I watched “All Creatures Great and Small” in the 1980s. Once I even managed to endure a few episodes of “Lambing Live”. I know the words to “Little Bo Peep” and “Baa Baa Black Sheep”. I sent Dave, the King of Courses, on a course (of course). I read every chapter of “The Sheep Book”, even the yucky parts about retained placenta and advanced mastitis. I scared myself with the front leg, back leg, no leg, breach birth diagrams. I discussed the merits of a long slender hand and arm and the importance of trimming long nails before putting a hand anywhere near a sheep’s back end. I toured a lambing shed, oohed and aahed over newborns, tried not to well up over deformed lambs and confronted the reality of a bag of dead lambs. I sent Dave shopping for baby bottles, lubricant and iodine. Be warned, I now own a shiny new castrator.
Yes, as usual I went well and truly over the top to ensure we were prepared for our first lambing. Even the sheep shed got an overhaul, transformed from bus shelter to bigger bus shelter.
Meanwhile, Babs, Margo and Myfanwy got bigger and hungrier. Week one of the lambing period came and went. Nothing. Every day Dave would peer at the rear end of a sheep with her nose in the trough and declare “any day now”. And then it happened. Early one Sunday morning, the thudding of boots running upstairs roused me from my snuggle deep down under the duvet - “I think we’ve got a lamb!”. Panic, clothes over pyjamas, grab the lambing kit, bucket of hot water, hurry, hurry. But Mother Nature had no need of us and on a crisp, sunny Easter Sunday morning the first lamb was born at Banceithin. Babs did it all by herself. By the time we arrived on the scene Babette was already licked clean by mum and happily drying and dozing. I’m not ashamed to admit that there might have been a little tear in my eye as I gazed in wonder at this new life.
Over the course of the day, the next day, the day after that, and the day after that, we diligently checked on the flock every two hours. And every two hours the pigs went into a frenzy thinking it was tea time again and again. It seems there really is no limit on the number of times a pig can expect to be fed. There was one lambing false alarm. I could have sworn that the lamb on the other side of the fence was on our side, but nevertheless I promised that in future I would double check and triple check before racing back to the house in a panic. Not once did I see any signs of impending lambing. No thrown back heads or curled lips. No pawing at the ground. No water bag protruding and bursting. Just chewing the cud. So for a second time it happened while our backs were turned. Myfanwy popped into the bus shelter and popped out a ram lamb. We were on the scene more quickly this time though and mum was mid clean and Ceredig mucky and unsteady on his feet, falling not once but twice, my heart lurching not once but twice, “something’s wrong”, “he’s dying”, “he’s dead”. Ever the optimist.
As spring went from cold to colder, the rain stayed away and the wicked east wind continued to scorch the pasture, the lack of grass for our new mums was becoming a problem. Dave hastily constructed a hay feeder in the pig run fence and we upped the ewe nut rations.
Still without her own lamb, Margo was shunned by Babs and Myfanwy, both of whom quickly developed a “them and us” air of smugness to go with their “feed me now and hurry up about it” attitude. Margo grew bigger and morphed into a giant rugby ball shaped cloud teetering around on tiny legs. Surely it would be twins? And twins means trouble. Two hourly inspections continued. While Margo carried on eating, Ceredig grew in size and Babette grew in size and confidence. The lack of fear of scatter-brained OCD collies is a genetic trait passed from ewe to lamb.
Yet again, without showing any sign of going into lamb, Margo squeezed out our third and final lamb. No twins, but from birth Alan was bigger, whiter and fluffier than his cousins. Lady Luck was on our side this year. Three trouble free births. Three healthy lambs. Three diligent mums. I’m told that if you don’t come out of the lambing period shattered, with knackered knees, back ache and smelling of a sheep’s arse, then you’ve had it too easy! What did I do in a previous life to deserve such good fortune?