“Dinna you get attached tae yon lamb”: Fieldwork with Yoda

Two pairs of eyes looked at me from across the table waiting for my response. A third pair joined them. The four day old lamb cradled in my arms stopped drinking from his bottle and looked up at me. We looked at each other for a moment and he let out a tiny, squeaky, gurgling baaaa. “He’s your lambie now”.  As those words were spoken the inevitability of the situation hit me.  I was leaving with the lamb and this fact had been known before I arrived, just not by me.  I’d been delighted when during tea one of my research participants said another pony breeder that I was working with would be coming by with a caddy (bottle fed) lamb. Two participants in one place chatting about sheep and ponies and a lamb! What could be better?

I drove home in a slight panic. Where will he live? How do you look after a lamb? And what will my husband say when I come home with a sheep?!  Just relax and drive, pretend he’s not there and deal with this later. Easier said than done when at every corner there was a soft thump as he lost his balance and a scuffle as he stood up again.

The next morning I nervously waited for my crofter neighbour to arrive to tend his sheep. He’s in his eighties and has several flocks of multi-coloured Shetland sheep in the land surrounding the house I rent. I hoped that when the lamb had grown up he could live with his sheep. He laughed when I explained how I ended up with a lamb and said at this time of year everybody is trying to off-load caddies onto unsuspecting individuals.  He said that he can live in his field then turned to me, eyes twinkling and said, “Dinna you get attached tae yon lamb”.

Desperate to show I wasn’t some naive city type from south, I assured him I would be very practical about this. I’d feed him and work to integrate him with the sheep. There would be no unnecessary cuddles. As he left he turned and asked if I’d named him yet. “He’s called Yoda”, I smiled. He laughed and said “good luck”.

I was of course instantly attached to my small woolly friend who bounced, baaa’d and followed me everywhere. When four days later he got ill I was frantic.  I started googling things like “lethargic lamb what do I do?” and “how to treat a sick lamb”; ignoring the results promising lamb recipes that will help you stay healthy, I read enough to realise that EVERYTHING can kill a pet lamb.  A vet’s appointment was made for the next day and over the phone they advised to make his bottles very weak and feed him every couple of hours. That night was a neighbour’s wedding and instead of spending time getting ready I was in the barn with Yoda. Rubbing his tummy to encourage burps to ease potential bloat, encouraging him to eat little and often, and even administering a Fairy Liquid enema in case he was constipated.

Several times during the wedding party I had to drive home to feed Yoda. I was worried about what people would think of me repeatedly leaving a party to tend a sick lamb – people not only understood but often had their own stories of caddies who got ill. This pattern repeated throughout the summer. Yoda made a full recovery and was a feature of many conversations.  As soon as people learned I had a caddy, people told tales of caddies they’d known.

An elderly neighbour described finding an abandoned lamb when she was a child. She brought it home and cared for it until one morning she found it dead in the barn. She had been heartbroken. When Yoda was ill she anxiously enquired after him every day and was delighted when he recovered. She always made an effort to come and speak to him, telling him he was lovely, even when he was covered in mud and going through an anti-social butting phase.

I was told of a caddy that spent several years on an uninhabited island with a large flock of sheep. He was brought back to the croft ready to be sold for meat the next day. He walked up to the house, through the door and lay by the fire where he’d lived as a lamb. He never did get sold.

A ewe lamb grew up to be much loved by the crofter who bottle fed her but her continual noisy presence drove the rest of the family to distraction. Every attempt the family made to sell her was thwarted.  This reprieve seems to have been extended to her descendents. I was told by his daughter that any brown sheep in that area is probably related to that caddy. She pointed to one on the hill “that will be her great-great-great-granddaughter”

A girl, the day before the sale, painted her two caddies zebra striped so her dad couldn’t take them to auction.

A woman got a caddy to look after from a neighbour when she was seven. Her mum made her give it back at the end of summer. She described how she could hear that lamb, recognizing its baa distinct from the sounds of all the other sheep. She said she’d cried for weeks because she could hear him call but couldn’t go to be with him.

An elderly man spoke of his irritation at a young girl who lives next door telling him he needed to keep a boy lamb that had been abandoned by its mum. He said “if you feed them, they should feed you” and now he’s stuck with a “useless sheep”. He said I might have seen him. I said I’d seen a very fluffy light brown sheep that seemed very tame. “That’ll be him. He has a beautiful fleece”. He went on to describe how he has a very distinctive baa. He always knows if he is near the house and then has to go out to give him a little extra feed….

I may not have been prepared for the Yoda’s arrival but I am very grateful to him as a research assistant. Many of the caddy stories may never have been told to me if it wasn’t for my attachment to a lamb. Through these experiences I have started to focus my attention more towards stories of animals. About how these animals and these stories are part of biographies and landscapes that cross generations and continue to shape experiences of animals and place. So in many ways, Yoda’s effect on my fieldwork is likely to shape my thesis!

Later in summer as the crofter watched the lamb follow me about as I hung out the laundry he asked how the not getting attached was going. I admitted that despite my best efforts I was totally in love with the wee lamb. He laughed and said that it can’t be helped, it’s just one of those things, most folk get attached to their caddies. He stroked Yoda, commenting that he’s a good sheep with a fine fleece. I didn’t need to ask if he was maybe getting a little attached to Yoda. Several mornings, while looking out the window, I had seen him giving some of his sheep feed to a delighted Yoda, before getting on with the job of tending his own flock.


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