Getting intimate with a cast sheep

Sheep in front of the olive grove“There’s a sheep down in your paddock,” our neighbor Jim said over the phone. He’d been working along the fenceline when he saw the sheep. “It looks pretty sick,” he said.

I immediately called Hamish. The sheep belong to him.

Hamish is the stock agent who leases our paddocks to graze his sheep and cattle. He’s in his mid 60s, I’d say, and he’s got a broad New Zealand accent and a gravelly voice. A man of few words, he’s nevertheless friendly in a low-key, Kiwi farmer kind of way.

“Probably cast,” he said, when I told him about the sheep. “Might just need propping back up, then she’ll be right.”

“Cast?” I said.

“Yiece.” This word, I learned some time ago, is what many Kiwis say when they mean ‘yes.’ It rhymes with ‘niece.’

Then Hamish mumbled, “cast sheep.”

“Of course,” I said, having absolutely no idea what he was talking about.

I figured that a ‘cast sheep’ could only mean one of two things. Either the animal was recovering from a broken leg, or it just got a part in a movie. Neither seemed entirely likely.

Blossoms on the cherry tree

Blossoms on the cherry tree

“Um, just what exactly is a cast sheep?” I asked.

“Can’t get up.”

“Oh?”

“Yiece.”

“Why can’t it get up?”

“She’s cast.”

It took some time until Hamish realized that he was actually speaking to a man who had somehow made it into adulthood without ever having come across a cast sheep before. Then he finally provided an explanation.

A cast sheep is a sheep that has laid down and can’t get up because its center of gravity is off – sometimes because it’s pregnant or simply because it has a full fleece. Once down, gasses start to build up in their abdomen and they can die in a matter of hours. If you get them back up on their feet, then they’re fine.

“Could you prop her up?” Hamish asked. “It’d save me a trip over. If it doesn’t work, I’ll come by. You mind?”

Hamish knew I could have said no, since they’re actually his sheep, not ours. But this is the country, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the country it’s that people help each other.

Besides, how often do you get the chance to prop up a cast sheep?

“Sure,” I said. “But you have to tell me how.”

He said I should straddle the sheep, with one leg on either side of it, and bend down.

It already sounded dodgy to me.

Then I had to pull the sheep up by the wool and hold it up while the circulation got back into its legs. After that, I could let go and, in Hamish’s words, “she’d be right.”

I was certain that Hamish was lying through his teeth. He just wanted to trick an ignorant city boy. He probably had a camera hidden in the shelterbelt. Soon there would be an image of me in a compromising position with a sheep on the front page of the Martinborough Star.

Sheep in the stock race near the Agapanthus

Sheep in the stock race near the Agapanthus

But Hamish assured me that it was all true and I agreed to ‘give it a go,’ as the Kiwis say. CJ wasn’t home, so I was on my own.

There was one problem. I didn’t want our neighbour Jim to see me standing astride a sheep without a clear explanation in advance, so I called him and told him what I was about to do.

He just laughed. “Now I’ve heard it all. That sheep’s sick. Propping her up won’t help.”

Giving it a go

I found the sheep lying on her side in the paddock between the hayshed and the olive grove. Her back end was covered in poop and she didn’t look well at all. I had serious doubts about Hamish’s clever plan.

But I straddled that poor, sick sheep anyway.

I figured it would really hurt to be yanked up by your wool, so I tried to wrap my arms around her. I felt everywhere under her belly, but I couldn’t get a good hold. There were no handles.

In the end I resorted to grabbing fistfuls of wool and pulling her up the way Hamish had said.

The sheep immediately pushed her legs down and tried to run forward. I held on tightly, leaning back and straddling her in such a way that if I’d been doing it in a public spot I would have been arrested.

Very quickly the sheep broke free and tried to run. After only a few steps, she fell down again.

I walked over and straddled the pathetic creature a second time, pulled her up by her wool, and held on again. I managed to hang on longer that time, but once more she broke free, ran, and fell.

It seemed pointless. I was just torturing the poor animal. But I decided to try one last time.

