Being an unhappy retired sheep person, it happens every year, and I become obsessed with sheep.
Actually the calendar for shepherds really starts in late summer.
The ewes are sick of their lambs by then, and need to be weaned, and to have a rest before the next event which is tupping – next year’s lambs in the making.
This involves checking the health of the ewes, teeth; feet and udders and updating their vaccinations and worming, dipping, foot-bathing. shearing and lamb sales, all to be slotted in with other jobs.
Tupping is when the rams are got into ‘breeding trim’, teeth, feet other parts of their anatomies (not udders), updating their vaccinations, worming shearing and finally the fitting of their crayons – blocks of wax attached to their chests so that when they start the most important activities of their year, we can know exactly how they’re doing, when and to whom.
This is when your next year’s profits are started, so there can be quite a lot of interest, speculation and discussion.
For example, we once had a smallish ram lamb and a large ewe, and we’d been discussing his ability to make the grade.
Then one Sunday morning our young son came running in after taking the dogs up the field, shouting “he’s got her, he’s got her!’
The joys of living on a farm – no need for the birds and the bees.
So you’ve got your ewes in lamb, depending on how early you want the lambs.
We used to have two groups. One flock tupped in August to lamb in January for the early lamb trade, and the second in November for March.
The early lambers came into the shed about Christmas to get fed and cared for, then after they’d lambed stayed inside for at least a week, partly to make sure they were properly mothered up and partly because the weather could be harsh and lambs could die, and there is no grass till about March.
This is the best time for shepherds, very hard and tiring but magic and rewarding. Lambs die and ewes are ill and the work never stops all day and night for weeks.
Nodding off on a pile of hay bales at 3am isn’t what’s supposed to happen!! Ewes reject their lambs; have no milk; pinch other’s lambs then abandon them when their own are born, by which time the real mother won’t have it back. Nightmare.
And there are orphans and sick lambs in the Rayburn being fed from a tube. The options for things going wrong are endless. and sometimes gruesome!
The March lambers could be out after a day as life is much easier for them once the weather is better, and there’s nothing like spring grass to bring the ewes’ milk on.
You still get abandoned lambs in the fields and they are prey to foxes or get chilled and die from sudden bad weather. Your children complain that they’ve been abandoned; that the foods always boring; that they often nearly miss the school bus, and worst of all they are embarrassed by you.
They still remember telling me to stay in the car and offering to go in the shop for bread because “you smell terrible mother!!” But there’s nothing better than a field full of ewes with happy lambs.
Which brings us to this time of year. Plenty of reality programmes on television and visits to “Open Farms” for people to see what goes on, so the joys and struggles are familiar to most people these days.
For me as I’m driving about, I can’t help checking fields for ewes who may be in trouble, and later, lambs dancing along the fences. There have been a few near misses as I’ve not been looking at the road quite as I should!
And that takes us full circle. All out in the fields happily growing, ready for the regular dipping and worming and so on, till the final one when weaning happens. I am very sad aren’t I?
This was written by Rosemary Allen is a retired livestock farmer living near Ellesmere