My years in lambing sheds were such painful experiences I’m always impressed by those farmers and shepherds who not only manage the process well, but enjoy it.
That was reinforced last week by a visit to friends lambing over 1000 ewes and watching ‘Lambing Live’ on TV.
The same sense of calm and orderliness was evident at both farms as healthy ewes gave birth to healthy lambs and well organised systems saw them then move on from individual pens to groups indoors then out to grass. Spending an hour or so on the ‘real’ farm with two grandchildren who were entranced by a pen of lambs on deep straw with an automatic milk feeder kept my anti-sheep feelings at bay. That might change, but seeing lambs through a child’s eyes made me smile.
The same was true of watching the Dykes family on their farm at West Linton in the TV spotlight. Hamish Dykes was not only calm while helping a ewe with a tricky birth with the camera on him, but patient when listening to presenter Kate Humble. She is an enthusiast, but a surname has seldom been less appropriate.
Always on the lookout for the downside of sheep I stayed alert for any sign of a dead ewe or the plastic bag containing dead lambs that always seemed to be part of my own lambing experience. Nary a sign, and every small crisis of lambs coming tail first, one leg back, head stuck or temporary refusal to breathe once extracted ended happily.
An occasional hint that it is not always so even in the best of lambing sheds would have been welcome, but overall the five nights of ‘Lambing Live’ was a good advert for professional sheep farming, including the visit to the slaughterhouse to show the quality end product.
Slaughter of a different kind is on the minds of many sheep farmers as in spite of pleas, warnings and publicity campaigns sheep worrying by dogs continues to increase. It’s difficult to know what more can be done to prevent irresponsible owners allowing their dogs to run free and amok among defenceless sheep.
Shooting them – the dogs, that is, not the owners although some might think the humans more culpable than the animals – is one answer. But most attacks are unseen, it’s the aftermath carnage of dead, dying and mutilated sheep that is found. It comes down to some owners seeing dogs chasing sheep as sport and many others suffering the “He/she just wants to play” blind spot familiar to anyone who has been jumped on, pawed and slavered over by any family pet.
A saying I hadn’t heard was quoted to me recently, namely that “As the days get longer, they get colder.” That certainly seemed to be true of March and the cold winds that blew almost incessantly. In spite of that, landwork is well on, there has been some crop growth and the blackthorn blossom this spring seems more profuse than I’ve seen it for some years. Or perhaps that is wishful thinking – as might be my hope that April won’t be poet TS Eliot’s “cruellest month” as it was last year.