animal psychology, Babies, Humour, Lambing, Sheep, Welsh culture

When is a sheep not a sheep?

Years ago, long before we knew anything about sheep, fate presented us with an orphan lamb.

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Here she is, still nameless and rather thin, at the foot of her ailing mother.  Our subsequent experience “bringing up Aby” (that is her name) forms the basis for some of my recent book, Iolo’s Revenge.

I don’t want to spoil the book for you but can tell you that it was a very steep learning curve and taught us a great deal that we had not previously realized about bonding, despite having five children!

And it’s not just humans that are suckers for baby things!  Here is Pedro our tough and, then, sometimes wilful, dog (who would kill an adult rat or rabbit in a trice) cleaning up Aby with puppy love.

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Here she is a few weeks later and a lot more confident.

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Queen of her domain.

She has had ten lambs of her own now, always helped into the world by yours truly, (though they never really needed it).  She would always lie as close as she could to the kitchen door and call for her private midwife.  She would make a terrible fuss if I went in for a cup of coffee or a call of nature and when the lamb was almost out I would gently help and present it to Aby.  It reminded me of a cat we used to have who would not have her kittens unless my dad was standing by with sterilized nail scissors.

I’ll save you the slippery, slimy pictures.  All cleaned up next day –note the number one –that’s Mum’s number — she was, after all, our first.

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Last October we sold our breeding flock and Aby has retired.  She runs with the new flock that graze our land.

Last week they were to be moved to the farthest field, beyond the woodland.  Now when sheep are faced with a scary predator their instinct is to flock together.  Aby took one look at the enthusiastic sheep dog, a Huntaway bitch, that had come to do the job and she peeled off from the flock and hurtled (she doesn’t hurtle often) towards the sound of Alan’s voice.  She hid with him in the orchard until the job was done and when shepherd and dog came back to the house Aby was standing with Alan in the garden still absolutely confident that when people say “sheep”, they don’t mean her.

She stayed in the garden all night, eating forsythia to which she is rather partial and which had only just recovered from its last assault, and I walked her up to join the other sheep in the morning which she did quite happily but in her own time.

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Hill Farming, Humour, Lambing, Rugby, Welsh culture

Catch a flying sheep!

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Have you ever wondered why the Welsh and the New Zealanders are so good at rugby football – its because they both keep lots of sheep. Sheep-keeping and Rugby have a great deal in common. To do either successfully you must be fearless and have absolutely no hesitation. You must be strong, agile and fast. Also you must enjoy physical contact (have I said too much?).

Sheep keeping is athletic and heroic – no more so than at lambing time which is why lady shepherds attend their daughters’ weddings with black eyes and are frequently seen rolling down hillsides in the tight embrace of a frightened ewe while extracting a lamb with a pop (like little Jack Horner, pulling the plum out of the pie) – oh, what a good boy am I!

another try

Thanks to Phil_Heck for the picture CC/BY/2.0

Last week I rugby tackled a lamb. I did more than that – I proceeded to score a dramatic try with it! I resisted the temptation to throw it triumphantly into the air (sheep don’t right themselves like cats). I didn’t even bounce it on the field and I certainly didn’t try to convert it! I did what I always do and held on tight! I felt heroic and athletic as I sprayed its cord and wrote its number on its side – you can be number 10 like your mum – you can be fly-half!

Then in the glow of pride at my own agility (you know I have a bad back), I noticed it – the finger – the one that types the “P”s, the dashes and the punctuation, the one that wears the ring on my right hand – it was strangely deformed.

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Mallet Finger!  If you are American: Baseball Finger (how silly). I have an athlete’s injury (the orthopaedic website says so – so there!) – I have ruptured a little but very important typing tendon and Alan has splinted it (are there no limits to his talent?)  Slight blueness is due to sheep marker — not insipient gangrene! I have Rugby Finger!

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Hill Farming, Lambing

Triplets!

 

SONY DSCOur hardy Welsh Mountain Sheep aren’t really made for triplets — in ten years we’ve only had three sets.  The first three were all born dead and the mother sadly also succumbed — our biggest ever lambing disaster!

We aren’t technological — we don’t scan, with less than thirty ewes it’s difficult and we don’t have the economy of scale.  We know them all and if they are losing condition we just feed them more. It’s quite exciting seeing what we get — like Christmas!

The second set of triplets were born last year — I watched the first two, large, healthy lambs cavorting around in my torchlight and so retired to bed with a self-satisfied glow only to learn an important lesson in the morning —  the third triplet, equally large and cleaned to a dazzling white was cold and dead on the grass.

