Tuesday, May 26, 2009

I apologise for yet another blog on sheep—we do get up to other things here as well—but a short tale of a visit to our permaculture smallholding by a veterinary surgeon bearing Belgian chocolates is too good a subject to pass by.

Blue tongue, or fièvre catarrhale ovine (FCO), as it's known here in France, is a midge-borne disease affecting
ruminants, originating in South Africa but which has now made its way to Europe. In a good example of sensible cooperation and quick action, governments and drug companies have worked together to get some vaccines produced and disseminated out to sheep farmers in record time.

Still optional in the UK, here in France, it is now obligatory for owners of sheep to get their woolly charges vaccinated against two serotypes, 1 and 8. As it’s been a rush job, the vaccine comes in 100 dose bottles and must be used on the day that the bottle is opened. We’ve only got a small flock of 8 adult sheep and there will be many other people like us, just keeping a few sheep for grass cutting, personal consumption or both. This is quite a headache for the vets, who’ve been charged with vaccinating all the sheep in their area. What they try to do is coordinate a visit to a large farm that leaves a few doses in the bottom of the bottle with a nearby small flock, no mean feat of organisation.

I was happy to get a phone call from the vet’s secretary recently (to be told that the vet would be arriving in half and hour or so) even though I was up on the barn roof laying slates. I clambered down and exchanged barn roof mountaineering with chasing small black sheep as my afternoon’s sporting activity. In timely fashion, Gabrielle retuned home and we soon had the sheep penned up, awaiting the vet … who, after three hours, didn’t turn up. His apologetic secretary told us that he’d been called away to an emergency (nature of his business, of course) and that she’d let us know when the next opportunity would present itself.

It was a Saturday morning, we’d been given a days notice and the alarm had been set, so we could get up in time to catch the sheep and be ready. The early bird might catch the worm but we almost missed our vet. Still in dressing gown and tea-making mode, I heard a car reverse in. Seconds later, it was on the move again and I pulled back the curtains to see our vet discreetly pulling away, having seen all our curtains still drawn. I flew downstairs and raced across the wet grass in (appropriately-named) slippers to cut him off at the end of the lane. He returned and we quickly dressed and attempted to catch the sheep. The greedy boys are no problem but the ewes with their lambs were, refusing to follow the offer of food into their shelter. The always busy, ever smiling and enthusiastically accommodating Dr Hamadi Mouhli kindly offered to pass by again later that morning to do them, once we'd got our act together and penned them up.

They were vaccinated for serotype 8 last year and serotype 1 for the first time this year, necessitating a booster three weeks later. We were ready and waiting this time and when he did turn up, not quite so early this time, he gave Gabrielle a box of Belgian chocolates “to apologise for getting you out of bed last time.” I’ve said how special our vet is before but turning up to inject a handful of sheep bearing chocolates must make him unique in the world of veterinary surgeons.

The last photo shows Dr Mouhli sawing off the horn tips of one of last year’s lambs (now called a hogget), whose horns were curling around into his head. He’s using an abrasive metal cord pulled backwards and forwards vigorously as I keep the hogget’s head steady.