Monday, 4 March 2013


Richard Ansdell's crisply titled A Ewe With Lambs and a Heron Beside a Loch


Adverb & pred. adjective. Scot. Also -lt. Mid-18th century.
[Perhaps ultimately from Old Norse af from + velta to rise.]

Of an animal, esp. a sheep: on its back and unable to rise;
 of a person: incapacitated through intoxication, insensible.

The other day a friend recounted a time he had been on a walk through the country with his family. As they passed a field, they happened upon the distinctly odd sight of a sheep on its back, paddling its feet in the air like an upturned beetle. They quickly realised that they both had to do something but, being cityfolk, had no idea what to do. 

For a time, they stood in a circle around the hapless sheep both discussing what could be wrong and what they should be doing about it. My friend's mother-in-law said she believed it was caused by a buildup of gas in the sheep's stomach, and the proper course of action was to stab the sheep in the abdomen and therefore facilitate the release of this noxious accumulation (at which point you would probably have a group of rumen-spattered cityfolk standing in a circle around a haemorrhaging sheep, discussing how best to save it, until someone suggests that rolling the sheep onto its back might help, only for the whole process to begin again). 

Fortunately before any knives were drawn, a 4x4 stopped as it was passing the field. A farmer jumped out, sauntered over to the sheep, effortlessly picked it up and put it back onto its feet, and with little more than a doff of the cap to the slack-jawed cityfolk, hopped back into his 4x4 and carried on his merry way. The sheep, meanwhile, had scampered off back to its flock, presumably to tell all her mates how close she had just come to being stabbed to death by a group of clueless city-dwellers. 

There are a couple of reasons that I recount my friend's story. Firstly, he told me this the day after I had scheduled the word awald onto my blog (talk about a shear coincidence). When I read awald and noted it down, I did think to myself: "When am I ever going to use this word?" and "Is this really a problem that particularly afflicts sheep?" Well, apparently it is, and I did get to use it, and I was able to strike a very erudite pose and remark casually: "Oh yes. That's when a sheep is awald."

Secondly, the mother-in-law's analysis of the situation is not quite as ridiculous as it first sounds. When a sheep is awald (or cast to use the more common term), it is unable to burp and the accumulating gases will kill it within hours. If you believe The Sun (and why wouldn't you?), the sheep will actually explode in a bloody shower of chops and cutlets (if you believe The Daily Mail, the sheep is perfectly able to get back up on its feet, but would rather just lie there and claim benefits, probably because it's some foreign breed). The idea of stabbing the sheep, however, is a little off. As the heroic farmer demonstrated, the best thing to do with a cast sheep is to just put it back on its feet and let it go on its merry way.

What the mother-in-law was actually referring to is something called bloat. While it may or may not be present in a cast sheep, her definition really wasn't too far awry.  This is a potentially fatal problem that often requires an emergency rumenotomy, which is a surgical incision into the rumen. The procedure is quite an involved one, however, and not really one that should be attempted without the proper tools and training (ie. if you're not a vet).

So there are two morals to this story:
  1. Useless words are not so useless. You never know when they may spring to your side, making you appear far more educated and knowledgeable than you really are. 
  2. Don't laugh at your mother-in-law. She's been around longer than you have, and there may just be a grain of truth in what she's saying (that being said, you probably shouldn't stab anything on her unqualified suggestion).

Do you you have any sheep awald stories?

Unlike me, do you know what you're talking about when it comes to such matters?

Please comment below in the comments section.


  1. Hah, this story made me laugh so hard XD I knew a sheep often can't get up when it's on its back - poor thing - but to stab it? Seriously? Was that really the first idea that sprung to mind?

    Also, that video just made the whole thing even more hilarious. The music!

    1. It was all new to me, Bibi ... I had no idea poor sheep were afflicted so : o )

  2. I cared for a flock of about twenty sheep for 4 years. In the whole duration, I encountered bloat once.
    I had brought a ewe indoors - in a stable and fed it a bucket of concentrated food.
    The next day when I checked it in the morning it was dead but also twice as big since it was full of air.
    Upon research, I learnt that the change of diet was the cause - gases had accumulated in the belly as a consequence of fermenting food - probably mixing with grass from the field. The gasses sometimes cant escape or be dealt with fast enough. It probably grew huge when dead as the food continued producing gas.
    A sight I haven't forgot. I dug a hole in the field whereupon I did stab it as it was huge - to reduce the labor intensive task of digging.

    This is fairly common as plant life changes throughout the year - there are incidents of whole flocks being affected. Farmers do 'stab' them - with a pointed needle like object. Takes a skilled man to get the right spot though.

    1. I shall be calling on your expertise should I have any more sheepy posts, Ross!

  3. Thanks ed,

    Having just been described as ‘slack-jawed’ and ‘clueless’, I was itching to post a snidely smug comment on your wrongly spelled ‘shear’, until I realized that it was a pun and that looking for other mistakes would be a waste of a week which would be better spent tightening up my jaw or stabbing things.

    I'm going to enjoy this blog.

    -Clueless in Seattle.

    1. I do include myself in the slack-jawed and clueless category - I wouldn't have had a clue what to do with an upside down sheep.