Farm Life

Elizabeth Elder: Life in the lambing season

Thursday 15 April 2010 05:36

We've been building up to this campaign for a long time, it's been all over the media and finally, officially, it's all kicking off. Yes, the lambing season has arrived.

For us, the first phase is the Mule lambing at the ground we rent 12 miles away, then after that the main Blackie lambing gets underway at home.

That's what happens in theory, but sometimes the two seem to merge, leading to long days and frayed tempers.

We lamb everything outside, so there is no getting up in the middle of the night - but there is a lot of getting up very early in the morning and working through until after dark.

As part of the build-up, we all watched Lambing Live on BBC last month and enjoyed it. It was a relief to see a programme on farming which presented things in a straight-forward and good-humoured way, with proper farmers (not celebs or good-lifers).

There was probably marginally less swearing and gore than is typical here, but maybe that's how things work in Wales. If Kate Humble wants to buy any other lambs, I'm sure we could help her out.

Back at the ranch, things have got off to a steady start - since the weather improved the ewes are holding off for rain before they really get on with it.

The environment at home is also much quieter than normal at this time of year, as the army has a ceasefire for lambing on the ranges. This allows the shepherds to get out to the ewes in the impact areas and the estate staff to carry out repairs and maintenance.

In fact, only a small part of our farm is in an impact area, so the main risk to our livestock from the army is from road traffic accidents. The range roads are unfenced and the lambs don't have any road sense.

The children have been a great help so far - taking it in turns to accompany Jake during their Easter holidays, between sporting commitments. They are particularly useful for opening and closing gates, catching lambs and generally acting as an extra pair of hands. As a result, they are both very fit - which has probably enhanced Archie's performances for Alnwick RFC Under-10s recently.

The children haven't actually lambed anything themselves yet, but then it is only a very small proportion of our ewes which need intervention. We have hill sheep and they have much fewer multiple births (and hence trouble) than the in-bye types. I confess that, being a bit squeamish, I don't get involved with the more gory - or even just plain slimy - aspects of lambing such as midwifery or skinning dead lambs. I'm more back-office/catering/support staff. We always get a few pet lambs, but they are always set on to ewes before the end of lambing. Quite right too - they are just a pest to have to feed over an extended period.

I remember Jake being quite outspoken on this subject. We had gone out for the evening with my new work colleagues - all city accountants. "Do you have pet lambs?" they asked. "All pet lambs should be shot," announced Jake, killing the conversation stone dead.

Today I have been feeding one pet and given some supplementary feeding to twins in the field. We've also got a pet calf named Colin at the moment. His mother was an old cow who seemed to dry herself off after a couple of weeks and Colin was in a bad way for a while. Fortunately, we have persuaded him to drink from a bottle and he should be OK.

Last year we ended up with a pet calf called Bertie - a rejected twin. It appears that Jake is naming them in alphabetical order, a bit like the hurricanes.

Bramble, the border terrier, has made a few escapes from the garden to try to get involved. How could she resist with plenty of afterbirth available to either eat or roll in?

Bramble also finished off the Easter Eggs the other day. I could tell she had done something wrong as she wiggled her way towards me, a sure sign of guilt, when I opened the door. Does she prefer afterbirth or Easter Eggs? It is hard to tell - both have had similar anti-social effects.

On the subject of anti-social behaviour, Sam, the young collie, has started running off into the distance and proving difficult to catch. He did this 10 minutes before the start of the Grand National, to Jake's considerable annoyance. At present we (actually, it's me) are having to exercise him on a lead, in case he takes off after lambing ewes. Every so often a sheep will catch his attention and he will slink along towards it before lying down and watching it with his ears pricked. This is, apparently, a good sign. However, he is untrained, headstrong and powerful, so exercising him can be akin to practicing water ski-ing.

Jake tells me he is going to train Sam after lambing is over - but if I have to have a daily tussle with Sam until then, something's going to give and I fear it will be me.

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