I was never any good at Rubik’s Cube, but imagine one covered in wool, dripping wet, fighting back and now try to solve it in the dark, by lamp-light.
I’ve been away for a week and drove home Saturday afternoon, pre-warned by my partner that Pad and Earl, two of the rams, had got their horns tangled and were currently inseparable. My partner had tried to get them apart on her own, one ram clamped between her knees, trying to move the other. No chance.
All I had to do, after an exhausting week and a five hour drive, was disentangle two-times twenty kilos of testosterone-driven stupidity, in the dark, ideally without losing any fingers.
|Just nod if you can hear me...|
Our Soay rams have large, curved horns. Imagine something with a two-inch diameter coming out of your skull above your eye, curving backwards and round the back of your ear, down and forwards along your jawline and then, if you have the deluxe version, curving up and back towards your ear... Those horns are big beasts, and tough enough for a ram to batter at a telegraph pole just for fun, or smash a gate off its hinges when bad things like worming are about to happen.
|Fancy a hook-up?|
Now picture two rams who have twisted their horns together like a pair of corkscrews until the last minute when a jiggle and a shove has left them locked together. It’s a little bit like that early scene in the Hunt for Red October, a narrow passage and only one way in. By the time I got home, the pair of them had had hours of pushing and shoving, failing to find just that right combination of twist and push to get back out again. The other rams had, naturally, been helping – with two of the top males locked together the others took turns in battering them up the backside. Rams are like that.
We looked by lamp-light, we tried, got covered in **** but in the end, we gave up. We did try to get them to take some water because they had to be getting dehydrated, but they were both too busy: gotta shake loose that b****** that’s got hold of my horns.
So let’s try again tomorrow, in daylight, with an option on calling the vet to cut the ends off their horns.
So, Sunday morning, when vets are especially expensive, we looked at the problem again. Really, if it was just a pair of spiral rings to disentangle, it would be easy, but with the rest of the ram attached, not so much. First there is the matter of noses. I looked, I saw the way to undo it, if only the ram’s nose wasn’t there. It was obvious that the two spirals could be untwisted, but once the nose of one ram is firmly wedged against the head of the other the untwisting stops. Then there was a clearance problem – those horns are big and Pad’s horns curve an inch or less from his jaw, so only the thinnest tips of Earl’s horns can get through that gap.
I could see what I wanted to do, sort of, but I couldn’t just wave two rams around in the air. Look... if we could just float Pad at knee-height, and twist Earl like this...
The solution was an old, dead dining chair out of the barn. With Pad lying on his side on the chair, held steady by my partner, I could turn Earl upside down and lie him on his back. It sounds easy, but now factor in the furious wriggling, the surprise of a ram trying to pick my nose with his back hooves (still tingles a few hours on), the need to blow my nose to remove the sudden injection of mud, grass and sheep-s**t, and the problem becomes more tricky.
If only I could see what was going on. Forget the nose and the attendant eye-watering, I could either hold Earl or look at what I was doing, so the un-screwing of the horns had to be done by touch. So, just put a finger in that gap, test which way the curve runs, get finger out again quickly when one of the woolly b******s moves suddenly, and then try again. Those horns that shake telegraph poles and destroy gates are not actually round, more triangular in cross-section, and would easily purée my finger with their ridged edges.
I was so nearly there when Pad decided he didn’t like the chair. My partner was trying to hold him, hold the chair, check he wasn’t about to break his neck... and then I lost my grip on Earl. I’m not sure who was the most surprised out of the four of us. That final extra wrench was either the answer, or I had succeeded just in time to save the rams from serious injury. Whatever really happened, they were no longer linked.
We got them on their feet, and they went and hid under the bushes in the corner of the field. Together. The little ******s has been trying to get apart for the best part of a day, and now they huddled together for safety against the big mean people that just got them untangled.
That’s sheep for you.