Friday, 21 April 2017


In one hand is a bucket of pig nuts. In the other a bucket of ewe nuts. Tucked under one arm is my gardening kneeler pad. The mobile phone is in my pocket. If I had another hand I'd be carrying a mug of tea, but animal breakfasts always come first. The metallic scrape and twang as I pull back the gate bolt sets off the bleating. The bleating sets off the squealing and grunting. Wriggling weaners at my ankles, I throw pig nuts in the pig trough, losing at least a handful to the mud as nuts bounce off the heads and bodies now in the trough. Keeping the other bucket held high out of reach of Babette's greedy mouth and moving swiftly enough to keep myself out of reach of her front hooves, but not so swiftly that the lambs get left behind, I cross the field and throw the ewe nuts into the sheep trough. Feeding done, I do the round of water buckets. Watering done, I drop the kneeler pad to the ground, pull my hood up to protect my ears and neck from the nipping wind, pull out the mobile ready for a close up shot, plonk my butt on the kneeler pad, and wait for the lambs to put on a show. Bounce, bounce, bounce. A daily dose of lamb play. This is my therapy.

The older lambs, Bobby, Betty and Bonnie, now nearly two week's old, are the boldest, and their experienced mums, Babette and Babs, graze unconcerned, giving the lambs the freedom to chase, hump (each other) and jump. The younger lambs, Jake and Florence, really want to play too, but their mums, Bychan and Pascale, keep the apron strings tighter. Given that both are first time mums and both had difficult first time lambing experiences, their reluctance to "let go" is perhaps understandable. For the first few days after lambing neither would allow either of us anywhere near them or their lamb, heading determinedly in the opposite direction each time one of us came into sight. Hardly surprising - big lamb, small exit, long labour, hands in, messy birth, stabbed in the leg with a needle, enough said. Both have now regained their composure and dignity, so I can sit in the field with the flock once again, observing their behaviour, keeping an eye out for signs of fever and infection.

A game of chase

Pascale won't allow Florence to stray too far from her side, following Florence when she bounds towards the other lambs, intervening and guiding Florence away after a short play. Bychan goes a step further, not just following and intervening, but actively head butting the other lambs away from Jake. I've seen similar behaviour before, often by Babs if lambs of other ewes get between her and her breakfast, or between ewes when the pecking order needs to be re-established, but Bychan's instinct to protect her lamb can be noticeably more aggressive. The other day Bobby & Betty led all the lambs on a chase into the sheep run. Bychan followed and cornered them all at the end, against the fence. She nosed Jake, her own lamb, to her side, then turned on the others. All but Betty nipped round Bychan and got out, but Betty tried to escape by going through the fence, getting stuck at her shoulders. At this point Bychan turned nasty, continuing to butt Betty. Fearing Bychan would break Betty's neck, I jumped up to intervene, bouncer style, but Betty yanked her head back and out of the fence, and scarpered sharpish, going straight to mum for a comforting suckle. No harm done this time, but Bychan needs to chill out soon or risk being separated. And then who would Jake play with?
Bychan and Pascale turn to intervene as Babette, Bobby & Betty approach Florence and Jake

Babs & Bonnie waiting for the ewe nuts bucket to arrive!

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