Friday, 9 April 2004

It's lambing time - 2004

The most demanding time on the smallholding is greeted with excitement and trepidation in equal measure. We put the ram in with the ewes at the beginning of November so that we lamb nice and late in the Spring at the beginning of April, so avoiding freezing February nights in the lambing shed. The ewes get wider and wider during March til some of them look like dining tables on spindly legs. You know the moment you have been waiting for is imminent when their nipples are the size of organ stops and lying down uncomfortably is their only activity between eagerly consumed feeds. Once you have your first few lambs, you spend your time peering nervously at the remaining expectant mothers, knowing that they are going to get started the moment you are needed elsewhere, and will probably need your unavailable help. This year we have had an unusual amount of singles and that makes for bigger lambs which in turn means the ewe is more likely to need a human latex-covered hand. The best moments are at 5.30 in the morning doing the first round of the day, and a pair of beautifully presented lambs are suckling eagerly at their attentive mother having needed no help from you at all. A quick dose of iodine on their navels to prevent infection, a bucket of congratulatory feed and one of water for the ewe (they drain that first post-birth bucket like a fugitive from the desert) and they are back outside. Each year we wonder at their behaviour, but why is it that the mums-to-be all cluster together and that the new mums set up creche in a separate cluster, welcoming each new mum as the ewes moves inexorably from one status to the other? After about a week, the lambs start to play together and leave the ewes for longer periods to congregate like kids in the school yard, playing chase at ever increasing speeds along the fenceline, proving that lambs do indeed have legs made of springs, by displays of vertical take-off. All this is very cliched and will be familiar to anyone with sheep, but each year it is a fresh miracle, and the sight of lambs continues to stop cars along the lane and gives folks time to grin on the way to and from work.

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