I straddled her and pulled her up again, and that time something strange happened. She didn’t struggle or try to run. She stood perfectly still, as though she now understood I was trying to help.

Eggs from our chooks

Eggs from our chooks

I held on tight and waited. It was ridiculous. There I was, standing in a grassy paddock in New Zealand with a sick, poop-stained sheep between my legs. Oh, if my friends back in the States could only see me now! What a glamorous life I lead!

All of a sudden, I started laughing. Yes, by myself, there between the hayshed and the olive grove, as the afternoon sun beat down on my back, I stood alone, straddling a sheep, and laughing.

In the end I waited a good three or four minutes before I finally let go.

The sheep did not run. She did not fall. She stood perfectly still beneath me.

I swung my right leg over her and stepped away.

Then, she actually started to nibble at the grass. After a minute or so, she took one tentative step and stopped. She ate some more. I walked back to the fence and watched. She ate slowly. She took a couple more cautious steps, then started eating again.

Good as Gold

At that point Jim came up to the other side of the fence. “Look at that,” he said in surprise. “She’s up.”

“Yes, look at that,” I said proudly. “I did a little bit of laying on hands. I healed her.”

Jim smiled. “So you’ll be opening up your own church then?”

We watched the sheep for a while, and then she finally wandered off, looking perfectly fine.

Back in the house, I called Hamish again to report my success.

“You’re practically a professional shepherd now,” Hamish joked.

“That’s right,” I said. “From now on every time I come across a dead sheep, I’m going to prop it up and see if it walks.”

Hamish laughed. “Yiece. You let me know how you get on with that.” Then he said a phrase I’ve come to hear often here, and one that I especially like.

“Good as gold, mate. Thanks heaps.”

__________

This blog post, in an edited form, has become the Prologue to my book ‘Moon over Martinborough: How an American city boy became a Kiwi farmer’, published by Random House New Zealand in June 2013.

Moon Over Martinborough

Related links

Podcast

Click the ‘play’ button below to listen to ‘Getting intimate with a cast sheep’ online, or download the MP3 for this podcast and others over in the podcast library.

Wairarapa Lifestyle Magazine

‘Getting intimate with a cast sheep’ appeared in the Autumn 2011 issue of Wairarapa Lifestyle Magazine.

See other ‘Moon’ stories from Wairarapa Lifestyle Magazine.

You can find the magazine in the cafes and shops all over the Wairarapa. Check out the magazine’s website.

30 thoughts on “Getting intimate with a cast sheep

  1. Jennifer

    Love this post! (And this blog in general.) Having moved from a largish city to a rural utopia in the Blue Ridge Mountains of NC I can empathize with the new situations you might find yourself in. I hope to make the move to NZ some day soon with my kiwi OH. Maybe I’ll get to help a “cast” sheep some day.

  2. Brian

    Gotta love a story of one mans triumph over nature and bad sheep jokes :) On a day where everything at work has been going wrong, it was nice to read something fun like this during lunch!

    1. Moon Over Martinborough Post author

      I always say, nothing makes a dull day better than a few bad sheep jokes. Really glad to be able to brighten your day.

  3. RevAllyson

    I have seen this done, though I wasn’t told it was called casting. :) We had friends who kept sheep and they told us to keep an eye on them, and do just what you did should any of them fall over. Luckily none did while we were on our own, but I got to see our friend do it the following day. Quite the entertaining little display. LOL!

    1. Moon Over Martinborough Post author

      I reckon you could start a TV show called “Home Casting Videos” – a half hour with home videos of people trying to upright cast sheep. It would be hilarious.

  4. Nancy

    Without preamble I read your story aloud to my husband. It took him a minute to figure out that this wasn’t a story from the Chicago Tribune. When i finished reading and he finished laughing he said you are a terrific writer. I agree.

  5. AareneX

    You haven’t *lived* until you’ve un-cast a HORSE. Those things are pointy on the feet-parts, and big, too.

    They usually get stuck up-side a fence or building, and need to be flipped over. Y’all just call me if you need help with that, ‘kay?

