Hill Farming, Lambing


Birdwatching Ewe

What is bothering this ewe?

Apparently in early labour, suddenly she sniffs the air and looks up into the trees.  She is completely distracted from the job in hand and agitated — whatever it is, she does not like it!


Circling  above her is a large bird of prey — a buzzard, it wants a really good look at her.  Like the magpies that bounce (half flying, half jumping) around the nearby pasture, he is interested in the cleansings (placenta and membranes) and they seem to  sense a ewe in labour from miles away.  In fact this one has taken up residence in the stand of mature oak trees just above the pasture which gives him prior claim — or so he thinks, the crows and magpies think differently.

He swoops low ‘buzzing’ our ewe.



Then he perches in the tall hedge to watch her — and waits.  She can’t settle.

Sheep in labour are very vulnerable and with any threat their contractions will cease for a time.  I don’t think that a buzzard, or indeed a domestic cat, is much of a threat to an adult sheep or a healthy lamb but there is something in their primitive background that responds to the shadow of a hawk, the shape of a cat and of course the bark of a dog that really upsets them at lambing time.  Dog walkers should bear this in mind because even the best behaved dog on a lead, can spook a ewe whose labour may become prolonged so that her lamb dies or, if she is beyond the point of no return , she may drop the lamb and run.

We like to see the birds of prey — we were very excited when we thought we saw an osprey recently, so are reluctant to chase them away.  Anyway, while I was wrestling with this dilemma this buzzard got bored waiting and flew off.

The ewe slumped immediately to the ground and finished the job.


I am not a buzzard or a cat and she let me approach to help her with the first lamb and soon she had two beautiful, tall, strong lambs running at foot, one male and one female.

animal psychology, Sheep

The Missing Link?

You might think that, at the time of a General Election, being born without ears would be a good thing, but Gladstone the lamb, now more generally known as Gladys, can actually hear quite well.  When a bird squawks or the pigeon that has moved into our expensive new barn owl box starts cooing (as well it might) Gladys pricks the tufts, where her ears should be, and cocks her head towards the sound.

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She is very active and, although someone I thought was my friend accused her of having knobbly knees, she appears to be growing and developing normally.  We bottle fed her for three days by which time she had cottoned on to the workings of her mother’s udder and dismissed us.  This was very gratifying!

Here she is with her friends — running her mum ragged — mum doesn’t notice that she is any different but then mums don’t — in fact she gets quite muddled about which two lambs belong with her!

Sheep express themselves with the subtle waggles of their ears and their angles of elevation so it is no wonder that Gladys is becoming very loud — compensating vocally for her lack of ability in the semaphore department — the missing link to talking sheep?

Hill Farming, lifestyle

Squirrelling Days

The day length is now critical and our harvesting and squirrelling hormones are at an all-time annual high as we prepare for a long wet winter.  This, according to Islwyn who remembers many summers, has been the best ever, so we know that when the rain returns it will punish us!


The ewe-lambs have gone — up the hill to Deryn, who bought our lambs at market last year and was pleased to buy them privately this year. She and her husband cross their ewes with a commercial meaty ram to produce fat-lambs for market but need our hardy type to replace their breeding stock.

On the day we take them up, three of their number escape onto the lane, Deryn and I give chase — both ladies of a certain age — as they pass the gate to one of her fields her own lambs stampede down to the gate to see her, led by a tame (bottle fed) lamb — she flings open the gate and lets them all out onto the road where they mill around and sniff at our reticent three who stop in astonishment — as does the middle aged man in the BMW, who had been giving it a burst along the lane.  Deryn turns and walks confidently back to the yard and all the lambs follow without question including the three escapees.  I think lady shepherds often do things very differently from their male counterparts and I am very happy that our ewe-lambs are going to be talked to (they know a little Welsh) and are not going to have to deal with shouting and sticks and snapping dogs in their new home.

The ram-lambs are big and vigorous this year and nearly ready for market.  They have horns this year which has reminded me why we always got a hornless ram to serve our ewes in the past —

Prize Ram-Lamb

Prize Ram-Lamb

— wrestling these little buggers in the hot weather in shorts and a vest (me, that is) to trim them and worm them and insert their ear tags has left me black and blue with strange linear bruises and abrasions on my chest where I clutch their heads to my bosom (linear lesions equated to ‘abuse’ in my previous life).  Catching them is not easy —

Fast Forward

Fast Forward

— the last seven or eight are proving almost impossible and we are reduced to picking them off one-by-one in a makeshift trap.   We are  eating our lunch by the back-door basking in the winter sunshine, with the cats and dog reclining around us.

Guilty cats.

Guilty cats.

We  hear the sound of  horn against  galvanized trough — we stop eating and jump up, me and the galvanized husband, and we rush the 400 yards to tippy-toe the last few steps under cover of the hedge to slam shut the gate, trapping one,two or three ram lambs. After worming them and tagging them we release them into the field with the done-ones and return to our empty plates — the cats are nowhere to be seen and the dog wags his tail at our return.

When left alone for a moment Alan prepares to cut down another tree.  He has declared war on Leylandii and is muttering ‘biomass’ — some of ours are 15 meters high and still growing and we have to fell them before they get too big to handle which, in truth,  they have already!



We rope them and cut them at 4M high — they’ll soon green up with ivy and honeysuckle.  This is as high as a man who is probably not as stable as he was, can reach on a wobbly ladder with an anxious wife clutching its base, a chain saw that frequently won’t start and, when it does, cuts out at altitude.  There is cursing and intermittent roaring of the saw, punctuated by fretting of the wife.  But all is rewarded by that sound of cracking wood and breaking branches, the exhilaration as we run for our lives, and that mighty thud…  ‘Where’s the dog!’

It’s okay, he’s here!’


Then the work really starts as we haul the cut trees to our woodland area to strip the trunks for firewood and burn the brushwood — a reassuring smoke signal to our neighbours that we have survived another day.


The midges have gone so at dusk I can abandon my kitchen with its bubbling cauldron of blackberries, its steeping elderberries and glugging wine jars to  pick damsons to the rhythm of a pecking bird, harvesting nuts from a nearby hazel tree where there is  the rustle  of a squirrel filling its pouch then hitting the ground running, undulating along under the hedge then shooting up another tree.  They are even busier than we are.



Why Blog?

Lambs2014 009gambolling

Why blog?

I blog because when someone asks ‘What have you been up to lately?’ my mind goes a  blank and when I ask myself, ‘What’s it all about?’  I don’t always know.  These days my concentration is so much upon the now that I lose perspective.

Once it’s logged and blogged and photographed it’s there to be recalled, it is fixed in the narrative — made sense of — preserved — formatted for storage.

So, sorry to say, I write for myself and my family and for friends who might say ‘What have you been up to lately?’

When I ask, ‘What’s it all about?’ I can have a litttle browse and remember all the amazing things that we have — meanwhile you are very welcome to share and if you are a little obsessed by sheep and blown away by Nature — so much the better!