Dashboard misdirections in Julian Norton’s search for pregnant sheep

Read Julian Norton's column first in Country Week, inside The Yorkshire Post every Saturday.
Read Julian Norton's column first in Country Week, inside The Yorkshire Post every Saturday.
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I had not got lost on the way to an urgent farm visit for many years. Yet, at half past twelve last Thursday night, that was exactly what I was – lost.

The call was a garbled one. A farmer had a sheep to lamb and needed a vet. He repeated this several times, along with the farm name.

The results of Julian - and the sheep's - labour.

The results of Julian - and the sheep's - labour.

Establishing exactly how to get to the farm was not so easy. I rarely rely on the satnav, preferring instead my trusty OS map, but I typed in the post code, keeping my map as plan B and set off, into the darkness, relying, for the first time, on the computer in my car to find a sheep in distress.

I had a vague idea where to go, and after several loops of the nearby village, the pleasant but insistent voice coming from the dashboard of my Mitsubishi assured me that I had reached my destination, which was on my left.

On my left was a children’s playground. Through the darkness, I could make out the vague shape of some kind of rocking horse, but no heavily pregnant Suffolk.

My map wasn’t much more helpful. I needed a plan C. The telephone number was no good – it was a landline and I knew the farmer would be outside, readying buckets of warm water, bars of soap and towels for my arrival. I had a vague recollection that he said he would wait by the farm gate with a torch.

Plan C involved driving around in a semi-random way through the dark lanes near Asenby, looking for a man holding a torch.

Plan C involved driving around in a semi-random way through the dark lanes near Asenby, looking for a man holding a torch.

After about ten minutes, and more by luck than judgement, I had actually arrived at my destination, which was, indeed, on the left. There was no farmer standing to guide me in, but the name on the gate confirmed I was in the right place.

It was a beautifully clear and frosty night and the lane up to the farm, beyond the gate, was lit up by a full moon.

I wished I had the camera crew with me – it would have made a lovely scene to set the beginning of a story on The Yorkshire Vet.

I could make out the stooped form of the elderly shepherd in the lights of the open-sided lambing shed as I donned wellies and grabbed the things I would need. I clambered over the makeshift pens. “Sorry I’m a bit late! I got lost.”

I could offer no better explanation.

“Not to worry,” he replied, “She’s over here; been on a while. I’ve had a feel but that lamb feels awfully big to me. And my hands, well they’re not so good these days.

“I struggle with any that are tight. I must’ve had you vets out about ten times so far this lambing time.”

He showed me to the patient. There were several mothers – all pedigree Suffolks – already with fit, strong lambs. I hoped my efforts would yield another couple of healthy lambs.

As we positioned the mum-to-be in the right place and I cleaned my right arm we chatted about his lambing time so far and how it was going – big lambs, small lambs, plenty of twins, not too many triplets, how many he had left to go – “just about a dozen now – I’m nearly there”.

I gently felt for the lamb. There was a head and front legs and, yes, both did feel very big.

It would be tight, but with some gentle persuasion and plenty of lube, I was confident the lambs would be delivered without too much problem.

Sure enough, two healthy twins were soon shaking their heads and flapping their ears in the straw. This evening on call, finding the farm had definitely been the hardest bit!

Follow Julian on instagram @juliannortonvet