As It Happens

Scottish farmer drives 442 km to rescue lamb she sold for meat

Melanie MacLean knew immediately that she'd made a mistake when she sold her favourite lamb Norman.

Melanie MacLean regretted giving up Norman, the 'affectionate' lamb she nursed back to health

After Scottish crofter Melanie MacLean sold a hand-reared lamb she named Norman, she wanted him back — and set off to save him from slaughter. (Submitted by Melanie MacLean)


Melanie MacLean knew immediately that she'd made a mistake when she sold her favourite lamb Norman.

A farmer from the Western Isles of Scotland, MacLean sells her lambs on the meat market all the time. But she'd raised Norman from birth when his mother abandoned him, and developed a strong bond with the creature. 

"I was just so attached to him. It wasn't like the rest of my lambs at all. He was more like a dog," MacLean told As It Happens host Carol Off. "When I sold him, it was like selling your dog."

So a couple of weeks later, she tracked him down to a farm 442 kilometres away, found him among 700 other lambs, and took him home.

'I wasn't sure whether he was going to make it'

Norman was one in a set of triplets. He was so weak when he was born that he couldn't hold his head up, and his mother chose to ignore him and tend to his healthier siblings instead.

So MacLean stepped in to take care of him herself.

In the early days, she says it was touch and go. She kept him under a heat lamp and fed him through a stomach tube. She was with him nearly constantly.

"I wasn't sure whether he was going to make it," she said.

MacLean says Norman is more affectionate than other lambs she's raised. (Submitted by Melanie MacLean)

But as Norman recovered, his bond with MacLean did not break. 

"He was just a very affectionate wee thing. He wasn't simply food motivated. He actually genuinely loved my company and I loved his company," she said.

"I sometimes used to sit in the field and he'd come and just lay down beside me and I'd just be stroking his head. And some lambs just don't like that, and they do distance themselves eventually from you and they become more independent. But he just didn't."

'Like a needle in a haystack'

When it came time to sell Norman, MacLean was hesitant. But ultimately, she decided those feelings would subside and she took him to the auction mart.

"Immediately, I wasn't happy about it, and I was talking to my husband right afterwards and we thought, you know, after about a week I should be OK," she said.

"Time went on and eventually I just said, 'I'm just not getting over this.' I was talking about it every day to him and eventually he said, 'Would you just please phone them and find out where he is?'"

Norman is now home with MacLean and doing very well. (Submitted by Melanie MacLean)

She tracked him down to Jim Fowlie's farm in Strichen, Aberdeenshire. 

"I was a little bit embarrassed, if I'm honest, because I had willingly sold him and it just seemed a bit strange, I think, phoning them back and saying, 'Can I have my lamb back?'" MacLean said.

When MacLean called, Fowlie's wife Irene answered the phone.

"She said, 'I fully understand exactly what you're saying. You know, I've had pet lambs myself in the past and it is a struggle. Don't worry about it,'" she said.

"'The only thing is he's in the field of 700 lambs on a 75-acre field, which is a bit like a needle in a haystack. But,' she says, 'you're very welcome to come and find him.'"

'He came running like a bullet'

A couple days later, MacLean made the seven-hour trip to find Norman, including a two-hour ferry ride.

Right away, she says she spotted a lamb with the same kind of yellow tags she uses on her livestock. When she stepped out of the car, she says he leapt excitedly to his feet. 

"He came running to me like a bullet," she said. "I just couldn't believe it. And I just crouched down and I gave him a big hug and, oh, I was crying and I was totally overwhelmed."

Blown away by the emotional scene, the farmers let MacLean take Norman home free of charge. He's since been promoted from livestock to family pet.

"He's been getting a lot of attention, as you can imagine," MacLean said.

While she plans to keep raising and selling lambs, she says the experience with Norman has changed her outlook on life.

 "You learn lessons in life, and I just won't let my head rule my heart from now on," she said. 

"I probably would have traveled to the ends of the Earth to go and get Norman. Once you make that decision, you just have to go with it."

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Kate Cornick.


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