Sunday began with a yawn. I had quite forgotten what it feels like to get up when one has been on the 3.30 shift. Each night, the pregnant sheep in the barn are checked at midnight, then 3.30am, and 7am. Sir generally does the midnight check, Mrs Farmer the 7am, and I generally do the 3.30 check – we all negotiate each night, but I find I can normally cope quite well with the 3.30 check, and it helps my kind hosts out too.
The sheep are checked to see if any of them are in labour – a grim disposition, reserving a large territory in the barn, twirling, wide eyes, and sitting down but getting straight up are all signs that a ewe might be in labour. If she is, she is brought to the lambing shed for more individual attention in a cleaner atmosphere. 3-4 hours is a good gap. If a sheep is fine at midnight, she is unlikely to progress and have problems in that time period. She could go into labour and quickly deliver without problems, but then, that is not so much of a problem.
So, on Sunday, having been out at 3.30 (all was well, although a real gale was blowing), I got up at 7.30, showered, and wandered down for breakfast, which I was just finishing when I realised that no-one was around. Just then, Mrs Farmer appeared, and announced the birth of a fine large ram lamb, which had claimed the attentions of Sir and Mrs that morning. The ram was a thirteen pounder, and particularly fine. As it was St Piran’s Day (the patron saint of Cornwall), he was named Piran.
The birth of the new lamb meant that three out of four of the lambing pens were in use, and lamb-napping had to take place for the two sheep who had lambed on the previous day. Once the lambs are good and dry, they are transferred over to the tractor shed, where they are in individual bonding pens with their mothers. A week or so here allows the bond to grow sufficiently to allow the sheep to be mixed up over in the barn, without too much confusion.
To lamb-nap, the pen in the tractor shed must be strawed and labelled, then the lamb (or both) are taken in front of the mother’s outraged eyes. She bellows at the enormity of the crime being perpetrated and immediately races are the lambs, being wickedly carried off. The lambs are held at a lower height, so they are in the eyeline of the sheep, lest she misses them. The lambs normally bleat helplessly and mother follows, her nose pushing you along as you reach the pen, put the lamb down in the straw, and she rushes in, inspects her lamb, and puts herself in between it and you, still bellowing. The other sheep in the tractor shed also bellow their outrage, but they also greet their sisters, and tell her it is not as bad there is it looks, and there is still some level of personal service from the wicked humans.
Once the pen in the lambing shed is free, it needs to be prepared for its next occupant. The dirty straw is loaded into an old feed sack, to be burned on a nice day. The pen is swept out, then a bucket of water is poured over it, and it is scrubbed hard with the broom, until the water, and any remains of straw, muck, or even a little blood is removed. Another bucket of water with disinfectant is then poured over, and up the walls, and the scrubbing continues. Even on a cool day, this can be quite an ærobic activity, and warms one up nicely. Once the pen is scrubbed clear, the warming light is put on to dry it, and it will soon be ready. Here is a scrubbed pen:
Apart from admiring Piran, little else of lambing note happened. We missed church due to his arrival, and general chaos due to the birthday of the New Mr. An enormous Sunday lunch was consumed, and birthday cake was eaten. It was a good day.
Sheep are enormously difficult to photograph. Here is Piran, aged 2 hours, with his mother.