In Chapter Three of All Things Bright and Beautiful, James Herriot is delivering a lamb with an especially large head when a runt scampers past him and takes a drink from his patient’s udder. “Oh, that’s Herbert,” the farmer, Rob Benson explained. “Little youth’s mother won’t have ‘im at any price. I was going to put him with the pet lambs but I saw he was fendin’ for himself. He pops from one ewe to t’other and gets a quick drink whenever he gets a chance. I’ve never seen owt like it.”
Herriot keeps an eye on Herbert as he works on Rob Benson’s difficult cases. Some mothers warn the runt off by shaking their heads. When Herbert sneaks up on a particularly big ewe to steal a nip from her udder, she butts him with her head, sending the “little animal flying high in the air in a whirl of flailing legs.” He landed on his back, and immediately sneaks under another mother at the feeding trough for a quick drink.
“Lambing time is the most hectic period of the vets’ and farmers’ year,” James Herriot (Alf Wight) writes in James Herriot’s Yorkshire. “Some of the farmers, like Rob Benson, do not go to bed for six weeks.” Farmers have wrestled with all kinds of complications associated with pregnancy, and this culminates with the births, some so difficult that veterinarians like James Herriot must be called out. Likewise, this time is draining for the vets, as “spring is the time when other livestock are at their lowest ebb, cows and beef cattle having been confined indoors through the long winter.”
On a later visit to Rob Benson’s farm, Herriot finds a ewe with a belly full of dead lambs. “The lambs were putrid and distended with gas, and I had to use a scalpel to deliver the little bodies with the least discomfort to the mother.” By the time he was through, the ewe was clearly ailing. Without a lamb to revive her interest in life, he and Rob Benson feared that she would die. “Just at that moment a familiar figure wandered into view. It was Herbert, the unwanted lamb, easily recognizable as he prowled from sheep to sheep in search of nourishment.” Herriot suggests a disguise for Herbert, and Benson skins one of the dead lambs and ties its skin over the persistent runt.
A week later, Herriot again returned to Rob Benson’s farm, where the farmer pointed out, “There’s that awd ewe with Herbert.” The mother has taken to Herbert, who now, far from being a runt, looks rather obese, as he’s getting all the ewe’s milk. “I reckon he saved the ewe’s life,” Rob Benson says. “She’d have pegged out all right, but she never looked back once he came along.”
It’s amazing to look at these seemingly helpless creatures, and think of them as possessing such determination. But often those among us who seem most frail, broken, and helpless are the ones who push past their fear and insecurities to accomplish great things. Many times, those of us who seemingly possess greater strength and abilities give up instead of persevering toward our goals. The story of Herbert underlines that when we give up, not only do we lose, but so do those whom our efforts would benefit most.
In summing up Herbert, James Herriot wrote, “There was no doubt about it—that lamb had guts.” So I press on, fixing my eyes on my desired destination, in the hope that as much can be said of me.
Related Internet Links
Read “Lambing Scenes” in James Herriot’s Yorkshire
Read Herriot’s story of Herbert in All Things Bright and Beautiful
A short reflection on James Herriot by a Missouri farmer during lambing season