I am very unsettled by an event which occurred last night. I was driving home following a birthday party for one of the grandchildren. It had been a successful day, the party had run smoothly, the children and been well behaved and it had been a pleasant day seeing all of my children together on the one day. Something that rarely happens now except at occasions such as parties or funerals. The journey home had been long but largely uneventful and, after 5 hours in the car, I was nearing home. It had turned dark and I was now driving in the narrow roads of the countryside.
As I turned a bend it was clear that something was happening on the road ahead. There were flashing amber warning lights on my side of the road and on the other carriageway there was a line of headlights. I thought there has been an accident and there is now a queue in the road. I slowed down to stop and pulled in behind the stationary car. As I did so I saw something in the middle of the road. This was clearly causing the blockage as there were a group of people clustered around and obviously concerned. Worried in an accident someone may have been knocked down I got out of the car as quickly as I could to see if my medical skills were going to be required.
What I saw was a terrible sight. On her back, in the middle of the road, was a welsh mountain ewe of about 4 years old. She was clearly badly injured and distressed. In the middle of the throng of people she was trying to make her escape but no matter how much she flailed with her single back leg she could not help herself. Her other rear leg was misplaced and broken. She had an expression of terror and pain as she writhed on the carriageway illuminated by the headlights of the stopped cars. Silent as she waved her leg trying to get purchase in the air and escape from the crowd who surrounded her jabbering and shouting.
Nobody had approached her and I went forward to check her injuries and to move her from the road into the side. As I neared and leant down I saw that her abdomen had burst open and her stomachs and intestines were strewn on the road and underneath her. She had lost a lot of blood but was still conscious. As I examined her further it was clear that she had massive injuries from which she would not recover. I started to notice that the jumble of voices I could hear were a group of young men, with eastern European accents, shouting “kill it, kill it”. They like me knew that the ewe had no hope of survival but was unfortunately conscious and suffering.
I had only seconds to make a decision. I needed to euthanize the sheep there and then. I needed to swallow any reservations I might have had and needed to end this ewe’s suffering, but I had nothing to hand to make this an easy task. Nor did anyone in the crowd. I saw a dry stone wall, and saw that within it there was a large boulder which might be loose. With a strength I don’t normally possess I managed to pull the boulder out and carry it to the ewe – with one movement – the sheep was dead. I was able then to move her body off the road and leave the man, who had collided with her, on the phone to the police to report the accident.
Now I am no stranger to killing, as a smallholder, I have to dispatch stock when the time is right. However, when I have to do this (and it is never an easy task), I have the knowledge that the animal has had a good life and will not suffer during the process. I rear them for this end and see it as part of the circle of life. At times I think that the death that we serve to our stock is better than the death that I can expect myself. It occurs without warning or expectation and without pain or suffering. I fear when my turn comes it is likely to be with an awareness of the imminent end and after a period of suffering, slightly prolonged by (what finally prove to be) futile medical interventions.
But this ewe’s death unnerved me. She did suffer. It was pointless and ignoble, there was no part of it which was positive. Her body will be discarded as waste. Sheep are flock animals but she spent her last minutes alone, away from her flock, under the glare of lights and amid the hubbub of strange noises. Some were complaining that she was “just there in the middle of the road” as if she had broken the highway code and it was her fault. She had been doing what sheep do; walking slowly looking for greenery to eat. We were doing what people do; driving fast, trying to get somewhere else as quickly as possible. In the countryside we have to coexist and manage to live together. Sheep can’t stop being sheep but can stop being the idiots who don’t think about them.