Apr 08 2005

Lambing Again

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How the years vary.  Last year winter flew by amidst howling gales and driving rain. This year the contrast has been striking. Up until the third week of March it was so very cold with unusually hard frosts, sun and not a drop of rain. The grass has only just begun to grow and the fields are unusually bare and brown for the time of year. We fretted and fretted that there wouldn’t be enough fresh grass for the ewes with their new lambs. Then suddenly as we reached the end of the month the temperature went up the rain came down.  Warm sun followed and the whole valley burst into life.

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Now daffodils, primroses and celandines suddenly carpet the hillside in yellow. Birds shout about nest building in the hedgerows and ducks quack on the stream. Bantams keep marching out of farm buildings with a clutch of tiny chicks. If they all survive we’ll be over run with them this year.

The bullocks were beside themselves with joy as they blundered out of their winter quarters into the fields. They bucked and danced and rubbed their faces in the mud before skipping up the hill to pastures new and green.

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This years lambing is different too. No year is ever the same but I have never before had five fit little lambs to feed at regular intervals. The first lambs to be born were triplets to a Jacob-cross old timer, a calm quiet experienced ewe. But she had no milk. I climbed into the pen to give her a hand, first with colostrum to get the babies started, then at four hourly intervals, with bottles of milk. She checked the bottles and the lambs, sniffing and tasting, then, pushing her face into mine, seemed to say “that’ll be Ok, thanks”.  She has some milk now but not enough for all three so they race towards me for a top up every six hours.

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The twins are also getting on wonderfully well at last. Their mother was too ill to produce any milk at all and I thought for a while we’d lose all three. But she has recovered and the lambs have slowly gathered strength and learnt to suck from the bottle.  Now they race across the field to me pushing and shoving and  competing with the others. I have mastered holding three bottles in two hands but still some ravenous youngsters have to wait.

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Nearly all the ewes have lambed now and we are beginning to look forward to our routine returning to normal and a good nights’ sleep. Although we have cut down our flock it is still a very busy time.  We realised we were not alone when our farming neighbour said he’d fallen asleep on his feet during lambing this year. Paul was taking just such a much earned rest, deliberately this time, in the afternoon recently when I found a ewe in trouble. “Don’t interfere” is the rule, but after watching for some time I knew I must help her to deliver a large dead lamb. As I showed it to her I thought “I wonder…” and as I gently felt around I found another lamb.  Poor girl, she was too exhausted to do any more but ever so carefully I gave her a hand and out slid the second little chap full of life. Each year brings sad moments as well as success and over the years I have learnt to watch the ewes’ and trust their unfailing instinct about their newborn. They are so wise and caring and they know if all is not well.

This year I have had so many visitors, many more than in the past. Suddenly everyone wants to have a look at the lambs and help me feed them. In the daytime of course! I was pondering this as I was mucking out the donkeys’ stables this morning and have come to the conclusion that we somehow represent the interface between non- farmers and farmers. We came to this way of life some fifteen years ago as a second career.  Unlike our neighbours we are not from generations of farmers and our farm is very, very small, a large smallholding perhaps.  Somehow this seems to make us more approachable to our non-farming friends and acquaintances. They are curious and puzzled. Why do we work so hard, is it worth it, do we just do it for “fun”!

I try not to yawn and mutter “Fun, getting up through the night to feed lambs?!!”  But I restrain myself because, yes, it is our choice and we do enjoy it, even when we’re very, very tired. The knowledge of life on the land is trickling from everyday awareness. I am at once delighted to have all these visitors and deeply saddened by the lack of understanding from the increasing number of people who live in the country amongst the farming community and who are quite unaware of how their lives are supported by farming and the production of food around them. Faces are all turned to the supermarkets without the slightest idea how or from where the shelves are filled. Lasagne was the dish chosen by the village for Harvest Supper last year even though we live in the heart of a farming community. I love Italian food but just this once wouldn’t something traditional like Cottage Pie have been more appropriate, I wonder.

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Soon it will be time to feed all the sheep and bring them down from the hill for the night. The lambs will need bottles and the donkeys their tea. New chicks must be made safe and chickens shut up for the night. We know there’s a fox about. Poor Idi disappeared in mid afternoon a few weeks ago. The donkeys eyored but I was too late. I found her feathers in the hedge the next day. Humphrey is alone once more. The foxes have hungry cubs to feed, the badgers too. We all share the valley and must take our chance.

Now I too must rest. Maybe more lambs tonight.

Daffs

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Lambing Again”

  1. A.Soperon 08 May 2005 at 11:16 pm

    Hi, We are so very lucky to live in this lovly area, with now all the blue bells poking their heads up in the banks and hedge rows. Foxgloves will be next.
    Love reading your piece each month.
    Best regards
    A+R

  2. a.soperon 08 May 2005 at 11:22 pm

    What is this STARNET thing all about ?? I do like the music.
    Best Regards
    A+R

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