Autumn colours are appearing and our sheep are starting to show russet coloured bottoms; unlike the flurries of blowing leaves or the spiceyness in the damp air, this is not a natural phenomenom — not entirely.
Our neighbour, out of a sense of humour or aesthetics, marked the ram that he lent to serve our ewes with rustic mellow autumnal paste, the colour of chestnuts and dying bracken. He, the ram that is, is painted with a thick wadge of this sticky raddle, between his front legs, hidden under his deep masculine chest so that as he discretely does his job, the ewes turn brown and a flurry of them follow him and swirl around him like a gust of fallen leaves.
Tupping is not what I had expected, with my human prejudices, when we started farming. We have only one ram, there is no fighting, no rut, no competition for the ewes. The ewes who live together all year, who are related and most of whom were born here are very welcoming to the ram each year. Above, you can see them shepherding him around the fields politely showing him the shelter and the stream.
In turn, and nature is very clever with this, they introduce themselves, as each ovulates and comes into season. For a few hours the chosen ewe will follow the ram closely, nuzzling his neck affectionately. He sniffs the air and checks her out, mounting her tentatively at just the right moment.
Meanwhile there may be one or two other ewes about to be ready, they form a guard of honour, bride’s maids, following closely, waiting patiently; something about the chosen ewe, probably her scent, makes the others hold back.
Soon after she has been marked she retreats a little although she may follow him for the rest of the day while he gets on with the job in his gentle, quite respectful way.
Next day the ewe is back to normal grazing with her other red-bottomed sisters. Once all are red, some by then only very pale pink, the ram will settle down too. He will graze with the ewes and still be larger and handsome but nothing in their behaviour will betray his presence.
But we have a problem!
One of our pretty theave lambs (only 6 months old, precocious/foolish virgin) has developed a far-away look in her eyes and the ram is sniffing ominously at the gate of her field. She must be moved out of his amazing nasal range. But she has been fed on grass all summer, she does not follow my bucket and has no experience of the treats within.
I need help: come on Abi!
Abi is our secret weapon, our dear old ewe who started life as an orphan in our shower-room and taught me nearly everything I know about sheep; she is my lieutenant or perhaps more of a sergeant. She likes to walk around the farm with us, butts the dog for pride of place and the other sheep will follow her.
Sure enough, she comes running when I call and, having shut the breeding herd up in one of their fields she rapidly helps me lead the three foolish virgins across the other field, through the woods and up onto the hill, half a mile away from danger, on the other side of the trees. Here they can sit under the hedge and wonder what it was that made them feel suddenly so strange.