extract her two front legs by himself. Graeme lowered the gate he had brought onto the mud beside her while I scrambled down to the ewe, slipping and sliding in the garden clogs I’d slipped on for speed and regretting that I hadn’t taken the time to change into my farm boots. The ewe seemed to agree with me about my inappropriate footwear because she took one look at me sliding down the side of the dam, rolled her eyes and looked away with a pained expression on her muddy little face. While Graeme once again ventured onto the sloppy part to extract her back legs, I remained on firmer ground holding the ewe’s head out of the mire and offering reassuring words to keep her spirits up. Whenever we have a ewe in crisis I'm always there with soothing words and moral support.
Then Graeme gave me the bad news. He expected me to reverse the Range Rover down the side of the dam wall so that he could tie a rope to the gate and the tow bar and then I was to slowly, REMEMBER SLOWLY!!! drive back up the slope in low range and voila! the ewe would have a sled ride out of the mud. This plan was fraught with potential danger and difficulties. The side of the dam is very steep and I’d be heading straight for Graeme and the ewe! I took a deep breath, put on my stoic farmer’s face and did as I was instructed.
Of course the first thing that happened was that I found just how difficult it is to back down the slope of a dam. I managed this manoeuvre by keeping my foot on the brake and sort of reverse kangarooing down the slope – move a little bit, jump harder on the break and clutch, move a little bit, jump harder on the break and clutch. My technique left Graeme (an ex-rally driver) less than impressed, but I got to the desired distance from Graeme and the ewe without mowing them down or landing the car in the sticky mud in the process, so I was more than satisfied with my backing down the dam wall technique.
The gate was tied to the bumper bar and the next difficulty presented itself. How to drive “Slowly, REMEMBER SLOWLY!!!” up the side of the dam wall. Of course on my first half dozen attempts I went too fast (all of about 1 km an hour) and the gate simply slipped out from underneath the ewe leaving her and Graeme stuck in the mire behind. My attempts to convince Graeme that I was driving as slowly as I could without actually slipping backwards, were met with less than polite disbelief. I said a silent prayer that Justin would get here quickly and once again left the car to wallow about in the mud in order to help Graeme set up the gate/sled apparatus. The monotony of this procedure was sometimes alleviated by Graeme accidentally sinking his foot into the mud up to his calf. We then spent a few minutes trying to extract Graeme, rather than the ewe, from the quicksand like goo while he shouted at me to stand back because he didn’t want me stuck in the stuff too. At first I thought this was an example of how much he cared about me, but Graeme ruined this rosy dream by adding that he didn’t want to have to spend hours trying to extract me too!
Then, just when I was thinking that Justin had decided to seek out a non-farming family to adopt him rather than come and help us, I heard his car at the gate. With a little cheer (I didn’t have the energy left for a big cheer), I sat on the dam bank and waited for him to arrive. Justin, bless his cotton socks, had left the party immediately to come to our aid. The only problem with this was that he wore his brand new, very snazzy leather pants and shiny Doc Martins to the party. So here he was in all his glory, dressed to the nines and ready to help us if not enthusiastically, at least resignedly. He sort of blanched when he looked at the muddy state of his parents, but brave fellow that he is he slid down the dam wall to join us without hesitation.
Graeme took a minute to bring Justin up to speed on what we had tried and failed to do. Justin nodded wisely, offered suggestions and agreed to take over the driving of the Range Rover. Right there and then I was ready to write everyone else out of my will and leave all my worldly possessions to this wonderful boy. I swear I could see a halo shining over his head, but then again it could have been lack of oxygen to the brain from my exhaustion. Justin got into the car, started the engine and made ready to drive it up the bank. It was then that I realised that I didn’t want any child of mine, balancing precariously down the steep side of a dam wall with my husband directly behind the car. I shouted out something along these lines and Graeme nodded and moved a few steps to the left, and reminded me that the little bit of dam that still had water in it was very shallow and besides there was no way the car would reach the water if it slipped down the dam wall. It would bog up to the axles in the mud! A very comforting thought.
So with this reassurance ringing in his ears, Justin began to move the car up the side of the dam. I wish I could tell you that his first attempt was successful, but I’m afraid it was far from it. The sun had well and truly set before success was finally achieved, but achieved it was. The poor old ewe couldn’t believe she was on solid ground at first and just sat there with the same vague look on her face. Graeme and Justin mustered enough energy to help her to her feet. She realised she was free and with astounding ingratitude, took off with all the speed her tired body could muster (and she could muster more speed that any of us could), and headed back out into the paddock, meaning that Graeme was going to have to go find her and move her into another paddock so that we didn’t have to do this all over again in the morning.
After cleaning up as best he could, Justin gave us a quick goodbye and was gone before we had a chance to find some other fun way of sharing the night with him. Graeme headed back out on the bike to find the ewe and persuade her to move to a dam free paddock. I thought longingly of a hot bath, but with the lack of rain we’ve had I settled for a quick shower, organised a quick dinner for Graeme, and fell into bed without dinner.
I love farming. I really do … now can someone remind me exactly why I love it please?