03.05.2012 | I am a lamb!
Every year it's unbelieveable until it happens. Officially, my first lamb was due on the first of May. The first of May was filthy wet and cold. I did my rounds reluctantly - hoping that no ewe had been forced to give birth in such dismal weather. My trepidation was rewarded with no lambs. I heaved a sigh of relief and went home.
The next day dawned sunny, with the promise of warmth. I was straight out into the morning air and up to the fields in a state of mild excitement (I can't manage anything more extreme until after 8am).
And there, at the extremity of the field, up against a wall was the tell-tale stand-alone ewe. The dark splodge beside it came into focus as I stumbled across the field. Oh yes, the first lamb. Small and perfect, a little black girl lamb. Able to stand, its tummy already full and clearly the recipient of ewe care.
Actually there was another ewe in on the act as well - she definitely thought it was her lamb too. Quite confusing for the poor mite. I moved the new lamb and mum to a separate field so that the could bond in peace.
Shetlands are pretty self-sufficient lambers - I have only had to pull a couple of lambs out in eight years of keeping them. The main issue is keeping their teeny lambs warm enough and out of the grip of foxes.
I disinfect navals, give them a squirt of Insta-life (ectoplasm goo full of vitamins which helps prevent various tummy nasties) and, if it's chilly, dress them in water-proof jackets.
By the end of the second of May, I had two more sets of twins and another single, bringing me up to six lambs.
This ewe comes from a line of very good mothers - I don't think she'll have problems bringing up twins.
Besides providing a good milk supply, mothering ewes need to keep in touch with their lambs at all times. They call to their lambs and the lambs bleat back (it's one way to move a ewe from one field to the next - pick up her lamb and the mother will follow the bleats until she catches up with the errant off-spring). I try and imagine how ewes keep tuned to their own lambs in the cacophony of a baaing flock - they must all have their own signature 'wave-length'.
This morning, a grey and slightly chilly one, the lamb roll call was still at six.
I am moving the flock regularly to refresh the grass, and today was the day for it. These two little lambs were scooped up first and their mum followed them into the next field.
It was easy enough to lure the rest of the flock with a bucket of ewe mix. The final stragglers were the two remaining mothers with lambs born yesterday.
The grass is just about growing - but I can't say it's great. We need warmth as well as rain to get it going properly but it seems to have not been the right combination for truly good growth.
This is just the beginning - there'll be more as more lambs appear. Hopefully in the exciting multi-colour many patterned variety I've come to expect from Shetland sheep.
Further lamb's tales...
09.05.12 | The adventures of Dandelion
A week into lambing and I have 20 lambs: six sets of twins and eight singles. So far the ewes seem to have been quite sensible about lambing on warm days and avoiding the chillier ones.
Mainly, everything has gone to plan. Apart from yesterday when I found a set of hungry and slightly chilly new twins on my morning round. I milked their mum and fed them from a bottle, hoping that a good feed would give them the energy to work out what to do next and little blue coats would make sure they warmed up.
By evening this had mainly worked for one of the twins. A little persuading and I could see that he was latching on well and filling his tummy. The other was weak and definitely not going anywhere.
Unless, of course, he found himself a driver...
Luckily I'd taken the car up as I had other errands to run - these were put on one side (who needs toilet roll and tea bags, eh?) - and I popped lambie on the front seat (disregarding cycling paraphenalia) and dashed over to my friend Lisa's.
Lisa has taken on quite a few lambs from other farmers this season and offered to help out if I had any to bottle feed.
Lambie was well behaved and sat still as we lurched down the lane and then up the valley to Lisa's house on the other side of Todmorden.
Lisa had a roaring fire going and lots of lamb-love on hand courtesy of her daughter Ruari (who immediately named him Dandelion).
At 6.30am this morning she texted to say that he was up and noisy. Would I like to pick him up?
It's much better for lambs to be fed by their mums - although after a separation it can be tricky to pair them back together.
On the one hand, the lure of easy bottles of milk is strong and lamb can just take off after the human purveyor of such rather than looking to its mum and on the other, the ewe doesn't always remember that she even had a lamb (or that's what it can look like).
With this in mind, I rushed him back to his mum (he wasn't quite so well-behaved on the front seat once he'd got his bounce back).
Luckily the other twin was doing fine (that had been a slight concern in the back of my mind).
For once, I put Dandelion next to his mum and he went straight up to her. It kind of helped that the other twin was feeding and so he joined in.
I snook away to do the rest of my rounds as quickly as possible - so that the ewe wouldn't get jumpy and walk away.
Which can only mean one thing. Those lambs have got to be called Dandelion and Burdock.
10.05.12 | It never rains but it pours
Returning to the lamb field yesterday evening was wet. I was worried about anything born in such a downpour. Well, I needn't have - there were no births.
Dandelion, however, was on his own in the middle of the deluge. Burdock and his mum were at the other end of the field.
I sighed. I was soaked from cycling and a little chilly (it had been optimistic sunshine on the way out so I had not put my waterproof shorts on). I thought about how long it would take to cycle home and get the car to rescue Dandelion. And I looked at my rucksack. And back at the lamb.
So I lined my rucksack with a Stephensons' Ewe Mix feed sack, persuaded Dandelion to sit tight and zipped him in - with his little nose pointing out for air. Luckily the Mission Workshop Rucksack is a well-made creation - super waterproof and with really strong zips and straps. It kept Dandelion safe on our 2 mile ride home so that he was back into the warmth and dry much more quickly.
On the track through the neighbouring farm a small child did turn to his mum and say 'That lady has got a lamb in her rucksack'. I don't think his mum believed him as I could hear him repeating himself as I swished off into the distance.
Dandelion is safely back with Lisa for bottle feeding. Oh well, you can't win them all.