Opinion: Would ewe believe it?

Louise Graydon
Louise Graydon

On a bitterly cold February day 30 years ago, I travelled to a friend’s farm in upper Wensleydale.

He had invited me to observe his yaws (ewes) being scanned to determine how many lambs (roughly) he could expect from each ewe, with those expecting more than one lamb, fed extra accordingly.

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Although scanning was to do with economics, he was caring and compassionate about his livestock.

I had this mad idea that I could do this instead of scanning humans, I mean how difficult could it be? In those days, veterinary ultrasound was in its infancy and I was intrigued to learn more.

Around the farm buildings 600 ewes were penned, it had taken him two days to bring them down off the fells.

Eventually scan man arrived and began assembling his equipment. One contraption consisted of three bus seats welded together on a frame, with two pointing one way and the third in the centre facing the other two.

Ewes were scanned on their backs, which meant each one had to be caught, flipped onto its back onto the handler’s lap, a back breaking job.

Scan man sat in the middle which meant he could scan two at a time, nowadays ewes are scanned standing up.

He started assembling the scan machine, I stared in disbelief. It was covered in sheep muck, paint, gel and straw.

Beneath the detritus I could just make out the TV monitor. Between his feet, he pumped the gel on the convenient bare patch between the back legs.

There was much debate about what colour paint was to be used for singletons, twins etc. I stared at the grainy image on the screen, there seemed to be all sorts of moving components, none of which I recognised.

I thought my friend could be having a bumper lamb year until I was informed I was looking at the placenta (after birth) which is different from the human sort.

After a while, it was my turn. I managed to squirt gel on everything except the ewe and with confidence began shouting one, two,etc. However I was under scrutiny, and rightly so, and it was obvious I was anything but accurate. By now, those flipping the ewes had stripped to their underclothes, while I was numb with cold.

I decided to leave the scanning to the expert and wandered into one of the holding pens –scanning day is a logistical marvel.

Suddenly someone shouted “Let ‘im through!”

I turned round and heading straight for me was a tup (ram) – crunch! he head butted my shins.

“Thou’s bin knee capp’d!” came a voice, which caused great hilarity among the throng.

As the stars started pricking through the inky sky it was time to leave. I was covered in muck, paint and gel, my knees were sore, my back ached and my hands and feet were frozen.

Somehow a nice, clean, centrally heated hospital seemed very inviting.