Friday 15 May 2015

A tight squeeze

<squeamish alert! particularly blokes>
The Beloved was out canvassing last night for the Marriage Equality Referendum.  She reasoned that, almost regardless of your, or her, position on the referendum, it was definitely a good thing to talk about such things rather than pretending they don't exist or, infinitely worse, finishing up dead at the feet of Our Lady.  On the street, she met a young fellow who was a definite Yes because, when he was a teenager, one of his circle had offed himself as an easier option than outing himself in their tight-knit rural community; a very few years ago. We've got to inch towards a society where everyone knows you're gay and frankly nobody gives-a-damn. There's will still be a few things that are not topics for polite conversation: how much people earn; rodding out the foul-water pipe at home and . . . castrating the ram lambs.  Here at the frontiers of social change, The Blob intends to work on this . . . now.

It is necessary to castrate the ram lambs as we may have found to our cost, or benefit if you count 2 extra ram-lambs from last year's hoggetts which could have been sired by the one ram-lamb whose testicles we neglected to remove because he was, at castrating time, too teeny.  And last night was Der Tag, and while we were about it, we had their tails as well.  This was done, in the now fashionable/humane way, with little rubber bands/washers that are fat and stretchy but will, when they constrict, cut off the blood supply to tail and testes and indeed the whole scrotum until in about a week's time all this tackle drops off.  We occasionally find a tiny disembodied tail in a secluded part of the fields.  The tails are easy, you just need to decide how long you want them.  They should be long enough to cover the vulva (if present! we're docking the tails of the ewe-lambs as well); but not so long that they are going to be an extra task in the world of dagging.  The testes are the very devil, because they are a) small and b) retractable: while the scrotum is a capacious and conspicuous dangle the things within are hard to find - or to force into the distal end of the sac beyond the rubber-band.  I did this all myself a few years ago when we had 6 ram lambs to process: I sat on a stool in the middle of a pen and applied 12 bands in that many minutes and thought I was just mighty.  A year and a bit later when it came time for shearing, the scrotums were no longer present but you could see plenty of 'undescended' testicles as big as a child's fist sliding about subcutaneously. My score that year was 1 down, 11 still present.  This arrangement of external gonads is wide-spread among mammals including half of my readers - sperm matures best when the temperature is a few degrees below core (but nobody knows why that should be so).  At least one of those 11 'hot' testes was good to go, because somebody shagged his half-sister before he went off market and we had another unexpectedly early lamb the following year.

This year our redoubtable neighbour and his Polish friend came across the river to show us how it should be done and it really does take two people to get it done with anything approaching efficiency: one to chase the testes and one to hold the elastic band open with the handy elastrator tool [R], which was invented by a really competent mechanical engineer.

Now might be a good time to reflect on whether these elastrator bands are humane because it is clear that the lambs were, many of them, deeply distressed.  Writhing would not be too strong a word to describe some of their reactions, shell-shocked works for others, affronted is the least of it.  This goes on for several hours and about a day later they are back to gamboling about the fields apparently none the worse for their ordeal.  I reflected last spring about 'humane' ways of terminating mice in a laboratory setting to which, once seen in action, you wouldn't want to subject your beloved pet dog. As for castration, Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs has done it differently, with his two thumbs to force the testes from hiding and his two front teeth to sever the plumbing. He has some profound things to say in that video about the dignity of work and the disconnect between what people on the ground have to do and what somebody else pushing paper-clips about a desk in Health&Safety says they should do.  Definitely worth 20 minutes of your time.  8 minutes more on recognising a good pair of hands.

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