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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animal psychology, Hill Farming, Lambing

Snatched within minutes of birth!

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.

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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.

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