The lambs are growing really fast. Every time I look at them they seem to have doubled in size.
The best time to watch them is just before sunset when they have their athletics practice. It reminds me of when I am trying to get the children to bed. The silly games start, the giggling and messing about, stunts at the top of the stairs (“Look Mummy, I can leap across the landing”), the headstands on the bed instead of putting on pyjamas. Well, it seems lambs do the same kind of thing. They frolic and leap around, racing up and down the field to perform their jumps from all four feet, sometimes with a side-kick thrown in. Meanwhile the Mums are eating as much grass as they can before nightfall – a serious business.
There is one more Ewe to lamb. She is a little Ewe really, one of last year’s orphan lambs that our farmer friend brought to us. We fed her and two others, on a milk bucket until they were big enough to go out on to the grass with the big sheep. The bucket has teats with tubes running into the bucket of milk which stays warm, floating in water like a bain-marie. The best thing about the bucket is that the lambs can feed on demand. As a result they thrive and grow much better than if they were solely bottle-fed.
The three little orphan lambs were to help eat the summer grass and when they were big enough, go for meat. The children named them Stockings, Louis and Fluffyflops. Stockings (a castrated ram lamb) and Louis (a ewe lamb, but 4 year-olds don’t have male/female name distinctions) were both Zwartbles, whereas Fluffyflops is an unknown mix with a fair whop of Texel. Zwartbles are essentially a milk sheep. Tall and leggy, they do not easily fatten up. You would be better milking them and making cheese than trying to fatten them up for meat. They have a sweet nature and a ewe can often feed three lambs comfortably.
When late Autumn came they weren’t really fat enough to go so we held on to them a while longer. We went away over Christmas to escape the mud and put our Ewes (who were entertaining Bert the Ram) in with the orphan lambs, all in one field, up on the cliffs with a sea-view on my farmer friend’s land. We didn’t think Louis or Fluffyflops were big enough to come into season so we did not worry about them being in with Bert.
Oh how wrong one can be! When the scanner-man came in February, I ran the orphan lambs through the scanner just to be sure. Louis was fine, Stockings was a boy so no problem there, but Fluffyflops – well, the words from the Scanner-man’s mouth told me she was pregnant. I’m still not sure whether the expletives from my mouth were any more shocking than the fact I had to say her name in public among proper farmers. I doubt I will ever live it down, but these things happen and the upshot is that we had a teenage pregnancy on our hands.
Some farmers allow their ewe lambs to run with the ram as a matter of course. There are different views on it and all are valid. For me, in my new and inexperienced view, I think that the ewe lambs are still growing, so how can they be in the best position to grow a healthy lamb? My main problem was that I clearly had to keep her and feed her longer than planned. Among other things, it has proved to be a great opportunity for the lesson in “it really can happen the first time”. This is real, rural ‘Relationships and Sex Education’.
The Scanner-man said she was due in May and as Beltane passed yesterday I am keeping a watchful eye on her as she waddles around the field. I am feeding her a little extra, some sheep nuts, not too many. I don’t want the lamb to get too big for her, yet I know that she is still growing herself and needs a little extra nutrition to stay healthy. It’s a tricky balance. I will breathe easier once she has lambed.