Yesterday we decided to move the main flock of ewes and lambs to ‘pastures new’ and accordingly opened the connecting gate – not a single sheep noticed. We walked slowly to the bottom of the field and began moving them in the direction of the new field. Suddenly, as if they had just realised our purpose, heads went up, ears pricked and this river of wool started flowing very fast uphill.
No inkling of what lay in store had occurred to any of them. Not a bit of it, as they say. It was late afternoon playtime and one lamb set off at speed towards the steep bank of immature oaks (some 100-150 years old at a guess!) and all but three of the others followed.
The sun was beginning to set and the bright rays threw spotlights between the trunks as seemingly ‘thousands’ – actually a mere 134, minus the three abstainers – of both old, young and middle-aged ewes and all the lambs threw themselves into the ecstasy of navigating the dangers of steep slopes, holes and burrows at Formula One speeds.
Two circuits and all came to an abrupt stop, dictated by the leading lamb. One, maybe two minutes passed and he or she set off again, without warning, gaining at least a four-yard start on the others. The quiet domain of bluebell and stitchwort trampled!
We simply had to wait and watch. Even though we were in a hurry, the moment was so magical, witnessing the flock so happy and so joyful, that we knew we should stand still and enjoy it.
And so to the next morning, this morning, in moonlight and walking fields of cobwebs to check the last few young ewes still to lamb, which they do without much notice.
Our decision this year to allow a group of twenty one-year-olds to have lambs was, perhaps, ill-advised. We do have a troop of splendid lambs, but more than half have needed assistance to give birth.
We have kept cattle since 1953 but established a commercial flock of sheep just four years ago and we have received advice from all quarters: neighbouring sheep farmers, of which there are many; leaflets; websites; books old and new; and the farmer from whom we bought a new ram, encouraged us to breed from any well-grown yearlings weighing at least 37kg. So, accordingly we weighed and chose the finest twenty to put with the new ram. Our ‘sheep learning curve’ gets no less steep but we store up knowledge avidly.
What next: plant potatoes, do the VAT, mow the lawn? No, not the lawn. The new mothers can do that this year; the walled garden is a much-appreciated safe haven for a new ewe to learn her new role.
The wheat, Maris Widgeon – a bread-making variety – looks fine although it is intermittently decorated with mustard plants, an inevitable consequence of the green manure crop which preceded it. This is our first foray into corn farming for more than twenty years, though memories of our ancient but serviceable Massey Ferguson and Clayson combines of the 1980s and 90s are still strong.
Our sheep have prompted many changes and the need to provide them with clean grazing has seen us plough and reseed, sow green manures and corn and so a new cycle has begun – not replacing, but complementing the dominant permanent pasture system here.
Now we are wondering whether to ask the Wool Marketing Board for a derogation in order to try to ‘add value’ to the organic wool that currently attracts no premium in the general auctions, by either selling spun wool or a product made from it in our farm shop.
It is late to plant potatoes but we have learnt that the sheep come first…
The Secret Life of Cows by Rosamund Young is available to purchase for £14.99. To order a copy, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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