Saturday, March 18th, 2017
I was delighted to be invited back into the RTÉ studios last week to record my latest segment for “CountryWide,” which airs every Saturday morning on RTÉ Radio One at 8am.
In case you missed it, or would like to listen back, here’s the link to the audio. I’ve also included the full transcript below.
Hope you enjoy!
It’s been close to a month now since I made the move. I’d like to say that all went smoothly, I really would. However, it all went pear-shaped in rather spectacular fashion when I accidentally locked myself out of the house in my pjs, with nothing on my person but a car key.
That’s a story for another day, but suffice it to say, there aren’t enough biscuits in the world to show my gratitude to the members of the Maynooth fire department who pried open the window and spared me the humiliation of being sat on the doorstep in my pjs when the new tenant arrived.
Thankfully, that incident did not pave the way for things to come, and Jack and I have survived our first month of cohabitation with both our sanity and relationship intact.
I have to wonder if that has anything to do with the fact that despite being under the same roof, we actually don’t see all that much of each other. This year’s lambing and calving has made sure of that!
Indeed, quality time together these days is an afternoon spent in the sheep shed. Which is where we were last weekend when I learned just how true the saying is, that where there’s livestock, there’s deadstock.
“You’re just in time,” said Jack’s mother turning to greet me when I landed into her kitchen that Saturday afternoon. “I’ve shepherds pie here for you, and I need someone to feed the calf that’s over there in the shed.”
That explained the oversized baby’s bottle she was wielding in one hand, a spatula in the other.
“Great!” I said, taking a seat at the big wooden table. I was excited at the prospect of flexing my calf-feeding muscles, and delighted there existed a task that could be entrusted to a townie like myself. “I’m dying to have a look at the new lambs, too” I added as Mary handed me the plate.
“Here’s one here,” Jack’s father piped up pointing to his lap. On my way in, between my excitement at the prospect of homemade shepherd’s pie and my puzzlement at the giant baby bottle, I’d completely missed the black lamb that lay across John’s knees. He lifted the little creature up so I could see it better. It offered no resistance and as I moved to pet it, the lamb’s tiny head fell to the side. I’m no vet, but it didn’t take 600 points in the leaving cert to know that this lamb wasn’t well.
I watched as John fed a tube down its throat then bundled the poor creature up in a fleece and laid it in the utility room where the heat from the tumble dryer would keep it warm. The scene was reminiscent of one I’d seen the previous spring when a little white lamb was laid out in the back one Sunday. That was the first and only time I’d heard the sheep version of “the death rattle.” I hoped for a better outcome for this little one.
Fed and watered, I pulled on my trusty purple wellies noting the muck that had gathered in the soles. I wasn’t sure whether to relish or lament the fact that they were no longer the tell-tale, squeaky clean boots of a newbie-to-the-farm. Not that there was any danger of me passing for a proper farmer just yet: my hot pink raincoat and shellac manicure made sure of that. I took the litre of beastins Mary had warmed for the calf, and navigated my way across the straw-covered floor of the sheep shed to join Jack.
I wondered if the animal in question was feeling at all self-conscious, she being the only bovine in a shed-full of sheep. If she was, she didn’t show it, trotting over to greet us, no doubt well aware that we’d come bearing food.
A Charolais, all spindly legs, creamy coat and bright, brown eyes, she looked spritely, if a little small. I asked Jack what was wrong with her; why was she in there in the first place?
“Her Mam was bate-in’ her,” he said. I was horrified! It turned out that this little lady was one of a set of twins. Her mother evidently felt that one was enough, and communicated her point by kicking the smaller of the two and refusing to let her feed. Jack had no choice but to separate them.
I felt terrible for the poor little thing. In her defence, and to use a phrase muttered by every teenager at least once, sure she “didn’t ask to be born.”
Premature, underweight, and subsequently and literally kicked out by her mother, this little one hadn’t had much luck in life thus far. I resolved to make it up to her. I poured the beastins into the feeder that Jack had attached to the side of her pen and watched her latch on and drink with gusto.
I felt a bit proud, actually, giving myself a mental pat on the back for having, hopefully, played some small role in this little creature’s survival.
But my joy was short-lived.
When we returned to the house a little while later, it was to find the utility room floor devoid of the little black lamb I’d met on my arrival. “He’s gone to a better place,” said Jack’s father with a diplomacy I’m guessing he reserved only for townies like myself.
I caught Jack glancing at me warily, but he needn’t have worried. I wasn’t going to embarrass myself in front of everyone by bursting into tears the way I had done three months ago when he told me that my favourite sheepdog had gone to the great big paddock in the sky.
Instead, I focused on the positive. My feeding the calf might have been a small contribution in the grand scheme of things, but it saved someone else the job at a time of year when there simply aren’t enough hours in the day for everything that needs doing. Besides, every farmer’s girlfriend has to start somewhere. Next on my list? Pulling a lamb. Sure to be a test of any townie’s mettle, and a couple’s bonding experience if ever there was one.