17 April 1998

It all hots up at lambing

"NANNY, I heard you telling Mummy that you had put a baby lamb in the Rayburn. Why did you do that?"

My four-year-old granddaughter looked up at me rather puzzled.

Why did I do it, I wondered. Most of them died in any case, if they were weak enough to need the oven – bottom one, door open – there wasnt much chance of their survival.

"Can we feed George and Mildred, please Nanny?" requested Andrea, my other granddaughter as she came running in. As I mixed the milk powder I tried to explain to the little girls.

"George and Mildred were very small and cold and their mummies couldnt look after them properly. They had to be warmed up in the Rayburn and I had to be their mummy. Theyre big strong lambs now but they would have died if they hadnt lived in the oven for a little while."

Eight hooves thundered across the paddock as George and Mildred came hurtling towards us, scattering the four Muscovy ducks that had adopted us. The girls held the bottles for the lambs to latch on to. In minutes the milk had vanished and the children beat a hasty retreat before they were knocked over.

Lambing was almost over and I was glad for its such a busy time for everybody. Im not physically involved except as a gopher, fetching drugs from the vets or extra milk powder and of course keeping everyone supplied with meals. These usually develop into case conferences as various lambing problems are discussed.

Two primary school classes visited the maternity field to help them with an on-going farming project. Why do children inevitably find the only dead lamb that hasnt yet reached the dead pit? There were no births for them to witness but they were treated to an elastrator ring demonstration – I wonder how many children are now minus a finger?

One lucky little girl went home with a plastic lambing glove blown up like a balloon. George and Mildred were fed and fussed over. The sheepdogs, Laddie and Nick, enjoyed the unusual attention they received. The teachers were as fascinated as the children and we had to find answers to:

"Are the sheep farmed organically?"

"What about scrapie?"

"How do you dispose of carcasses?"

Every year at lambing time I discover something new and wonder why Ive never thought of it before. Holding bottles for the lambs each day, I realised that George always used the bottle in my right hand while Mildred the one in my left. On asking David about this I found out that lambs always have their own side of the ewe. If one lamb dies the ewe becomes lopsided.

Theres always something new to be learnt or tried out but thats how it is with farming.

Eileen Sullivan