What a tragedy when a baby is taken from its mother… But spare a thought for the perpetrator — sometimes they are victims too!
Two new lambs are born before dawn, they are lying with their new mother under the hedge — both healthy. Above the hedge I spot another ewe so, before marking the new lambs, I go to check the other ewe. She is licking the ground and chewing on membranes in the grass; from her rear dangles other membranes and her large udder is streaked with blood — she has obviously just given birth, but there were no lambs.
I hunt up and down behind the hedge — there is no trace. Several neighbours have been troubled by a predator this year.
Damn! Damn! I should have been up earlier — That damned fox has had a new born lamb…
Unless… Something in the manner of the ewe with the two lambs, below the hedge, had not been quite right — as I approached her she had looked excited, not wary, she had given me that Oh-good-time-for-breakfast-look. Sheep that have just delivered usually have more on their minds.
I rapidly fashion a pen out of hurdles and lift the new lambs into it then let the new mother in and examine her pristine rear — it is clean and dry, she has stolen these lambs. More accurately she has kindly fostered them after they rolled through the hedge, probably because of over-enthusiastic cleaning by their old mum.
I return the lambs to number 1 mum who looks doubtful. She smells the first lamb and nuzzles it but pushes the other gently away, it rolls through the hole in the hedge and bleats. Foster mother screams from the pen and tries to jump out, collapsing the whole caboodle. The lamb rushes to her and suckles.
Plan B — I carry the lamb down the not inconsiderable hill (up and down which I have now been running for some time) The foster ewe follows me complaining and I shut her in a more substantial pen, then re-patriate the lamb, which is surprisingly vigorous, with its real mother. ‘Not mine!’ says the real mother and knocks it over.
‘Yes, it is.’
‘No it isn’t — look!’ she’s pushed it through the hedge and it’s running amok, bleating and several of the other ewes are coming up to investigate, including Number 19 who was involved in a custody battle a couple of years ago.
‘I think it might be mine,’ says Number 19,’ I do vaguely remember giving birth,’ she sniffs it, ‘Yes! It’s definitely mine!’
That’s it! I’ve had enough — I bundle the troublesome lamb over the fence, reunite it with it’s real mother and sister and then we painstakingly walk them, with much arguing and to-ing and fro-ing, the long way round to the barn where I shut up mother and both lambs in a small pen.
After such a long and tiresome walk so soon after giving birth on the frosty hillside where it is now raining, the sight of a warm, dry pen and a bucket of feed persuades the mother to concede, ‘Alright they both might be mine, but I still don’t like the look of that big one very much!’
She has now fed both lambs and Alan has bought me a cup of coffee, but still the cries of injustice from the kind, obliging foster mum can be heard — I hope she has her own lambs soon.
And to reassure any farmers reading this, just to be absolutely sure, I go and find the placentas and they were both above the hedge.
The following morning things are not looking good. The mother is butting the larger lamb who is starting to look wary of her.
‘Smell her,’ says the mother, she’s not mine!’
I sniff her — she smell terrible, like a dog that’s rolled in rotting fox-pooh. I sniff the little one — she smell all lamby and nice.
So, while waiting for a friend to bring us a lamb-adopter, I wash the offensive creature with clean warm water — she doesn’t like it much, then I dry her with kitchen towel and finish her off with her sister’s woolly back, then we exercise the human lamb-adopter who has come to investigate — he holds the ewe and the big hungry lamb has a feed and we squirt her with milk. The mother is sniffing them both now and looking confused — hopefully she can’t count. We withdraw and hope for the best.