Lynda Hallinan’s Guest Blog: Lambs (not) to the slaughter
Lynda insists on keeping her lambs as pets, even as they (predictably) wreak havoc on her home.
Words: Lynda Hallinan
The first time it happened, I blamed the kids. “Who left toilet paper strewn all over the bathroom floor?” I hollered.
My sons Lucas, 8, and Lachlan, 6, denied all knowledge of an impromptu toilet paper ticker-tape parade so I set up a covert sting operation, lying in wait in one corner of our bathroom, camera in hand.
I didn’t have to wait long until the bog roll bandits – our pet lambs, Maisy and Lucy – appeared at the door and made a beeline for the two-ply Purex. Toilet paper, it seems, is as irresistible to audacious Ag Day pets as it is to puppies and kittens.
Pet lambs: my accountant describes them as “non-economic stock units” because these friendly free-rangers aren’t destined for our freezer – or anyone else’s. And, when you factor in the bottles, teats, $95 bags of milk powder, 10kg sacks of molasses-marinated meal, rolls of plastic netting and pigtail fencing standards required to keep them in, not always successfully, it’s fair to say that the ROI (Return On Investment) is low.
Nonetheless, it’s the price you pay for being a rural parent with children for whom Ag Day is a compulsory part of the school curriculum.
I grew up on a dairy farm in Onewhero, an hour south of Auckland, and Calf Club Day was a highlight of the school calendar (it still is). Every year, my sister and I battled for bovine supremacy and the right to have our names engraved on the RJ Glasgow Challenge Cup, a gleaming trophy donated by my grandfather’s father.
I have nothing but fond memories of all the days I spent feeding, leading, grooming and playing peekaboo around the pump shed with two Cindys, Star, Sparkle, Moozi, Lucy, Betty-Lou and Flac (yes, that’s calf spelled backwards). For years afterwards, I could call their names and they’d emerge from the herd for a sandwich and a scratch behind the ears.
Can you ever forget the love you feel for your first pet? “Oh,” sighed Lachlan as he laid eyes upon Lucy, the day-old orphaned cookies-and-cream Coopworth cross we’d adopted from a Pokeno farmer. “That lamb is a gift from God.”
“Actually,” my inner atheist retorted, “Mum just paid $80 for her.”
When I was a child, Ag Day lambs were readily donated by sheep farmers who weren’t keen on keeping orphans in cardboard boxes by the fire for more than a night, but these days they’re a tradeable commodity in rural school communities – and the more #instaworthy those lamb chops are, the more you can expect to fork out.
Five years ago, I paid $150 for a black and white ram lamb nicknamed Night Rider by my niece Jaime. He turned out to be an excellent investment, earning her a clutch of purple championship sashes before being put to work in our paddocks, where he sired a fine line of good lookers, including Tiki, the newest member of our family.
Tiki’s mum was the last of our flock to lamb this year and, sadly, she died two days later. The little fella, with his pink heart-shaped nose and a black and white face more reminiscent of a friesian cow (not to mention perfectly striped black and white balls!), was inconsolable – and loudly so. He spent the next five nights snuggled up in a laundry basket on my bed, my hand resting on his head to keep him quietly content.
On the sixth night, he climbed out of the basket and I awoke to find his head on the pillow beside me. On the seventh night, he cuddled into the crook of my arm and, despite being clad in nappies, peed all over the duvet.
After that he was banished to a dog kennel on the lawn where Maisy and Lucy – aka The Mean Girls – eyed him sideways and each gave him an unfriendly bunt.
“Who are you?” they seemed to infer, though “What are you?” was probably more accurate, for pet lambs seem not to recognise other sheep. It’s as if, having been raised on snuggles and cuddles, they lose their ability to speak sheep.
On that note, I have some bad news for any lifestyle blockers who expect to return their woolly friends to the flock. In the words of that fair dinkum Aussie battler Darryl Kerrigan in The Castle, “Tell ‘im he’s dreamin’.”
Once you foolishly let these ovine opportunists set foot in your house, the little punks will spend the rest of their lives hoofing it back there whenever they spy an open gate. Indeed, while writing this, they’ve got out – and in – three times.
Once a pet lamb, always a pet lamb.