Vaccinating Sheep and First Impressions

Connie and I spent Holy Saturday afternoon vaccinating the flock.

Cap was his exuberant self in gathering the ewes from the north pasture and the lambs and yearlings from the south, and putting them in the handling chute. We used the big swing gate to squeeze them into the rounded holding area and opened the guillotine gate to let them into the solid-sided chute so we could “easily” give them their vaccinations and re-tag those who had lost their ear tags.

They dislike vaccinations. They dislike having their ears pierced even more.
I have to drop the little gate on top of the solid panels that allows me to climb over. I put one leg behind the rump of the first sheep in line to hold her head against the sort gate in front of her. Connie holds the head and I put the tag in and then pinch some skin on the side to give the injection of a Covexin-8 (a vaccination against eight different common sheep ailments) just under the skin.

Simple enough.

But did I mention that they dislike this process?

When I squeeze the tagger hard to snap the plastic pieces of the ear tag through the ear they buck. They buck so hard that Connie cannot for the love of God hold that head. The injection goes a bit better, but when I mess with their fleeces to get down to the skin, and I pinch or I pull wool so I can get a little bit of skin, they buck. The few sheep that we have gotten most familiar with because they were bottle fed as lambs when their moms had bad teats or mastitis, or because they were handled for shows—they prove to be the most insulted by pinching or poking. And the lambs and the six hair sheep we have—they are the very worst of all. They manage to bend themselves in half and turn around in the squeeze chute or even jump out of it completely.

Now I am not proud of the fact that I am a pastor and am expected to be a holy man, but I do confess that all the unholy and awful words that one can imagine—the words I have heard at the YMCA locker room and I feel disgusted that human mouths have uttered—these words passed my lips when these little cloven-footed demons did these horrible things. When they bucked up, bent my needles, knocked the syringe from my hands and into the dust, bashed into my knees from every direction…when they did these things, I instantly decided that they were infidel creatures, destined for the bowels of hell. One ewe who had lost several ear tags in her short life already, bucked so violently that she pulled the tag right through her ear and blood splattered all over the chute and gate and Connie and me and her own white wool. And I did say naughty things.

But then I once or twice remembered, on Holy Saturday afternoon, that good shepherds are quiet and patient people. I settled. I breathed out and in. I parted the snowy white wool and peered into it deeply and saw pink skin. When I was settled and quiet I noticed the holy glory in the eyes of the sheep. I even admired, for a moment, the health and the vital power in them.
You read an e-mail or a posting on a mail list. It is someone you don’t know. My, they go on and on about nothing. My, how can they think anyone is interested in knowing all about that. My, they are self-obsessed, overwrought, defensive, ill-informed, and careless in their use of grammar. Careless in their thoughts.

You see someone ahead in the road. You can tell by the way they slouch in the seat and chatter to the passenger and slow down too soon before the intersection or speed up just when you want to pass what kind of person they are.

Some people, you think, are here on this planet  just to annoy.

 Then you learn. This person has been fighting cancer valiantly. This person spends half their waking hours tending to a sick friend. This person would, at the drop of a hat, give up vacation time to drive half across the continent with you so you wouldn’t have to drive alone. This person has had to learn to live alone and hasn’t had a decent night’s sleep in years. This person is has written profound poetry that they are afraid to show anyone.

You decide to slow down. You can’t help but have those first impressions, but if you settle and if you can be quiet, you learn. There is glory in their eyes. There is vital power in their souls. There is a story—even a saving story they can tell, if you will but

About John

John is a retired pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who has served congregations for over 40 years, including in rural, suburban, campus ministry and urban settings. His love of Border Collie sheepdogs has been fortified by his many friendships with shepherds all around the world. Nothing he has ever or will ever accomplish is as significant as the patience God, his wife and his friends have shown in putting up with his deficiencies.
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