The Unfortunate Tale of Maggot Head Hattie

This story is dedicated to csecooney, because she asked for it. I hope she won’t regret it!

So, I have this psychological problem that prompts me to try to make my life into a fairytale. I’ve learned a lot of interesting things from this compulsion. For example, sharing a cottage in the woods with a bunch of boys is not actually that delightful, and there’s a reason why Snow White ate the apple even though she was pretty sure that fruit peddler looked familiar. I’m guessing it has something to do with the fact that cleaning the bathroom of said cottage full of boys makes death attractive. But I digress. This post isn’t about how I overcame my Snow White complex. It’s about how I overcame my shepherdess complex.

Actually, it’s about Maggot Head Hattie.

The summer after college, I decided that it would be a good idea to move to a remote farm in backwater main to learn the ways of shepherdess-hood from a charming couple of grandmotherly lesbian hobby farmers. There were numerous reasons for this decision, which range from Prolonging Doomed Romance to Pissing Off My Mother to Fluffy Animals Are Cute. But the real reason was that being a shepherdess sounded poetic. I blame Shakespeare.

As you have probably gathered, being a shepherdess was not romantic at all. In fact, I amassed a large collection of farming horror stories, all of which I intend to profit from in my career as a storyteller and writer. I want to get something out of the experience besides the reaffirmation of my reasons for being a vegetarian and the realization that my fantasy of being a shepherdess was complete hogwash.

Some of my farm stories are funny, some of them are sad, and many of them are disgusting, but the only one that ranks on the scale of worst-things-I’ve-ever-seen-in-my-life is the tale of Maggot Head Hattie. This is not a story for the weak of heart. It’s a terrible story, and I’m not just being all Lemony Snicket about it. If you don’t like stories that involve maggots and suffering, I suggest you stop reading now.

Hattie was an unfortunate lamb. In the days before I came to the farm, when Hattie was a little ball of fleece, an over-zealous sheep shoved Hattie into the feeding trough and bashed her fluffy wee head against the side. Hattie sustained a sizable bleeding head wound, and her eye was seriously damaged. My hobby farmer employers called upon Larry the Thumb-less Farmer, their nearest neighbor, for support. He helped them dress the wound and suggested that Hattie would be one to cull early on, as she was damaged goods. Being tender-hearted as only hobby farmers can be, my employers resolved to love Hattie every bit as much as the other lambs, even if she only had one good eye.

Hattie seemingly made a fine recovery, and frolicked in the fields with the other lambs.

One beautiful sunny day, when the fields were golden and the bees buzzed fat and happy, I went out to feed the sheep. Raleigh, my favourite curly-horned baby ram, came over for his snuggle and handful of grain. Then came Rosie and Elsie and… there was something funny about Hattie. I studied her carefully. Her fleece was hanging down over her bad eye. I went to her and brushed the wool away.

The top of her head peeled back.

Underneath the flap of wool-covered skin, her head was riddled with holes. And nestled deep in each hole was a wriggling maggot.

To my ongoing surprise, I did not throw up, faint, or even scream. I did run very quickly up to the farm house to get Mary Anne.

We took Hattie up to the barn. She seemed more distressed by our attention than by the colony of larva living in her head. Mary Anne studied the situation. I held Hattie while she attempted to brush off the maggots with a towel, but they sunk down into their holes.

Okay, I’m getting grossed out writing about this. And it’s about to get worse, so again, you may want to stop here.

Apparently, an old farm trick for sunken maggots is pouring kerosene on the wound. So that’s what we did. We poured kerosene on Hattie’s open head wound.

I felt like a monster. There I was, holding a lamb down while Mary Anne tortured her. But something had to be done, and sheep are not dogs, to be taken to the vet and knocked out with painkillers and other drugs. So we washed her wounds with kerosene until all the maggots were wriggling on the floor. Then we treated the wound and sealed it so that the flies would leave it alone.

That night, we left her in the barn to recover. I walked out to my little cottage at the edge of the field and fell into bed, thankful that I’d never have to repeat that particular day. About an hour later, I woke up to the sound of sheep calling. A sheep in the field would call out, and then a faint answer would echo back from the barn. Hattie was calling to her mother.

I wanted to go out that very minute and reunite them. But it would have entailed going out to the barn, turning off the electric fencing, going back out to the sheep, somehow finding Hattie’s mother amongst all the other sheep in the dark and getting her and only her out of the enclosure, convincing her to come with me to the barn (note: sheep are not bright – as soon as you want them to go someplace, the decide they don’t want to go there, even if they did want to go there a moment before), getting her into the barn without waking up the chickens and causing a big ruckus, and then turning the fence back on before the other sheep realized it was off and made a break for greener pastures. It was not going to happen. So I buried my head in my pillow and tried to ignore my guilty conscious. Eventually, the calling stopped.

As soon as it was light, I went went right down to the barn. And I discovered that Hattie’s mother had broken out of the electric fencing, gotten into the barn, and was waiting outside the stall where we were keeping her daughter. I reunited them, and they lived as happily ever after as sheep can be expected to live.

And that, my friends, is the tale of Maggot Head Hattie.

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24 thoughts on “The Unfortunate Tale of Maggot Head Hattie

  1. It is important that would-be shepherdesses the WORLD OVER read this tale of woe and inscribe it upon the tablet of their HEARTS. Poor Maggot Head Hattie!

  2. This was brilliant. I read this blog, “Getting stitched on a farm,” and they had just been blogging about lambing in this entry (well, actually, they’ve been talking about lambing for a while, but that entry kind of relates a little to what you say in this one–and I do think they mentioned maggots in an earlier one–yes, I remember, it was this entry, where the husband talked about cropping the lambs’ tails.
    Yeah. Being a shepherdess is not what Marie Antoinette thought it was.

  3. I love this story.
    I want ALL your stories.
    I’d find a special box to keep them in.
    I’d bring the box out at banquets and feed your stories to special guests.
    I’d reserve THIS story for either a trusted friend or a most loathed enemy.
    THANK YOU!

    • WHY, HELLO, the Fox! Fancy meeting YOU here! Sevenravens rocks. She’s a storyteller and a harpist and just generally splendid. Plus, SUCH HAIR! Such hair as you never can find in the United States, only in Canada. I’ve seen her hair sprout flowers and vines, but only when she’s playing the harp. Some kind of Faerie Magic.

      • Well, I believe the idea with botflies and vaseline is that you are smothering them so that they will die and then fall out – the idea being that the holes are very deep and the larvae cling if you try to pull them out. With the maggots, it was more of a case of needing to flush them out quickly, before they could do more damage, and the kerosene makes them wriggle and try to escape.
        Glad you liked the story. 🙂

      • I think the idea with the vaseline is that once they start to suffocate, they burrow through the vaseline to the surface, at which point they can be easily removed (because they are no longer clinging). I’ve also seen them just tweezered and carefully pulled out. Either way, parasites are horrible.
        I dreamed last night about giant (2 foot long with limbs comparable to crab legs) praying mantises climbing on me. Not parasites, but certainly enough to reduce me to gibbering, flailing panic.

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