With spring flowers, chicks and eggs both chocolate and hen, Easter is certainly hot on our heels. A little rabbit even crept onto the table too (thanks to Pol Roger Champagne for inviting me to share a dinner party favourite), leaving Poppy completely appalled that Mummy and Daddy might have kidnapped the Easter bunny and eaten him!
However, Easter just wouldn’t be Easter dear Reader, without lambs. Bouncing little bundles of spring joy. In fact, Poppy, Primrose and I have been reminiscing about our orphans from last year and wondering about a few more. Since I don’t have any grazing of my own to speak of, finding willing landowners happy to part with a field for six months is pretty tricky.
So, missing my three bleating little ones, I decided to offer my very inexperienced services to a lovely local (very patient) shepherdess whose flock was about to triple within a matter of weeks. The maternity wing was already full of triplets when I got there and in the biting wind and driving rain, the shed was by far the best place for lambs, ewes (and Margot) to shelter. Keen to put me to work, the shepherdess had me learning the ropes in no time – docking tails, castration (cross your legs – it’s all about the rubber bands)….checking feet and monitoring newborns. Even the polytunnel had been cleared out to be used as a makeshift intensive care unit for difficult births and struggling lambs. Such a lot to get done before the next birth and all that while you’re on red alert for any ewes who look as though they might be going into labour. Scanning and dating I learn, is no real guarantee of just when lambs might make an appearance and the shepherdess has her trusty notebook with her at all times, referring to notes on when each ewe is due and how many babies. Some are first timers, others are old hands at lambing and will be giving birth for the third or fourth time. First timers are always more of a worry, the shepherdess tells me.
Lambing is a curious thing….much like giving birth to human babies. A lot of waiting around, a bit of action, a lot more waiting around and then everything happening in a matter of ten minutes. Reading my sheep husbandry handbook was no real preparation for witnessing my first live lamby birth – it was amazing. Even more wonderful to be there ready to assist when one lamb got a bit stuck in the process and the ewe had to be helped out. Oooh, dear Reader, this was truly Lambing Live and I was standing by like James Herriot in the middle of a field, with a bucket full of delivery essentials and a shepherdess sporting a long plastic glove. I think that the shepherdess was rendered quite dumbstruck when I got out my phone and starting taking pictures….. Oh the shame, dear Reader, I am a complete total farming amateur! Too good to miss recording it for the children to see later that day though!
When the second lamb popped out unaided fifteen minutes later, all hands were on deck to get the newborns and ewe into the trailer before the wet lambs became too cold up at the top of the field. All this care, love and attention for something that will eventually reach the table. I am in awe of the work all our farmers do and how much effort goes into bringing meat to consumers.
Keen to get more practice in, I popped over with Poppy and Primrose to see how the rest of the ewes were getting on a day or so later. Tons more naughty scampering triplets and happy ewes! Anyone who thinks that sheep don’t have much personality couldn’t be more wrong. You can see just what kind of mothers they are by watching them for five minutes. Poppy and Primrose spent an hour running up and down the fields with lambs following and gambolling, their mothers watching on or trotting behind. Definitely what Easter in the countryside is all about!
Much to the girls’ delight, there was even a spot of newborn cuddles to be had. One of the shepherdess’ more troublesome ewes had given birth to her triplets just the night before our visit and one of her babies had really really struggled to perk up following the trauma of birth. Dubbed Minnie, we found her in the kitchen in a cardboard box. A tiny little thing and destined to be fed by bottle for the moment as she hasn’t had much strength and is considerably smaller than her siblings. Snuggling up to a newborn lamb has to be the highlight for Poppy and Primrose this Easter – much better than a chocolate egg any day they told Jerry and I afterwards in the car on the way home!
Looks like little Minnie may well be needing a foster home too………….the prospect sent me scuttling to the garage to get the huge bottle of Milton and lamby bottles out again. Despite Jerry rolling his eyes, there may well be a cardboard box with a lamb in it in the kitchen very soon! Well how could we resist such a darling little face, dear Reader?!!! Happy Easter!