Sunday, February 3, 2013

Gods, vets and pregnant sheep

The weather gods are still fighting over La Chaise. January has always had two faces. The Blue Faced Hag has, possibly temporarily, given way to the various gods of winds and rain. Temperatures in the last ten days went into double figures and, not liking the humans they saw, rapidly descended into the lower singles. Signs of Persephone, spring's harbinger, struggle to show themselves; Demeter is still fighting with Hades. In the fields, near the wild fig trees that are growing on the ruins of the old bread oven, the wild narcissi are showing a few centimetres of leaves. Flowers cannot be far off.

But we are in February which is a capricious month. Last year there was snow and deep frost and we were forbidden to come home from sunny Spain by our daughter and son in law. Too dangerous they said. We'd just be a burden, I grumpily thought but I knew I could not, did not wish, to drive in snow or on ice.

The fields are drowned in cold water and the sheep deeply grateful to be in the barn, receiving breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner inside. As yet there is no sign of imminent arrival of lambs but the Clun Forests usually do not deliver until mid or end February – whatever time the ram joins the flock. Not usually a problem except that this year is the five yearly blood test for brucellosis (TB to humans) and clever people somewhere in the administration have decided that February is the propitious time to take blood samples.

Meanwhile another, more earthly god got in touch, indirectly. My local vet's secretary announced he would arrive on Feb 27th , late afternoon, to take the samples, options not offered. In reality it will be an apprentice vet who might, or might not, be able to take blood samples from animals without traumatising them. So (one should not anthromorphise) who thinks it is a good idea to herd pregant animals into a small corner, stick a needle into their necks and draw blood, just as they are about to give birth? Some years back one ewe was so traumatised by the brutal handling that she went into shock and died.

I said to the secretary that if the majority of the ewes had given birth, 27th February was OK, if not – I would insist on re-scheduling. This will annoy the vet who already thinks I am idiot because I am raising the sheep organically. If I re-schedule, it means he will have to do the testing, rather than the student vets, and it will throw out his planning. To which my reply is: complain to the authorities who impose this on you. The administrators, unless they are locals, have probably never seen a sheep on anything other than a polystyrene barquette or as statistics on a computer print out.

The only way to impose change on bureaucratic systems – apart from bloody revolutions – is to make the administrators' lives uncomfortable, starting from the bottom up. So if I complain to the vet, hopefully s/he complains to the immediately responsible civil (just) servant and so it goes on up the ladder.

Wishful thinking is one way of getting through the winter.

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