Animals, Farming, Healthcare, Rural Living

Reflections On a Childhood Hymn

Two things got me thinking of this “oldie but goodie” post, first published on Ricochet in 2014: First, I inspected the nether regions of a few of my ewes the other day, in order to adjudge the imminence of any blessed events.  (Another couple of weeks, I think; things generally start popping around here in mid-to-late January.) Second, this upcoming weekend features, on Masterpiece Theatre, the new adaptation of James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small.  I’m trepidatious about the whole thing, as both the books and the 1970s series starring Christopher Timothy and Robert Hardy are touchstones of my youth, but the trailer looks quite good.  Lord, please do not them have gone absurdly woke.  That’s all I ask.  Anyway, without further ado, off we go:

Pace, James Herriot, but there are times, especially in Winter, that All Things on the farm do not seem particularly Bright, or especially Beautiful. Anyone who’s ever tried to get water out of a ‘frost-free’ outdoor faucet, and has ended up carrying about thirty gallons to the barn in five-gallon pails when the temperature outside is minus twelve degrees Fahrenheit, knows exactly what I mean.

Another of those moments occurred earlier this week, as I watched, with my usual sense of growing alarm, the tiny nose and muzzle of a lamb, patiently waiting to be born, but clearly making no progress towards successfully exiting its mother’s birth canal. It wasn’t long before the usual internal dialog started:

Time to interfere? — No, not yet. Give it a little while. Best if it’s born naturally. She’s more likely to take to it, and feed it, and you’re less likely to have a lamb in a Pack-n-Play in the living room for the next several weeks.

What could be the problem? Breech birth?  — No. I can see the nose. — Big head, stuck? — Maybe. — Legs back, and shoulders jammed, trying to get through the pelvic opening? — Possible. That would be the simplest thing to fix.

Breathe. You, not the mom. She doesn’t seem to be worried at all.

Is it alive? — I think so. It’s blowing bubbles. And it’s not blue. And it doesn’t look swollen. And it’s tongue isn’t sticking out. Those are always good signs.

–Ten minutes pass to indicate the passing of ten minutes–

OK. I’ve waited ten minutes. Nothing’s happened. — Interfere? — Oh, wait! There’s a little foot.

That’s good. You want to see that. There should be one on either side of its nose. — Oh, maybe that’s not good. What if it’s twins and the foot and the nose belong to two different lambs? Oh, Lord, don’t let it be twins. I don’t want to have to push the whole lot back inside and try to disentangle them and get them out one at a time. Last time I did that, I was black and blue to the elbow for weeks. Let’s wait just a few more minutes.

–A few more minutes pass–

It’s cold out here. — Yes, it certainly is.

Now? — Well, things are starting to look a bit dry. And nothing’s really progressed, so yes, Now.

At this point, you go up the house and retrieve a bucket of warm soapy water, a pair of rubber gloves, a bottle of vegetable oil, some washcloths and old towels, and you trudge back to the barn with your basic kit.

You glove up, douse your hand in vegetable oil, have a feel, and the voice starts again:

OK, head feels normal. Where’s the leg? — Oh, here, good, leg goes up to shoulder, goes to neck, goes to head, same lamb. Pull entire leg through pelvic opening. Here it comes. — Stop! You don’t want to pull too hard, you’ll jam things up even moreWhere’s the other leg? — Oh, on the other side of the bony pelvic opening. Ouch! —  Where’s the hoof? Turned back the wrong way? — Yes, here it is, and the shoulder is stuck. — Sure the leg belongs to the same lamb? — Yes. — Ok, hold it between two fingers and bring it outside. 

Nose and head still look good. — What about the shoulders? Push back a bit and then pull gently on both legs — OK, here they come. Shoulders through.

Oh . . . ah . . . it’s slithering. Out. Still in the sac. Wipe its nose clean, smack it a bit, Oh, it’s coughing. And breathing. Hooray! And it’s mother is talking to . . . um. . .her . . . she’s a little girl!

And you take her, and you place her by her mother’s nose, and you stand back and watch them nuzzle, and you realize, for the thousandth time, although as always, as if for the first, that James Herriot and Cecil Frances Alexander had it exactly right after all:

He gave us eyes to see them,
And lips that we might tell,
How great is God Almighty,
Who has made all things well.

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all. 


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