Are they out to get us - Veterinary Practice
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Are they out to get us

George Cooper spent the festive season ruminating on matters ovine

I’ve been watching sheep. I’ve been thinking about sheep.

And the first question that comes to mind to ask about sheep is “Why?”

Why are there sheep? Oh, I know that we get a delicious leg of lamb, or a mutton stew, or chops or rack of lamb or whatever takes your fancy – unless you are a vegetarian, that is, when you’re more likely than ever to ask why.

There’s wool, as well, of course, and lanolin to keep your little hands nice and soft and pliable and smooth. Wool – scratchy stuff that itches, or comforting keeping-you-warm sort of stuff ? Fashionable? Or is it old and out of date as a garment fabric?

And that smell when it gets wet! It takes you right back to the field that the original owner came from. Then there’s the washing problem. A pullover that fits a six-foot 12-stone strapping male is no longer suitable and would be considered snug on a 10-year-old after being through a family wash.

Holes in the elbows, too, seem to be prevalent in woolly jumpers – and I am old enough to recall my old Ma darning these to make the thing last a bit longer, and all it did was to create a lumpy place under a bony bit of the wearer. I’m old enough too, to recall a granny from Shetland spending every waking moment generating polo neck after jumper after cardigan with a pair of knitting needles tucked in her oxsters (Scottish for armpits!).

But back to the sheep. You’ll be wondering – assuming that you do, actually, give a monkeys – why on earth I have been watching sheep. Well, I am privileged to live in one of the UK’s most beautiful areas and because our out-of-hours calls are delegated to a dedicated service, I have a 40-mile drive, taking an hour, in order to get to the surgery.

And on that route there are two special regions to go through, entry to which is signified by a distinct shake, rattle and buzz, and more ear-wax and tooth fillings being vibrated out – as I cross cattle grids. The first is called The Epynt, and its greatest claim to fame was back in the war when something like 40 farming families were evicted from their holdings in a compulsory takeover by the army. The second area I cross is the first area to be declared a National Park: the Brecon Beacons.

Both those hill areas are rough grazing populated by sheep, sheep and more sheep – and herds of feral Welsh Mountain ponies. There are occasional Welsh Blacks that appear and disappear amongst the thousands of acres of bracken and thistles and rose bay willow herb that populate these hills either side of the roads that snake their way up around and along the contours.

Why do they do it?

But never mind the bovines or the equines; it is the ovine population that has had me scratching my head. Do they ever sleep? What do they think about? Why do they burrow into banks where it is all muddy? Why do they have to scratch their arses on all the road signs, and what are they looking at when they just stand there, like, just stand there? And what on this earth persuades them to stroll off one after the other in a great long line like elephants in a circus straggling out across the hillside like a trail of slug slime on the patio?

I think they’re evil. I think they’re out to get us. I think they hide in the bracken, scarcely visible, plotting dastardly deeds to perpetrate on us unsuspecting humans who walk or drive past. Even manic motor-bikists who frequent these roads are wary, and slow down from 120mph to about 90 when they enter sheep land. That’s because if you hit a dollop of sheep dollop at a decent speed, you can come a cropper immediately – and it ain’t no good for the street cred if you have to report to the rest of the coven that that great sideways drift you did was the result of sheep dollop (or whatever name you choose to call it!).

You begin to see that pattern? A dollop here, a dollop there, and they can create mayhem. And as I am writing during the wettest period for generations, the miserable munchers have more grass to dispose of than ever and it is having an effect on the consistency of their produce. No more delicate pellets that you can gather and take home to put round your tomato plants. No. What we have now are gargantuan green cucumber-sized aggregations of partially digested grass and fern.

So when they cross the road, they leave a few, and sometimes more than a few, of those dollops behind, laughing to themselves as they dive behind the tussocks to plot again. If it doesn’t get the bikists, it’ll get a car windscreen and as the motorist turns on his wipers, it’ll smear all over. Result – that’s what the silly bleaters will think.

But there’s worse to come! I haven’t been studying these things for months not to have sussed their game. Sheep – and here’s an important scientific observation as befits a serious veterinary science journal such as this esteemed periodical – are deficient in many ways, and possibly their most serious deficiency is that they have an underperforming collision detection system. Which, of course, they have turned to their advantage in their quest to disrupt human life. Just look how they managed to influence the Barons and Lords of old to get the glens and hills cleared in the clearances for starters.

Their collision detection deficiency is a device that they have off to perfection, and I see the evidence at least once a week on my drive to work.

It usually starts with the profuse presence of rumenal contents strewn across the carriageway, marked indelibly by black skid marks ingrained into the surface of the tarmac. A bit further on we have the contents of an ovine cardiovascular system intermingled with intestinal remains, and a bit of wool here and a bit of flesh there finally leads us to the carcase upended on the roadside, waiting for the crows (or if we’re lucky, a Red Kite or two) to come and polish off the remains before the foxes arrive or the farmer, even.

The master plan…

I think they do it deliberately. I think this is their plot – hatched deep in the bracken at the roadside during heavy munching sessions and gazing sessions and marching sessions. This is their master plan, these malevolent creatures. They gather along the road verges, eating the grass till the roots show, lying down wherever the fancy takes them; then, just as a huge lorry full of stone comes by, they launch themselves across the road. This is the point where, on the road, you’ll always find the last dollop from that sheep. It is deposited at the point where the deficient collision detection system kicks in and the sheep realises that it is too late, and says to itself “Oh shit” – which it does, having a last laugh as it thinks of the next hairy biker to come along, before getting splattered along the road, ending up as crow fodder.

Nobody wins in these encounters, and if the stone lorry happens actually to be a Nissan Micra, then it is even worse. You can imagine the local plod: “’Ello ’ello ’ello – what’s all this ’ere then? Been sheep rustling again, ’ave we? You got a sheep’s head in your headlight! It’s still got the eyes in – is it going to see you down the road?”

So there we have it. They’re after us, make no mistake. They lie in on the verge, bum just sticking onto the road, making us swerve to avoid them, but also lulling us into a sense of false security that they’re harmless – and actually, if you get out and about too early, you’ll find them all over the road, b******d if they’re going to move to let you by.

If the road’s been salted, they’re all over it licking away for all they’re worth. They get into banks and scrub around like they’ve got the fleas, and rub their bums on signposts till they bend, and when they have lambs the mothers teach all of them to do the same tricks. It continues from generation to generation. I tell you – they’re after us even if it does involve some personal sacrifice from a few.

So the next time you are driving along some sheepish place marvelling at the scenery, cooing at the little lambs among the young bracken fronds, with buttercups blooming, and larks larking, just remember, you have been warned. These are not as innocent as you think; they are plotting against you. So hurry on by, get where you’re going, and when you get there and have a stiff cup of tea, you be grateful that you once read an article in this journal that warned you of the fate you have just avoided.

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