My tea was ready. In fact, I was just opening the oven when my phone rang. After a busy Sunday, without time for lunch, I was really looking forward to the beef casserole I had made earlier in the day. It had been slowly cooking all afternoon. But there was a sheep in trouble and it demanded my urgent attention.
It was half an hour away, high on the hills above Grantley. I took detailed directions – the sheep were at a neighbour’s farm as some building work was going on at the usual farm. Up in this part of Yorkshire, it is very dark, with no street lights and not many road signs either, so I knew I could end up in trouble if the farm (or the building down the lane adjacent to the neighbour’s farm) was not readily identifiable.
It was dark, windy and cold and as I climbed higher onto the moorland, the steady sleet turning gradually into a snowy blizzard. Not sufficient to cause problems on the roads, but enough to remind me it was a wild place and it was still winter. Luckily, I found the farm without any navigational problems and chatted with the farmer to find out the problem.
It was bitterly cold and I feared that this makeshift accommodation would have no supply of warm water. I was right. My hands quickly became numb with cold as I washed them in cold antiseptic solution before applying lubricant and having a gentle, preliminary feel inside my patient, a handsome texel. The farmer and his wife explained the situation as I felt to identify the problem.
READ MORE: Cases of life and death for Yorkshire vet Julian Norton
One lamb had already been born, without any trouble. It was already dry and sitting on a pile of straw inside the surprisingly warm and snug lambing shed. The wind whistled and howled and occasional flakes of snow made their way inside the building, but this didn’t bother the first-born.
Unusually, the problem was with the second lamb, which was stuck. There was a head and one leg inside the sheep’s pelvis, and very tightly wedged. Small lambs can sometimes be delivered with just one leg pointing outwards, lined up alongside the lamb’s head. A little lamb will shoot out just like Superman as he flies through the sky. Big lambs cannot fit if they are not perfectly aligned and this was the case tonight.
I’d need to push the head back and find the second front leg, which was harder than I expected. There were plenty of tense glances between the two farmers, as I huffed and puffed, manipulating the lamb into the correct position.
Once done, it was still tight, but the head and body followed fairly easily and the lamb landed with a small ‘splat’ on the straw. There was much delight and celebration.
“Now that’s what twenty-odd years of experience brings! Well done! You’ve done an amazing job!” the farmer exclaimed, clearly impressed by my achievement.
“It wasn’t too bad, to be honest,” I explained, before adding: “One of my former colleagues used to always say ‘don’t make it look too easy! Farmers will never pay up if they think a lambing’s been too easy!” But I’ve never subscribed to that way of thinking. If we make it look easy, it is exactly because we’ve done it loads of times and it’s our job.
It’s just as satisfying having a grateful farmer as it is seeing a healthy newborn lamb with its mum licking furiously to make it clean and dry.” And on a night like tonight, it certainly needed to be dry. The snow kept falling and the wind kept howling!
The Yorkshire Vet continues on Channel 5 this Tuesday at 8pm.