Even in the Welsh Hills fewer and fewer farmers lamb out in the fields — most do it in the shelter and warmth of large sheds with pens and good lighting and enough sheep to make it worth while and to have someone there day and night.
We are an anachronism — I stumble around our fields with torch or hurricane lamp listening to the sounds of the night — for the soft bubbly baa of a ewe calling to her new-born lamb or the hysterical rhythmic baaing of a frightened young ewe, lambing for the first time. By and large our sheep do not lamb in the hours of darkness — one of the advantages of not having the lights on all the time — their circadian rhythms are undisturbed, even if ours are not. Our lambs usually arrive at first light.
Last night, though, was an exception. It was clear and frosty and there was a huge bright full-moon casting weird shadows over a black and white world. I was woken by a bleat at half past one in the morning and went to investigate.
Up in the corner of our steep field was one of our first-time ewes running after two lively new-born lambs. I’d been worried about her as she had been large and uncomfortable and had had a large swollen udder — it was bare of wool and oedematous so that it looked translucent, like a large pink balloon. This should have made more of an impression on me.
Anyway I was very relieved to find that she had delivered without any trouble and that the lambs were so lively and went back to bed… Mistake!
At dawn Alan counted the sheep and called me — only one lamb at foot and something white on the ground.
Sure enough there was a dead lamb on the ground but the young ewe still had her two lambs, one was tucked up behind her.
After failed attempts to resuscitate the perfect, cold, dead ram-lamb, we had a roll call and tail inspection of the other ewes in the field — no one had any signs of having delivered a lamb.
The two lambs born in the night were exploring their leafy environment and I was pondering on missed opportunities and lessons to be learned:
1. Be particularly vigilant on bright moonlit nights when the light level is high and when all night can seem like just before dawn.
2. An udder like a pink balloon may herald triplets (quite rare in our breed).
3. Remember to wait a while after delivery as it’s the last, often smallest, lamb that slips out unnoticed or sometimes just rolls off down the hill and gets overlooked when the ewe has so much new to deal with.