This year we noticed the huge, strangely translucent, pink udder but this year we knew what it meant.  It meant we had to watch out for a third lamb.

This year ‘Number 32’ has produced three healthy lambs, though the third didn’t breath immediately and had completely escaped his mother’s attention and would have perished like last year’s — remember sheep can usually only count up to two!

Fortunately, learning from my mistakes, I  sat and watched all afternoon while the first two were meticulously cleaned and properly fed, then Bingo!  Number three arrived, not breathing and with very soggy sounding lungs but nothing a traditional swing or two and some frantic chest compressions would not sort out — amazing!  The swinging really does seem to shift the fluid — I had never really believed it.

Then of course I had to wait till he’d been cleaned and slowly fed, and then some more — we don’t intend to be caught out by our first quads!

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Hill Farming, Lambing

Miracle!

You remember the sad little orphan texel-cross lamb who came to be adopted.

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He put on the mantle of a much loved but non-functional welsh lamb and confirmed our friend David’s reputation (at least with one ewe) as a miracle worker.

Three days later (and considerably less smelly) his magic overcoat has been removed.

Yippee!

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And his Maa is very proud.

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animal psychology, Hill Farming, Lambing

A Bad Start!

This ewe gives no hint that she is labouring until the last few minutes.  This morning she pushed out a large ram lamb just as I was feeding the others — I could see the lamb moving but by the time I got there things were not looking good — I pulled a great wadge of membranes from his throat but he did not react.  I swung him and pressed rhythmically on his chest.  I blew in his nose.  I even gave him mouth-to-nose ventilation (I really shouldn’t do that) but he was dead.

What a waste!  What a blow!  Fifteen seconds earlier, half a minute perhaps and it would all have been different.

I started to take the dead lamb away and the ewe wailed — I put it down again and thought, I wished she could have a live lamb…  Then I remembered!

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Here she is a few hours later with her new lamb. (Can you spot the deliberate mistake!) He’s wearing a sheepskin overcoat!

Thanks to two neighbours this little orphan lamb now has a healthy young mum with lots of milk and the ewe, well, she is none the wiser.  Her lamb that would not move, nor baa, nor feed, that lay in the pen unresponsive to her pawing was taken away for a moment by the big man who comes in the red truck and the next minute her lamb was right as rain — so right, he has two tails!

A little deception and the application of an old country skill and the dead lamb was skinned and the skin with all its associated love is transferred to the orphan (acquired from the other neighbour) and everyone is happy.

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Pink rinse from being rubbed with placenta and mud from earlier pawing.

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animal psychology, Hill Farming, Lambing

Numeracy

Sheep can undoubtedly tell the time.  However I fear their grasp of numeracy is in doubt.  Number 39 is a good mother she has raised  one fine lamb each year since 2014.

Here she is again this year — ‘This is my lamb!’

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’39’ and lamb — 2016

So, ’39’ whose is this?

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Just born and all alone — too young to be all alone!

This year she had twins which confused her — she knew they were both hers when they bleated or came close enough to smell — the trouble was she couldn’t count so when the second one went to sleep she’d wander off and forget it.

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What do you mean — where’s my other lamb?

Thus it was that in the midst of a ferocious blizzard, I was seen running across the above field with a wriggling lamb under each arm, hotly pursued by an angry ewe, trying to knock me over sideways.  Anyway, the penny dropped that I wasn’t trying to abduct them when I plonked them both in a nice dry pen where mum was happy to join them and start her crash course in remedial numeracy, we’re only going up to two this year and she’s picked it up already!

But then, we all make mistakes: meet 33’s lamb!

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Sleep deprivation? — or the reason I can’t back a trailer!

 

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Hill Farming, Lambing

Progress Report!

Several of you have asked what happened to the poor little lamb that rolled in pooh and got rejected because it smelled like a dead badger.

After two harrowing days (for me) in the adopter, the ewe couldn’t tell her large washed and dried lamb from the smaller lamby lamb and they all left together.

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Interestingly the mother seemed less stressed in the adopter than she had before when she was having to constantly fight off smelly alien lamb and protect her lovely lamby lamb from the atrocity.

Also she liked the catering arrangements in the adopter — so much so that at feeding time she now brings her two lambs back into the shed and into her pen to be fed and so that I can weigh them!  Sheep like routine!

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The rest of the time they are outside with the other twins.

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Some of this years twins playing out.

 

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