Just because somebody can do something, it doesn’t mean that they should. Just as some men shouldn’t wear lycra, sheep shouldn’t swim. Once they’ve been sheared it’s not such a problem. Like cattle they can swim reasonably well and have good natural buoyancy. But in spring, before they’re sheared, sheep really shouldn’t swim. All that sodden wet fleece just weighs them down.
But anyway I was there with quad bike, trailer and their food. I drove into the field heading for a nice dry level bit they’ve not been fed on previously and off to the right I heard bleating. A short detour and I could see a sheep stuck in the beck.
Now calling it a beck gives it a quaint rustic feel. You can almost see the water trickling between stones, with damsel flies hovering above. Except that in our case the beck looks more like an anti-tank ditch dug to stiffen the eastern defences of Barrow, and the bottom is clay rather than stone.
So I fed the sheep and drove back to see what our swimming sheep was doing. Well now she was on the other side of the beck. Fine, now I know where we stand I’ll go home and get the full kit.
So I did. I got home and got the crook. Forget what you’ve ever read about crooks. This one I made myself for this very job. What happens is you descend the steeply sloping side of the beck ready to grab the sheep and pull her out, only to have her move to the other side.
So you clamber up onto the field, walk the hundred yards to the bridge, walk the hundred yards back on the other side of the beck, clamber down the bank, and lo, the sheep moves to the opposite bank.
So my crook is twelve feet of mild steel round bar. We heated the end and it was then bent over to make it the traditional crook shape. It gives me a reach of about ten feet and it means that I get to choose which side of the beck we work from.
Then there’s the rope. It’s a climbing rope somebody gave us. Apparently climbers discard their ropes at a certain point because they’re no longer safe to climb with. Farmers discard ropes as well. Normally when there are so many knots in it you can use it as a step ladder!
I’ve lost track of how many livestock this one has pulled out of water. When it’s been used we just pop it into the washing machine and it’s as good as new.
Finally there’s me. At some point in these rescues there can come a point where you realise you cannot pull 100kg of sheep plus a further 50kg of sodden fleece uphill. You’ve got to go down into the beck and get your knees under her and lift her up. Given that the bottom is mud, you can easily end up waist deep in the muck.
So I put on a pair of shorts and discarded my wellies, wearing instead a pair of old trainers. These trainers are so old and disreputable that I genuinely don’t care if they get lost in the mud at the bottom of the beck. Now properly equipped and ready I set off to rescue our water loving ewe.
One comment I might make at this point is that whilst it’s May, it’s still not the weather for riding on a quadbike wearing shorts. But setting mere personal discomfort to one side I pressed on. I arrived in the field to see her looking up in some alarm at me, the quadbike and all the assembled equipment. She’d moved further along the beck. Here the bank was perhaps more trodden down. So alarmed she was by my sudden reappearance that she managed to struggle up out of the water, flounder her way up the bank and stood dripping by the quad trailer.
Move along citizen, nothing to see here.
Stuck in deep water
Hears the quad rattling loud
With one bound, she’s free
Welcome to the world of sheep, in paperback or ebook
As a reviewer commented, “If I were younger, I would love to spend a year following Jim and Sal around and listening to the stories and adding the special effects, but I sure get a lot of the picture from his well-chosen words.
Can’t wait for the next book! Beautifully done.”