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Drenching the Sheep – The Morning After

My hands are scratched, swollen, sore and weeping in a few places.

My back is telling me it has relentlessly been put to unaccustomed work, and asking me what I was thinking by so doing.

The pointer finger on my left hand has teeth marks on it and the top joint, already misshapen from a mishap with a huge thorn when I was gardening in Dr Geaney’s garden many years ago (ouch! The memory of having an enormous thorn wedged firmly in the joint, said thorn having to be surgically removed by Dr Geaney who was, luckily, an orthopaedic surgeon) … the top joint is today swollen further from being masticated by Dorper ewes.

Part of the skill of drenching involves hand-eye coordination, and the deftness of each interaction. There you are, wedged into a writhing mass of 50 or more woollen bodies in the race, with all your anti-prickle armour on, and a drenching gun in your right hand.

The drenching gun is suspended from a pulley that runs along the roof of the race, and is attached to a bag of drench.

You gently grab the soft muzzle of each sheep, speaking to it in endearing terms (well, I do anyway; I really like them). You prise open its jaw with the pointer finger of your left hand, making sure you put your finger in the back of the jaw where the teeth are not, rather than the front, where the teeth are – although every now and then you miscalculate, and your finger gets a thorough workout from the teeth in the front and it hurts. You insert the drenching gun into the back of the throat with your right hand and quickly squirt, holding the beautiful soft muzzle a moment to ensure the drench has been swallowed, savouring the smell and feel of the animal’s head, exchanging a knowing look with its trusting eyes with gorgeous long lashes, and imbibing the clean smell of masticated grass on its breath, appreciating meanwhile the discreet dousing of absolutely unadulterated lanolin to your hands and arms; then, if you can manage to remove your leg from the crush, you wade on to the next sheep, lifting your legs waist-high as you make your way along in this manner.

Sometimes, when a sheep is panicky, you find yourself in an embrace with a thrashing head which brings your whole upper body into play. Sometimes, when a sheep buries its head under the crush of bodies, you find yourself lifting 70kg of sheep to find and dose the missing head.

As a workout, it beats anything I have experienced.

This morning, muscles in various other parts of my body – arms, neck, legs – are echoing the sentiments of my back, and similarly grumbling and mumbling and asking for ‘show cause’ and to please be left alone today. Which they won’t. There are more to do.

The thing is, I really like drenching sheep.

I really like sheep. They have beautiful eyes, beautiful soft faces, beautiful soft noses, a lovely feel to them and even a lovely smell. The softness, in spite of their covering of sundry prickles and sharp seeds caught up in their coats, comes partly from the lanolin in their wool, partly from their temperament; on both counts they are delightful animals. Well, that’s my opinion.

In a serendipitous twist, the fact is that my adopted name “Grieve” means sheep farmer in Scottish.


© Jane Grieve –

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