Sunday, August 7, 2011

Mutton busting (Fair kept eating)

I first heard about mutton busting, a sport where kids ride or attempt to ride sheep in a rodeo type atmosphere, a week or so ago on NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me”. I first tried it myself a good twenty-five years ago. I wrote about it in my first published book, Shepherdess: Notes from the Field. That experience taught me to leave sheep riding to the kids. Fortunately, there are no photographs to comemorat6e that event.

“From a distance, Fair’s udder looked unusual. One half seemed very large and dark. Fair was a friendly and hungry ewe. She was always ready to eat, which is why she weighed more than 200 pounds. I walked into the pasture with a bucket of grain. “Hay, ewes” I called, to let her know I was there. Fair’s big head rose. I rattled the grain bucket. Fair started into a lumbering run, her ears flapping out to the side. If she didn’t weigh so much, she could fly with those ears.

I dumped the corn onto the ground. Fair gobbled as fast as she could, completely unconcerned about what I was doing. I was trying to take her down. I knelt beside her, reached under her body with both hands and grabbed the legs on the far side. Fair kept eating. I pushed my shoulder against Fair’s shoulder and pulled on her far legs. Fair kept eating, but nothing else happened. I needed more leverage. Still holding Fair’s legs, I climbed from my knees to a squat. This time, when I pulled on her legs and pushed on her shoulder, she crashed to the ground. Hurriedly, I lay down on her body to keep her from getting up again. Fair stretched her neck toward the corn and kept eating.

I lay facing Fair’s head. Everything I needed to do was at the other end, so I carefully and slowly swung my body around until I was facing her rear end. I felt her udder. Half was hot and hard. Definitely mastitis. Twelve cc of penicillin intramuscularly first. I pulled the syringe out of my pocket and slid my body forward until I could brace my arms on her pelvis. I stabbed the needle into the big muscle of her thigh. Then I slowly injected the drug. Penicillin stings as it goes in and I didn’t know how Fair would react. My muscles were tensed, ready to counteract any move she made. Fair kept eating.

I pulled the needle out and laid the syringe on the ground beside me. Next I needed to milk Fair to empty all the parts of her udder where the bacteria might be growing. I slid closer to her tail and reached around her hind legs. I began massaging her udder, first the top, then the middle, then the bottom. Fair kept eating. I couldn’t reach the top of the udder as well as I ‘d like, so I sat up and slid closer, my legs going around her body. Finally I pulled my fingers down her teat, milk squirting out. The udder was noticeably softer by my third pass.

Suddenly, I felt Fair’s muscles tense. I grabbed her back and her hind leg and thought heavy thoughts. Her muscles heaved and she struggled to her feet. I was still on her back, legs dangling six inches off the ground on either side. My hands dug into her wool, fingers clenched. Just as I shifted my body to slide off, Fair lumbered forward and then broke into a run. We passed the empty bucket at a gallop.

My fingers were saying “Hold on, hold on!” My feet were saying “Get off, get off!” And my mind was gibbering. I pressed my head against Fair’s back and watched the fence stream by. At that rate, she would have soon been in the woods and I’d be scraped off on a tree. That thought did it. My fingers relaxed and I threw my body to the left. Fair ran right out from under me. I hit the ground with my knees and elbows, sliding to a stop. I lay on the hard ground, tears of pain and frustration starting in my eyes. Suddenly, I heard whuffle. I opened my eyes. Fair’s ears blocked out the sun as she began munching the grass in front of my face. I got painfully to my feet and limped out of the pasture. Fair kept eating.”

from pp 36 – 39, Shepherdess: notes from the Field.

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