Rosamund Young, author of The Secret Life of Cows and Cotswold farmer, continues her blog series with some insights to life during lambing.
Fighting tiredness at 3 am, 4 am and 20 to six, day after day during lambing, I see more in the dark than in all the light of day. Trudging up and down our Cotswold hills which become more mountainous with each step, I ’enjoy’ the worry of triplets, day after day and night after night. The tiredness falls away as I remember the ewe who looked two hours ago as if she would need help in an hour, and I find I can still sprint uphill, virtuously glad that my beating heart is doing my blood pressure good.
I see the thinnest new moon, high above me and a few days later I see her setting on the horizon beyond the poplars just after midnight. She is a magical iridescent red. Then, in what seems like no time at all, in fields of spring still wet, homing in on a bleating ewe, I see a full half moon glowing an orangey red, plunging its upright body into a stormy wave of cloud. It has power enough for me to count the sheep without my torch: it is 2.30am. Sir Toby Belch’s assertion in Twelfth Night that not to be in bed by midnight is to be ‘up betimes’ provides small compensation when one realises that the next day won’t wait for you to be ready for it. Another night, that torch sees a couchant red-legged partridge sleeping right by my foot in the footprint of a cow.
This difficult winter was long and full of days of rain. Every minute was consumed with trying to make all the cattle and all the sheep, as well as the tiny flock of hens, comfortable, happy and well-fed – sufficiently compensated in diet for the nutrients washed away in rain. Lambing started on the 12th of April, amidst thoughts of spring, but soon gave way to dashed hope for the weather’s improvement. The rain continued while the grass failed to grow fast enough for the sheep.
For some reason the ewes, who were calm by day, so often needed attention after midnight. We tried bringing some of the ewes into the barn, recently vacated by the cows who were spending their first winter inside since we came here in 1980; but the ewes hated it, so back out they went, giving us more exercise than we needed.
But the cherry blossom won through and the calves arrived, proving just how busy our Aberdeen Angus bull, Prometheus (nick-named Promiscuous) had been nine months ago: one high up in Beech Tree Field at 600 feet above sea-level, our highest land; one down near the road to Broadway a few hours later; then another and another – eight so far. Having never heard of ‘EBVs’ (Estimated Breeding Values) before we bought the bull three years ago, we are sincerely grateful for his ease of calving index – the highest of all the bulls we viewed.
I have just one lamb to hand-rear this year, inexplicably rejected by her mother, and of all the lambs I have reared, this one is teaching me more than I am teaching her. I know lambs all want to end up being sheep and not pets, and luckily, they don’t imprint on humans as ducklings would or become dependent on us, in the way dogs do. At the beginning, this teeny-weeny lamb relies on the milk I feed her, and so follows my legs everywhere. She has learned to distinguish my voice from all the others that she hears: my voice gives her milk and my legs belong to my voice. Even when she is on the mat outside the kitchen door with everyone inside talking non-stop she ‘says’ nothing until I speak and then she cries and calls. As soon as I open the door and stroke her, she is quiet and content. Of course she could tell the time, and if her strictly observed feeds were late, she would scream!
Photograph: Steph French
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