My life seesaws from the sublime to the ridiculous…

I’ll just explain to those of you that don’t work with livestock the effect that persistent, heavy rain can have on sheep. Bear with me, those of you that know.

My sheep are Whiteface Dartmoors, a longwool breed. At the moment their fleeces are full, long and heavy. When wet the weight can double or even triple. Sheep feel itchy because of warmer weather, insects and just having to carry around a body full of dreadlocks. They roll to itch and can become stuck on their backs unable to right themselves because of the weight of their fleece. If not found in time they will become blown (their rumen becomes grossly distended with gas) and are at risk of attack from any magpie/crow/rook/raven looking for a tasty snack of eye, mouth, tongue and other soft tissue. Fatal if not found in time.

Another particularly unsavoury problem is fly strike. Flies find dung or small sores on the sheep, lay their eggs which hatch into maggots which feast on their nice, live, warm host. Charming…also fatal if not found in time.

Mastitis can occur too if the udder becomes cold and chilled in the wind and rain. Yet again fatal if not found in time.

With this in mind, this was my schedule last week:-

15 May – Ewe on back, hypothermic, unable to stand. Affected with paralysis in back and front legs.

16 May – Find ewe with mastitis.

17 May – Mastitis udder infested with maggots. Check signs of fly strike in rest of sheep.

18 May – Work at ‘Crede’, my friend Pavla’s boutique in Exeter

19 May – Tag calves, move cattle, muck out small bull pen.

20 May – Rehearsal for fashion show

21 May – Fashion show

This is either the ‘sublime’ or ‘ridiculous’ bit – I’m not sure which.

Pavla opened a beautiful, upmarket little boutique in Exeter last year, where I work a day a week. It’s such a jolt-like difference from my farm work. So once a week I scrub up and sell beautiful clothes to beautiful people. It’s great!

Also very fascinating as I get to find out a great deal more about how urban souls perceive the countryside and rural communities. Interestingly even in a small, quite provincial city such as Exeter there’s a huge gap in people’s knowledge of what they think is happening in the country and the actuality. I’ve also found that there’s a lot of people keen to do something to help either farmers, the rural economy, the curbing of food miles etc. etc. but are unsure how…too many mixed messages.

Anyway, to return to the ‘sublime’ bit.

After quite a full-on gutsy, grisly couple of days rugby tackling sheep, mud surfing, maggot-picking, tagging and castrating I had to brush and polish my rather bruised and battered body and make it look suitable for Pavla’s first fashion show, at the Royal Clarence Hotel in Exeter.

Yesterday was the day. All models present and correct? 8.45 start on hair, make-up. Last minute run through our outfits for six different ‘scenes’. Shoes, bags, jewellery, hats all present? No, quickly back to Crede to pick up missing outfit, into M&S for flesh-coloured knickers. Flowers, goody bags – check, check. Back in time to do a quick recap on the choreography and music. Then we’re on! No time to think, walk the walk, work the floor, smile, interact, relax. It’s finished, so fast…but quick, quick change, only ten minutes till the next scene! And so on.

A brilliant success! Enjoyed by all and many compliments. Pavla elated and exhausted. Hard work but huge fun. A big hug and Pavla goes on her way and I back to the farm to do the evening animal round.

I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for the fashion show photos, but there’s one of me checking a young ram hogg for maggots! And all poorly sheep are doing well…

Paula and Ram 20.05.07