Farming Jargon

This is a photo of Melissa worming the sheep. This must sound very weird to non-farmers. We give worms to our sheep? No, the more descriptive term would be de-worming. We give them medication to kill the worms in their intestines. (Grazing animals tend to ingest worms, which hang out in their intestinal tract and suck blood and do all sorts of damage.)

It gets worse. Melissa is drenching that lamb. Drenching means you make them swallow the medication. She’s using a drench ‘gun’ to get the medication far enough into their mouths they have to swallow. For years a close friend thought we submerged the sheep when we drenched them, getting them all wet.

Sometimes farmers use jargon that even confuses other farmers. I recently did a booksigning in my home town, and my favorite high school teacher showed up. Turns out the guy used to raise sheep (who knew high school teachers had lives outside of school?) So we started laughing and swapping sheep stories.

At one point he shook his head, eyes twinkling. “Ever had a ewe who cast her withers?”

Cast her withers? Ahhh….hmmm.

He saw my confusion. “You know, she threw her bed.”

Okay, now I’m thinking…petulant sheep? Temper tantrum? Then I remembered some old-school shepherds refer to a ewe’s uterus as her ‘bed,’ sort of like it’s the bed where the fetus hangs out.

Relieved, I nodded. “Oh, you mean she prolapsed her uterus.” Her uterus had turned itself inside out and come out her vagina.

“Yeah!” Mr. H. said. “I thought it was the afterbirth, so I grabbed hold of it and pulled for all I was worth.”

Okay, feeling faint now….

Luckily Mr. H figured out what he had and soon stopped pulling. Lordy.

More jargon. When you meet a sheep farmer, you can safely tuck your thumbs in your jeans, rock back on your heels, and say, “So, how’d lambing go this year?” When the ewes give birth to lambs, we call the process lambing.

When you meet a cattle rancher, impress him or her by looking thoughtful and asking, “So, how’d calving go this year?” When cows give birth to calves, it’s called calving.

Watch out for pigs, however. You’ll get a snicker and a snort if you ask a pig farmer, “So, you started piggleting yet?” The correct term for hogs giving birth is farrowing.

But this is such a boring word, and on the surface, makes no sense. I’m sure there’s a reason for it, but I’d like to propose we replace farrowing with piggleting. The English language is fluid, after all (admit it—you use ‘google’ as a verb) so why not?

Piggleting is a more accurate term and using it will improve communication between farmers and non-farmers.

Besides, I came up with the word, and I think it’s darned cute.

4 thoughts on “

  1. An alpaca giving birth is called unpac(k)ng by some alpaca breeders. Perfect, no?

    I discovered your blog through a link from Wendyknits, and lo and behold, we’re practically neighbors! I have a ten acre place near Blooming Prairie. (SW of Rochester)

  2. Unpacking? I love it. If giving birth could be as easy as unpacking a suitcase, I might have considered it myself!

    Bunnying? Rabbiting?

    Annie, I’m at the Apache Mall B & N Sept 16 for booksigning at 1 pm.—come visit!

  3. Drenching, by dipping sheep completely under a trough of liquid is exactly what they used to do in the old days, hence the word.

    And as for farrowing, well, the word is over 1,000 years old and comes from ‘farwen’ = to give birth. Shame to lose it after all this time but ‘piggleting’ is cute 🙂

    As for ‘bed’, it’s far older than the idea of having a bed for the fetus to lie in, older even than ‘farwen’. It’s from the ancient English which, loosely translated means a foundation of some kind, something to build on.

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