Every evening at around 8 p.m. the sound of sheep bleating wafts over the meadow to our little farm in Southwest France. The cool evening air is scented with the lavender of Cindy’s garden and as I lift my glass of red wine and its aroma blends in the breeze, it’s at that time that I stop and give pause. I think of those little sheep, lambs really. Cute in their cottony cloaks, and never further than a meter from their mother. And the mothers, surrounded by the other proud mothers, chewing slowly on the straw as they await their next meal. And the farmer that walks the rows of feeding troughs, spilling out the grain mixture that the sheep love so. And I think of the farmer and I fucking thank God it’s not me. Been there done that. Never again!
Little extreme? maybe. Let’s go back a few weeks.
My good neighbor dropped by and announced cheerfully that he and his wife were getting vaccinations. He seemed real happy about this. I was trying to figure out the reason for his apparent glee, when he then described where they had to go to get the shots. Some camping area.
Yeah, I figured it out quick enough, he was going on vacation, not vaccination. Although; if you were vacationing on certain south Pacific Islands, you might need vaccinations. Something about leprosy. Anyway, what he was angling at was he needed me to volunteer to feed the little darlings. And all things being French, there was a specific method to this chore. I had fed them last year, and I didn’t have any negative memories of it. So I accepted his requirement that I volunteer.
The next week, I went over to his farm the morning before he and the missus were to leave for their vacation. I’m invited into their house and enjoy a cup of coffee as he draws out the floor plan of the various livestock buildings. He walked me through the floor plan, and the sequence. Next we meander over to the enclosures and he indicates the buckets used for the two blends of grain. Green for the mommies and kiddies. (I am well aware a kid is a baby Goat, just go with it.) And white is for….crap, already got it wrong. Green was for the small enclosures that held the adolescents, and white was for the moms and young kids. You could also use white for the enclosure with the four male rams. (I know male ram is redundant.)
There is a round half silo grain bin in the furthest barn. Next to it is a smaller square bin full of recently harvested beans, kinda like brown lima beany looking things. Beside the square bin is a high speed, high voltage crusher, high pitch noise maker. It’s so powerful, when you turn it on you flip the switch once to the right and wait a few seconds, then you flip it again to the lower right. When the noise it makes starts to hurt your ears, you add three bucketful’s of the brown lima beans. The shrieker machine spits out a Quaker oats looking product and you gather it in four buckets to add to the regular grain later.
Next you go over to the half silo looking thing that stores the grain. You get on the old tractor with the grain blender attached to the rear of the tractor. It’s like a concrete mixer; so much so that when I arrived he was washing out the last batch of concrete that he had poured as I drove up earlier. You back the tractor up to the silo. There is an 8 inch tube sticking out of the silo, so you park the mixer under the end of the chute. You unplug the shrieker, and plug in the electrically activated grain extractor. Very important. You keep it plugged in for exactly three minutes. Then with the grain added to the mixer thing, you open a small opening in the bottom of the mixed and dole out four bucketful’s of grain in White buckets. You walk them over to the closest pen and leave them there. This of course indicates to the sheep that they should now all start bleating as loud as they can. If you stop for a second and listen you would swear they were all yelling “Mmmmerdeee.” (Merde’ is French for shit.)
Then with the little darlings spreading the call for all the other sheep to express their lot in life, and the crescendo of “Merde” surrounds you and mixes with the odor of merde’, you make your way to the main holding area. The sound is deafening. Silence of the lambs my ass.
Once you have driven the old tractor to the main sheep dorm, you dole out seven White buckets of regular grain. Then you dole out another seven White buckets of the regular grain to use at the 8 p.m. feeding.
Then you add the four buckets of crushed brown beans to the mixer and it combines the grain with the beans. Eh Viola! You dole out 8 buckets of the mix into the Green buckets. And then comes the fun part. This is where the system really pays off. You walk down the aisles placing the full buckets of grain (or the mixed ones) next to the troughs so when you start to pour them, it’s done in a fluid manner, and you don’t have sheep getting laryngitis while they wait.
Then you do the walk of life. You pour the buckets evenly down the troughs and end where the next bucket is awaiting the frenzied clients. When you’re done, the next chore is to check that the auto watering devices are devicing. Then to finish it off you look outside at the balls of hay. If one is done, you get in the new tractor with the hay fork on it and place a ball of hay to replace it.
Alright, so he’s fairly certain I’ve got the hang of it so he nods. Yep I’ll do.
One last thing, I tell him. There is a medium small sheep body lying in the third stall. He looks at it and nods. That reminds him luckily,
“Henri, you are going for to be needing to give that sickly one a few shots. There is syringe, take from this bottle.”
“How much do I use?”
“To being this line here on syringe, Henri’.”
“So, if any of these other tiny majestic little creatures pass onto the next bye and bye, where should I place them?”
I looked around for a suitable enclosure, and saw none. He responds by pointing vaguely to the back of a nearby area where there are pallets stacked.
So like the idiot I am, I presume the little nipper will be removed by tomorrow morning when I “Start”.
The next morning I awake and have a quick cup of coffee, thank you Cindy.
I drive over to Death Valley Ranch and Noise Making Farm and well who would have guessed it? Little dead, starting to stink smiley sheep face is lying their looking to be taken for a drag.
Then it went from depressing to morbidly surreal. As I’m dragging the Bambi sheep equivalent away to the next beyond (next to the stack of pallets) the other sheep start bleating, (I kid you not)
I get them all fed and watered and then look at the sick one. It was easy to identify, as the farmer grabbed this waxy red crayon and made three red stripes down the sheep’s back. I take the syringe and pierce it into the magic sheep curing elixir, withdraw the required amount and make my way over to the little one. I jab the needle in and depress the syringe and retract it. Eh Viola!
I come back that night, repeat the procedure. No problem. Next morning another sheep is lying dead. I get a wheel barrow, after feeding the noise makers, and cart off today losing contestant. Then I administer the last dosage of cure-all to the little red striped one. This time the shot didn’t go so well. As I’m inserting the needle, the sheep moved, and I felt the needle hit the neck bone. So I withdrew it slightly and gave it the shot. It was fine, and still alive today.
I took care of these animals; this pack of little intelligence, these poor creatures that deserved better, for a week. In that week three died, carry the one that was left for me, four all told. Every day there was something waiting for me. A corpse, the smell of the previous dead carcasses, the futility of their existence, their lack of any quality of life. I don’t think I’m going to be available next year for slaughterhouse five.
I think I will stay across the dell, in the garden Cindy cultivated. Smell that lavender, eye the beauty of her garden. Watch the kestrels as they flutter in flight, perched skyward. Maybe lift another glass of the regions red wine. Take a last look at our small holding of vines. I just know in my heart of hearts, that I sure the fuck won’t be over there.