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Week 25: The Kitten and the Ewe

If my phone rings when Phil is out on early sheep checks, it only means one thing … trouble. This might be as simple as some lambs have found a new hole to escape through, or a ewe has got her head stuck in the fence and could I nip over with the bolt-croppers, but such trivia normally waits until he’s home.

On this occasion, there was a ewe down, completely collapsed, and he couldn’t move her. She clearly needed to be collected and brought back to the barn, so I readied the little trailer and woke Peter and we quickly got to the field. Her lambs are big and strong and were not nearby, and she clearly was in no state to feed them, so we lifted her into the straw-filled trailer and brought her back to the barn. She was fitting, her head back, her legs stiff, and it was quickly apparent that she had completely lost her sight. She has also lost a great deal of weight seemingly overnight so her skin was rubbing raw against the floor through her bones as her legs thrashed. It was not looking in any way good for her. The only positive is that she had been absolutely fine on sheep checks last night, so she was not long into whatever it was we were dealing with here.

Sheep largely go blind like this for two reasons - listeria or polio encephalitis. While waiting for the vet to return my call and issue a thiamine injection, a neighbour dropped in to ask if we were missing a kitten. Well, we didn’t have a cat, kitten, or anything feline. So we went to investigate. A tiny orange bundle lay seemingly lifeless, face down in the dirt in the base of the road hedge. It looked dead. I tentatively reached out to stroke its back and it let out a small howl in protest, so I picked it up. Its gums were cold, its teeth clenched tight around a leaf stem, it’s eyes closed and breath almost indiscernible. And it weighed almost nothing, it’s spine sharp against my fingers.

The milk with the highest sugar content for a quick pick-me-up is colostrum and, being a farm, we are fortunate to have this in. It clearly needed energy and fluids, so we made some up and syringed it in, not easy with jaws still tightly clenched. We got a thick neoprene glove, filled this with hot water and tied it, creating an instant hot water bottle, and cuddled this against her too. Incredibly, she came round within minutes. From there, she has never looked back. Some phone calls later and it seems she is not a kitten from a nearby farm, no one has lost one. Apart from her dirty face and claws from the verge, her fur is clean and she doesn’t smell of farm. She has literally appeared in our little rural lane out of nowhere and, sadly, the only conclusion is that she must have been dumped from a car, possibly even thrown into the hedge as it drove past. Sometimes, people amaze me. Well, this little cat landed on the right verge outside the right home, and will now stay with us for life.

The ewe did not respond so quickly. Despite treatment, there was no instant pick-me-up for her. For four days, we held food under her chin, syringed water into her mouth, and held her up to wee. Her final fit was on Thursday morning when she got her head stuck under a sheep hurdle, taking all the skin off one side of her face. So many times in those four days I wondered whether I should put her down, what was best for her. Then I walked into the barn and she lifted her head and looked in my direction. The elation in me rose as I realised that she could see again and she was fighting. She couldn’t stand unassisted, but she was comfortable. Over the next couple of days, she continued to strengthen and can now stand up on her own. As I write, she can move about, feed and drink on her own, but is still only on three legs. The end joint of a foreleg is completely contracted and turned under from being down for so long, so each time I feed her I stretch it out, strengthening the tendons. She is now accessing the outside, with another ewe for company, and well on the mend.

Lots of other things happened this week. We gathered all the lambs for their vaccination and worming, Truffle went to Devon to meet her match in the hope of a second litter, the last of the lambs were turned out into the fields. But that all pales against the kitten and the ewe.

Two lives saved. That, as weeks go, is a success.

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Week 25: The Kitten and the Ewe