There was a group of lambs in a paddock today running along a dam bank. Some of them were jumping and twisting mid-air, before landing on all four feet to continue the race.
It’s a sight I’ve always loved.
And it’s one of the reasons I don’t eat lamb. I can’t bring myself to eat an animal that throws its whole body in the air out of excitement. That’s pretty happy to be alive as far as I see it.
That, and the fact that some nights I’ve tube- or bottle-fed them, and that all that effort to get up and save their lives was so that I could eat them.
And finally because I’ve moved dead sheep from where they lay in the paddock—the ground in front of and behind their legs bared from their final moments of life—and to me, they smell the same as cooked lamb chops.
Strangely, I don’t have the same association with any other meat dish and the animal it came from. Except pork. Smells the same as pigs, dead or alive.
To save them from freezing onto the ice, I had to catch the newborn lambs before they hit the ground in America. The weather reflected the attitudes of my middle-aged hosts and the atmosphere their relationship created.
In the weeks that followed, I tried to help these people by lightening their workload. At different times I was a shoulder to lean on, a counsellor, a messenger and a mediator. On the other side of the world, I was learning about far more than sheep.
I rode back to the house with a newborn lamb in my jacket.
‘Come on little fella,’ I said, tubing warm colostrum directly into his stomach.
Throughout the night I gave him a bottle, supporting his head as milk ran out both sides of his mouth. I ran my fingers over the ginger speckles on his face, as he lay almost lifeless in a box beside my bed.
‘Come on Specks, you’ve only just started life, you can’t die yet.’
With more feeds and lots of attention, the little lamb grew stronger. He followed me around and brought joy to my strange, lonely world, distracting me with his innocence and love of life, and entertaining me with his playfulness. One day, while I was trying to push a large mob of lambs through a gateway, jumping up and down and waving my arms, Specks faced me and jumped into the air whenever I did.
When I sat, he was with me, nibbling at my arms. When I stood, he was by my side, head-butting my legs. When I slept, he waited and watched through my window.
Months passed and the time came to put him in the feedlot with the other lambs. He would have all the feed and friends he wanted, but would still come and eat grain from my hand.
One glorious sunny day, I rode the motorbike toward the house. My host was saying goodbye to a gentleman I recognised as a buyer of lambs for an Islamic community. I always went inside when he was here so I didn’t have to see which lamb he chose.
I smiled as I rode past.
And then I saw Specks, lying calmly on his side in the back of the truck, three legs bound tightly with baling twine.
I looked at my host in disbelief. The stupid smirk on his face said it all.
The two men were lost in a shower of dust and stones as I accelerated down the road.
Tears streamed down my face. If only I could just keep riding.