Nearly thirteen years ago, we took on a small flock of Soay sheep, ranging in ages from lambs born that year through to Oakapple, the twelve year old matriarch. In amongst them was Cilla the black sheep, Oakapple’s grand-daughter and an amiable middle-aged ewe we came to call Aunty Cilla on account of the way she would lamb-sit for the rest of the ewes.
I wrote about Cilla this time last year – the seventeen year old ewe who just kept on going, and shuffling steadily towards being eighteen. No longer the blackest of black sheep, more of a rusty brown, but what can you expect at her age. When her grandmother collapsed and later died of a heart attack aged fourteen, the vet was amazed to meet such an old ewe.
If Cilla were a fictional character, she would be the sheeply reincarnation of Terry Pratchett’s Nanny Ogg – no teeth, no inhibitions and inclined to do things her own way. Even at the ripe old age of almost eighteen, Cilla would still greet us with a deep and loud BAAAA – where’s my breakfast? – and wave her tail at the rams in the next field.
Two weeks ago, Idris the Gander decided (again) to prove what a big bird he is by beating up Cilla. He tries that with Cilla’s companion, Lily, but she just stares down at him, and his beak full of wool, using the length of her long and haughty nose to give her weary contempt a nice slope to build up speed and hit him squarely in the self-esteem. Cilla, on the other hand, is a sitting target. Or a snoozing target. She’s a truly ancient sheep and doesn’t move very fast.
I heard the commotion and got there after Idris had knocked her off her feet and was still lunging and pecking. He’s fast when he sees trouble coming, otherwise there’s a high chance we would have been eating goose two weeks ago.
I rolled Cilla back on her feet, which is perfectly normal. She falls over from time to time, or moves wrong in her sleep, and no longer has the agility to get back on her hooves without help. Part of my morning routine has become checking on her and rolling her upright if needed. She just needs a push and then a firm knee to rest against until she finds her balance. Once straight and steady, she trundles away at her own pace in search of a nicer piece of grass.
Two weeks ago seemed no different – she ambled away as usual. An hour or so later I couldn’t see her, went looking and found her in the bottom corner of the field unable to stand. The shock had caught up with her, so we did what we do with poorly sheep at this time of year – put her in the greenhouse. In the summer it would be too hot, and too full of tomatoes, but just now is perfect.
It’s not the first time we’ve nursed a poorly sheep back on her feet, so we set about the job for the next week, keeping her fed and watered, allowing shock and bruising to settle, holding her steady so she could get the hang of standing.
A week ago, we drove Idris (and Choccie) to a new home as pets on a farm west of here. We’ve been talking about re-homing the geese for a while, but kicking the proverbial out of Aunty Cilla was the last straw. He had to go before we could let Cilla out of the greenhouse and, much as he was in the dog house (as opposed to the goose hut, a much scarier place) he’s been here longer than Cilla so we weren’t comfortable with the roast goose dinner option. Besides, Choccie is a perfectly inoffensive goose, and we couldn’t really put him out of our misery and leave her pining.
On the Monday, I built a new sling to hold Cilla up, because even an ancient and skinny old sheep is a heavy, back-breaking lift. Step by step, so to speak, we were getting Cilla back on her feet. She still had strength in her legs, still had the will to walk and as for food, well Cilla has always had a healthy appetite, even if she has developed a tendency to doze off with her nose buried in her breakfast.
Still digging into my sack of rough-cut mixed-metaphors, our step-by-step progress turned into one step forwards, two steps back over the next few days. Cilla still had the will to shuffle, but the legs were getting less cooperative. Supported on the sling she increasingly just hung there, unable to coordinate, although the mouth still worked, slurping whatever was offered gradually slowing towards to bottom of the bowl like an old clockwork toy running down.
Even so, the one step forwards got less certain, and the two steps back more pronounced.
We brought the vet in on Friday.
As it turned out, we had done everything we could. Cilla had had a stroke – either when Idris attacked or sometime during the following days.
Fade to black.
The #BlogBattle writing prompt in March 2019 was Dusk, which coincided with recent events on the farm.