The Harness

Ah, those cold February nights.


You know, the ones where you sneak up behind unsuspecting ewes, grab a good hold, and feel up their tatties.


Ah yes, lambing season is upon us (maybe, possibly, I think).


After last year's weeks upon weeks of feeling up sheep boobies because I wasn't really sure when they were due, I promised myself I would get our ram a marking harness so I could have a better gauge of who was due when. (for non-livestock folk, gauging the rapidity with which an ewe's udder is filling is one of the better ways to predict impending parturition) 


This became especially important after seeing how long our tiny herd of ewes managed to drag the lambing last spring--over 7 weeks!  And having sheep like Rosa who got ginormous early and remained so for the last 6 weeks of her pregnancy (thus making me sure for weeks she was due any day)--I was adamant I would not endure that stress and frustration again.


And so I ordered a marking harness off the interwebs...where all the most confusing things can be found. (marking harnesses are contraptions with markers attached worn by rams to show when they, um, have intimate relations with their lady friends--see a blue butt, mark it on the calendar and count forward 147 days or so)


The harness duly arrived  a week or so before I was going to turn our ram, Rudy, out with his ladies.  My first warning should have been the fact it was A. Jumbled up in a bag so it looked like spaghetti with buckles and B. Came with instructions clearly written by a non-native English speaking person.  I have bought enough confusing equine equipment and built enough Ikea furniture to know better than to combine attaching odd equipment to live animals with the written assistance of foreigners who clearly just want to make foolish Americans miserable.


Of course, I also chose to attempt to attach it to Rudy completely by myself because "Gah, I can't possibly walk all the way back to the house and ask for help".  Laziness is most definitely not a virtue on the farm.


Rudy is a good sport, especially for a ram, and at first he was happy to stand in the barn aisle munching some sweet feed while I stood over him randomly draping bits of nylon webbing on him with one hand while flapping papers about with my other.  I tried one or two configurations, attempting to follow the poorly drawn pictures, and finally decided I kind of had it right and decided to ratchet it on.


Ziiiiiiiiiiiiiiiip, I pulled it tight.


Now, anyone who has been to a rodeo (or saddled a horse incorrectly) is familiar with how the rough stock tenses in that moment after the bucking strap is pulled tight.  Their head comes up, their eyes glow and their whole body tenses in preparation for the action at hand.  And so too did Rudy.


"Maaaaaah!" Rudy bellered and took off like a bolt.  We had been working on this project in the aisle of the barn and that meant he had 40 or so feet to work up a head of steam before any changes in directions were needed.  As he ran, I ran with him attempting to keep a hold of the long end of the harness that I still held in my right hand while the Greek-to-me directions came along in my other.  Even enraged, Rudy isn't terribly fast and I had no trouble keeping up which is maybe where things went wrong.


You see, when Rudy got to the end of the barn, he had to turn and since I was just behind him and holding on tight, that meant his 180 turn resulted in a tangle of ram and human that sent the directions flying...directly into the neighboring pig pen.

Pigs are curious creatures and ours had been watching the barn aisle PRC (Professional Ram Chasing) championship with great interest.  That meant the second the directions hit their stall floor, they were johnny-on-the-spot to check it out.  And, of course, when a pig "checks something out", it means shredding it to tiny bits and (possibly) eating it.  And so they did.


Faced with a heaving, angry Rudy on one end of the barn and a stall full of masticated tree pulp and ink on the other, I gave up my quest to attach the marking harness.  It clearly was not meant to be. Besides, if I couldn't get it on with directions, what hope was there without?


After all, feeling up sheep udders every night in subzero weather for 8-12 weeks isn't so bad, is it?



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Vermillion, SD 57069

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