May. It’s faintly snowing. The old ginger cat sits upon the second rung of a ladder to get off the cold ground.
Puffins are everywhere about the island, particularly at the north end, so I walk to sit with a hundred or so, amongst their burrows just above north haven beach. Three are in a huddle, clattering their beaks together. Their movements and sounds make me smile.
From the hill, a ewe is calling and calling for her lost lamb. It’s not long before I come upon it. Stomach ripped open by a black backed gull, its innards freshly eaten and its ribcage picked clean. What can I do?
At the croft, the caddy lamb and the orphan lamb are in the garden hard box pen, bleating before the four hours’ time up for the next feed, just as a baby does. They follow us clattering around the kitchen floor on their hoof toes, their stomachs bloated from the formula milk, ready to pop.
The dog is barking at nothing in particular.
The woman is in the kitchen and the man has gone to sea.
Familiarity of the small flock as if family.
Early evening, in the lambing park, when the heaving of the birth pushing and the pulling of the lamb that could not be born, I sink in the mud to sit at the head of the ewe to stroke her forehead between her bulging eyes, making comforting noises to sooth an animal that would normally run away from me.
Any woman who has given birth would empathetically feel the movement of the heaving and grunting of the ewe against or with each contraction. The young man, having not yet been a father, gently waits for the contraction to subside, allowing the ewe to release so that he may pull the unborn lamb again. The ewe pants and groans repeatedly at the man aiding the birth of the big lamb, too big for the mother, having been crossed with a huge texel. I cannot look at the sagging birth hole, the birthing sack coming away, the placenta hanging like a blood liver that she will turn to eat, to stop the buzzards from coming to feast, first on the blood sack then on the new born.
She turns away, so, her head is forced towards to the limp new born to lick a love connection but the ewe, lifeless from the shattering, traumatising, experience, lies unmoving with fearful and unknowing eyes, neither lifting her head nor licking the new lamb. The limp new life in front bleating –
you are both alive,
you both still live.
The woman pushing and pushing for hours and days in labour, at the young age of 23 years, her first child, big in the womb, stuck back-to-back, until she is lifeless after the rupture and eclamptic fit. Surgeons cutting, nurses monitoring, air is given, the baby is ripped out with forceps, mother unresponsive slips into unconsciousness. Two days later, after finally waking, the baby is passed to me like a lamb wrapped in the skin of another, with the words, ‘this is your son’.
At the side of the lamb being born on FI, I think of Levenwick last week, where the young man, without any feeling or kindness grabbed the new mother ewe by the scruff of the neck, her back legs skidding on her blood and urine collected in pools in the back of the truck, she, pushed into a pen in the lambing shed that was once a house. The new lamb is brought in behind her, hanging by its back legs.
Welcome to the world young one covered in yellow sticky sack of life only minutes old, blood threads entwined bleating for dear life.
2 thoughts on “lambing – 2021 – extract.”
Grim narrative. Equally, unnecessary photo of tragic lamb. I am a nurse of longstanding & live in a rural, farming , fellside community & am aware of these happenings , but do not comprehend either the connection or the need of Tracy to publish this.
Thank you for your comment. I appreciate everyone’s feedback. I wrote this because this was true normal daily life for me on Shetland.
ps, my name has a small e in it 🙂