  6. Jim

    Hey Jared,

    Sometimes you just have to laugh, eh? Great story. I f my horse casts herself, and you happen to be in the neighborhood, would you mind setting her up, then?

    Jim

    1. Moon Over Martinborough Post author

      Um, I think that tipping over horses is probably best left to professionals!

  7. Sarah

    Good on you mate! I would have given it a go, but would have prefered someone to give me a helping hand (but that smeone would have taken photographic evidence!). You were really brave doing this alone (and probably wise too – as you say it wouldn’t have been a great look on the front page of the local paper!) and I reckon you definitely deserve an honorary shepherd award!

  8. casalba

    Can’t help thinking that’s one seriuos design fault in a sheep. Wondering if man’s intervention in breeding has caused this. (Beeeautiful coloured eggs.)

  9. Jana

    Laughed aloud several times while reading about you straddling the sheep. Hilarious! Thanks for another great story!! And yes, I would have tried too.

  10. Mike

    Yea, no question you completely nailed the sort of conversation one would have about such an occurrence: “what is a cast sheep?” “Can’t get up.” “Why can’t it get up?” “She’s cast.” What a hoot! Thanks, you made my day. I was feeling down about some bit of trouble at work and then you come along and give me humor and perspective all in one great blog. Please don’t stop!

  11. Vanya Wilkinson

    Good work, we’ll make a kiwi outta ya yet ;)

    Thanks SO much for creating a Martinborough shopping section on your blog and adding us in – so kind, really appreciate it!

    Do pop into the shop when you’re free, would be great to meet you.

    Best wishes

    Vanya

  12. Gecko

    You are going to make a great farmer before too long, haha.
    We’re heading off to Australia to live in a couple of days, we’ve had enough of the Wairarapa weather.
    I’ll certainly be tuning in here to see what you’re up too, so please keep MOM rolling!! Take care, Cheers Pam

    1. Moon Over Martinborough Post author

      Sorry to hear we’re losing you to Oz! I’m looking forward to your Oz pics tho. Best of luck!

  13. Aunt Charlie

    Early, early morning pre-going to work in the States and I am lol having read yet another great documentary (you cannot make this stuff up) from my fav author! Now that you two have bonded, does the sheep follow you around, run to see you?

  14. Missing home

    Wow!! It’s not often that I can laugh out loud while reading something on my computer. You’re a fantastic writer and you really have captured the essence of the Kiwi culture. Being a Kiwi myself (currently living in the U.S.) it makes me rather homesick wishing I was back ‘home’ living at my little olive grove paradise! Thank you for putting a happy end to my tiresome day at work and please do keep writing, I will be back to read!
    Thanks!
    Missing home

  15. Alecia

    I too laughed out loud as I read this to my hubby! He
    laughed too. Wish we could have witnessed it! Love your writing…thanks.

  16. Hamish's son.

    Hey Jared, the old lady just gave us a copy of the wairarapa lifestyles mag and came across an interesting wee story about righting of the said cast sheep. Brilliant, sounds just like a conversation the said farmer would have. Complete gold publishing, will have to follow the blog.

    1. Moon Over Martinborough Post author

      Glad you appreciate it. Hamish is a good guy. Must be funny to read something and realise it’s talking about your dad!

  17. jan fanning

    LOL . We once had to do a caesarian on a sheep we had to kill because she had placenta previa ( i wont describe it) And we were townies on a lifestyle block! My husband pulled out two lambs Donny and Marie, Our german shepherd licked them clean and would have fed them if she could. Great memories Ta
    Jan

  18. Steph

    Sheep are such funny creatures – full of personality and quiet stubborness…something most people don’t realise until they get to know them on a more intimate basis, that is.

    1. Moon Over Martinborough Post author

      Judith – This story about the cast sheep is actually going to be the opening chapter of my upcoming book. It’ll plonk the reader smack-dab into the middle of the NZ countryside.

      And your story of yours sounds exactly like what happened to us over and over our first few years here! Thank goodness now we know a bit more than we did then. :-)

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