With cattle, especially dairy cows, you tend to deal with them as individuals quite a lot of the time. As you get to know them, you learn their little idiosyncrasies. Some are brighter than others, some curious, some laid back and placid. With sheep for the vast majority of the time they manage to blend into the flock and you tend to deal with an ‘average’ intellect. Admittedly it’s not a very high average, but at least sheep can console themselves that, by and large, they’re smarter than horses.
But at lambing you start dealing with individual sheep, and at this point you realise that the average rather flatters a lot of them.
This afternoon I noticed a ewe had lambed. I could see the two lambs snuggled up under the hedge. So I got the quad and trailer out and went to collect them. They were in a different field to the rest of the flock so I shut the gate behind me to ensure that they didn’t come streaming in behind me looking for food and getting in the way.
I then parked the trailer handy for the lambs, picked up the lambs, and walking backwards so mum could see them at all times, carried them to the trailer. Mum followed briefly before setting off at speed to look for them somewhere else entirely. Indeed she had obviously decided they’d rejoined the flock because when she found the gate was shut she crashed through the fence instead.
So now I had to get all of them into the yard to sort out our doting mother. And as they entered the yard she knocked down a hurdle and led them onto the lane instead. Some of them followed a bucket back but the others had to be brought back by the simple expedient of overtaking them on the quad and driving them back.
All this has to be done tactfully because in spite of the fact they seem to have forgotten this small technical detail; they’re all heavily in lamb and ought to behave sensibly. As I overtook one of them, I was close enough to notice that her eye looked a bit milky. When they’re in the field sheep aren’t keen on you getting too close, and this was something you could only see when you were a couple of yards away at most. It struck me she might be having problems with that eye and I’d better treat her.
When they were running back I watched out for the one with eye problems. As it ran into the yard it careered full tilt into a gate stoop that it had obviously not seen. By the look of it, we definitely had a sheep with eye problems (and probable concussion.)
So I sorted mum out into a pen and put the others back into the field. By this time the rain had started. I then backed the trailer to the pen gate and got mum into it with the two lambs. She appeared vaguely pleased to see them. I drove the trailer round to the other pens where she’ll stay until we’re convinced she’s looking after them properly and there was this bumping sound from the trailer. Oh joy, a flat tyre.
I backed the trailer up to the other pens, got her into one, got her two lambs in with her and shut the gate before she thought of anything else stupid to do.
Then it was a case of putting the trailer handy for taking the wheel off tomorrow morning, put the quad away and then go and get some colostrum into our two newcomers.
Now they’re fed, snug and happy, mum is beaming at them, and I’m wet, cold and hungry. At times like this you have to ask yourself which is the intelligent species.
Oh and if you are feeling particularly intelligent you might or might not have noticed that I produced a slim volume of these blog posts, nicely tidied up and with grammar, punctuation and everything. It’s available in paperback or as an ebook
As a reviewer commented, “This is a selection of anecdotes about life as a farmer in Cumbria. The writer grew up on his farm, and generations of his family before him farmed the land. You develop a real feeling for the land you are hefted to and this comes across in these stories. We hear of the cattle, the sheep, his succession of working dogs, the weather and the neighbours, in an amusing and chatty style as the snippets of Jim Webster’s countryman’s wisdom fall gently. I love this collection.”