The day length is now critical and our harvesting and squirrelling hormones are at an all-time annual high as we prepare for a long wet winter. This, according to Islwyn who remembers many summers, has been the best ever, so we know that when the rain returns it will punish us!
The ewe-lambs have gone — up the hill to Deryn, who bought our lambs at market last year and was pleased to buy them privately this year. She and her husband cross their ewes with a commercial meaty ram to produce fat-lambs for market but need our hardy type to replace their breeding stock.
On the day we take them up, three of their number escape onto the lane, Deryn and I give chase — both ladies of a certain age — as they pass the gate to one of her fields her own lambs stampede down to the gate to see her, led by a tame (bottle fed) lamb — she flings open the gate and lets them all out onto the road where they mill around and sniff at our reticent three who stop in astonishment — as does the middle aged man in the BMW, who had been giving it a burst along the lane. Deryn turns and walks confidently back to the yard and all the lambs follow without question including the three escapees. I think lady shepherds often do things very differently from their male counterparts and I am very happy that our ewe-lambs are going to be talked to (they know a little Welsh) and are not going to have to deal with shouting and sticks and snapping dogs in their new home.
The ram-lambs are big and vigorous this year and nearly ready for market. They have horns this year which has reminded me why we always got a hornless ram to serve our ewes in the past —
— wrestling these little buggers in the hot weather in shorts and a vest (me, that is) to trim them and worm them and insert their ear tags has left me black and blue with strange linear bruises and abrasions on my chest where I clutch their heads to my bosom (linear lesions equated to ‘abuse’ in my previous life). Catching them is not easy —
— the last seven or eight are proving almost impossible and we are reduced to picking them off one-by-one in a makeshift trap. We are eating our lunch by the back-door basking in the winter sunshine, with the cats and dog reclining around us.
We hear the sound of horn against galvanized trough — we stop eating and jump up, me and the galvanized husband, and we rush the 400 yards to tippy-toe the last few steps under cover of the hedge to slam shut the gate, trapping one,two or three ram lambs. After worming them and tagging them we release them into the field with the done-ones and return to our empty plates — the cats are nowhere to be seen and the dog wags his tail at our return.
When left alone for a moment Alan prepares to cut down another tree. He has declared war on Leylandii and is muttering ‘biomass’ — some of ours are 15 meters high and still growing and we have to fell them before they get too big to handle which, in truth, they have already!
We rope them and cut them at 4M high — they’ll soon green up with ivy and honeysuckle. This is as high as a man who is probably not as stable as he was, can reach on a wobbly ladder with an anxious wife clutching its base, a chain saw that frequently won’t start and, when it does, cuts out at altitude. There is cursing and intermittent roaring of the saw, punctuated by fretting of the wife. But all is rewarded by that sound of cracking wood and breaking branches, the exhilaration as we run for our lives, and that mighty thud… ‘Where’s the dog!’
It’s okay, he’s here!’
Then the work really starts as we haul the cut trees to our woodland area to strip the trunks for firewood and burn the brushwood — a reassuring smoke signal to our neighbours that we have survived another day.
The midges have gone so at dusk I can abandon my kitchen with its bubbling cauldron of blackberries, its steeping elderberries and glugging wine jars to pick damsons to the rhythm of a pecking bird, harvesting nuts from a nearby hazel tree where there is the rustle of a squirrel filling its pouch then hitting the ground running, undulating along under the hedge then shooting up another tree. They are even busier than we are.