Ecology, Hill Farming

The Midwife has arrived…

in her black and white uniform.

SONY DSCWho called her?  Nobody knows.  But she knows: she knows exactly when every baby is due and she moves in a day or so before to watch over the mother.

Unlike her human counterpart she has no concern for the mother, she is here to collect the placenta and the membranes.  There’ll be no rotting flesh on our fields to attract predators.  All will be whisked away by the midwife bird.

She, or he, has been working up the valley following the wave of lambing which creeps up with the warming air and the growth of the grass.  The first sign  of her presence is a smear of wool on the field;  she has taken the liberty of pulling some wool from a ewe’s back to line her own nest and leaves a little on the grass, alarming as she chose the wool marked with red marker — does the colour of blood attracts her?

Magpies are hated by most farmers because of their partiality to another delicacy: they will peck the eyes from dead sheep and sometimes from not-quite-dead sheep and even from the head of a partially born lamb.

This upsets farmers (not surprisingly) but the flash of this bold and watchful bird will often alert him to a miscarriage, premature lambing or a fallen ewe and you can see magpies on occasions, perched on the back of a sheep, patiently picking out maggots from soiled wool which, if left, would attack the skin and eat into the sheep’s flesh causing rapid septicaemia from fly-strike and death if untreated.

Magpie looking for parasites and maggots

Magpie looking for parasites and maggots

The midwife bird is here to warn you that lambing is nigh — ovine tempers are frayed but the fields are drying out nicely so

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brace yourselves for an avalanche of lambs.

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