blue stringWherever you go in the French countryside you will see blue baling twine. Not too much languishing in ditches or otherwise littering the place, but lots along fences and across gateways, keeping cattle in. Cows are terrified of the stuff since it resembles the equally scary and much more painful blue electric fencing wire that’s very common. All you need is a piece of blue string and a cow will do anything you want it to.

Baling twine started out in a more ecofriendly form processed from hemp and did the business for years. However, as hemp production declined for various reasons and oil became plentiful, on came tougher, cheaper nylon twine. Why blue has risen to predominance I can’t say and haven’t been able to find out. Maybe here in France to match the ubiquitous blues, working outfits of many country dwellers.

But why on earth am I blogging about it? Because it’s dangerous stuff. The large round bales of hay and straw you get these days require a lot of metreage of twine around them. (Farmers buy the stuff in 2km or 6km spools!) We’d heard tales that sheep and even cows could throttle themselves in it while eating from a bale that still had its string on it. Well, two of our huarizos nearly went the same way the other day. Now normally we’re very conscientious and make regular patrol in the hangar where our hay is kept and to which the llamas have access, to check that there isn’t any twine coming loose from half-eaten bales. However, as a result of a couple of busy days on top of which I was struggling with my incredibly annoying and sore neck and shoulder injuries, I’d been negligent.

Handsome huarizo Fionn none the worse for his misadventure

Handsome huarizo Fionn none the worse for his misadventure

So Friday morning, as usual, after feeding the sheep some grains, also as usual I doled some out to the llamas and alpacas that had come up to the fence. Fionn is the only one of the huarizo youngsters who’ll eat from our hands at the moment. He always tags along with his mum Katrina for a morning treat. Well, he wasn’t there, and Grainne wasn’t hanging around mum Windermere either. This needed investigating. I climbed over the fence, squelched through the welly-sucking mud and went into the hangar. First I saw Grainne standing with her head down. Not a natural pose at all. Next to her was Fionn, kushing (laying down with his legs tucked underneath). I quickly saw that Grainne had a length of twine going behind her neck that was pulling her head down. But where was it coming from? Fionn.

I freed Grainne easily enough, but soon saw that Fionn had managed to truss himself up very securely – all four legs and his neck. How on earth he managed to do that I can’t even imagine. Normally I have some sort of cutting implement on me, but not today. I’d lent my penknife to Chris for some reason a day or so ago. I yelled for Chris, but he was a good distance off with the pigs. So feeding Fionn some grains which he was happy enough to chobble I darted off to round up my husband. It took a good few minutes of untangling and cutting to get Fionn de-stringed. He was clearly in pain to start with, I imagine from stiff muscles and pins and needles as he must have been caught up for a good few hours if not overnight, and did the dying llama act of collapsing helplessly on his side. We weren’t having that and gave him a few shoves. He reluctantly got up and limped around to start with but was quickly back to normal. However, if he’d been left much longer, he might have throttled himself or cut the blood supply off to one of his legs.

So lesson learned. No skimping on stock and string checks, no matter how grotty I’m feeling. That was a real wake-up call to be ever vigilant and luckily had a happy ending.

(Down under, they turn baling twine into works of art. Have a look here!)