Lions & Lambs

It’s been a stormy day, here at Ffarm Fach;

but it’s not been due to the weather.  Tony’s been in an ‘off’ mood for a couple of days & we’ve been rubbing each other ‘up the wrong way’ throughout.  It was a typically stressful day with plenty to keep us occupied; not least, as today was the day we had to sort out the lambs & send them up to the pastures above the Ffarmhouse to finish off their fattening. 

We really are not sure what to do with the sheep as yet – whether to sell them all?; whether to hang on to the existing flock?; whether to send the lambs directly to the abattoir one by one, or to sell them all in one go, at the local market?  It’s a tricky one.  At the moment they are provding a useful service as they are keeping the grass down on the top pastures & there is plenty for them over the winter, which means that they’ll keep healthy whilst growing their lambs. 

We haven’t put a raddle on the ram this year, which I regret now. (A raddle is basically a harness which fits around the ram’s front, with a pocket on the chest area for a coloured crayon; when the ram mounts a ewe she is marked with the crayon, hence you can tell which ewe was covered, when.  Once all the ewes are initially marked the crayon colour is changed in case any of them didn’t ‘take’ the first time).  Being such a small flock we’d left MacDougal out with his ‘harem’.  Last year this wasn’t a problem as the seasons followed a fairly ‘normal’ pattern but this year has been decidedly odd with a scorching April & a miserable, wet Summer; although now it is unusually dry (not that anyone in Wales is complaining, mind you!).  The concern I have now is that the ewes could lamb at literally any time from Christmas onwards – although I hadn’t observed MacDougal showing any interest in the ewes until towards the end of October, much like last year. But I’ve read some worrying things on the smallholder forums – people noticing ewes’ udders appearing to be ‘bagging up’, already – it certainly has been a confusing year for Nature!  Lambing in January is not my idea of fun.

However this is main reason we are considering selling the sheep; although I want the foundation flock to go to a good, smallholding home rather than being dispersed at market.  Kidding is stressful enough as it is; & this year we will be kidding around twenty goats, rather than the six we started with this year.  Given that all the ewes may be due to lamb at the same time, if Tony is away at all it could mean very little sleep for Yours Truly!  Whilst normally that wouldn’t bother me if I am also having to train new milkers onto the machine, separating kids & mums and trying to launch the business, it could be considered a little overwhelming.  ‘Interesting’ times ahead, methinks….

So anyway, Tony was in an unpleasant mood right from the word ‘go’ this morning as he had to be (for him) up very early (approximately 0900) so that he could collect a small trailer from Lloyd in preparation for moving the goat kids tomorrow.  Tony would happily stay in bed every day until after midday, as a matter of course; & in this respect is worse than a teenager!  I am always up before dawn as there is always plenty of work to do & I find I can get resentful if I end up continually doing the lion’s share of the day’s work.  It particularly grates when as now, he is at home on leave for a few weeks as half the day is inevitably wasted. 

We carried out the tagging of the lambs quickly & easily, giving them all a ‘health check’ at the same time – feet, general condition etc – & were pleased with all bar a couple which although perfectly healthy, just don’t seem to have grown on very well for some reason, being a bit on the small side.  Bar for breaking a couple of the tags when a lamb struggled as the tags were inserted, bending the post so that the ‘male’ part of the tag did not adhere to the ‘female’ part it all went well, which was a relief as this was the first time we’d carried out any tagging, ourselves. 

Then came the more tricky job – moving them up to ‘pastures new’.  Whilst the foundation flock are trained to happily follow a bucket of feed (MacDougal always trots along happily beside me, walking to ‘heel’ better than many dogs – & could teach Nanuk a thing or two!) we’d never moved the lambs without their mums before; & although we’ve had the lambs in for a little while to familiarise them with us we still weren’t sure how they’d react.  Tony took the bucket of feed & set off  whilst I ‘shooed’ the lambs from behind & initially they all left the shed pretty easily.  We even got them out of the middle yard without a fuss; however when they reached the arrivals yard they decided it was time to return to the security of the shed; so I had to swiftly shut the gate & quite boldly encourage them to keep going forward.  However they soon go the idea; & followed Tony without further mishap into Parc Carreg Gwen where they were rewarded with the bucket of feed.  I shut the field gate on them with a huge sigh of relief.

On returning to the farmyards we moved to the next task – tagging the goat kids.  Unfortunately before doing so I discovered that Tony had been using our pitchfork rather than a muck fork, to start clearing an empty pen; & had bent the tines of said pitchfork (which is obviously designed for throwing hay, not digging through muck) completely out of shape by doing so.  But rather than telling me what had happened he’d just left the fork plunged into the dirty straw – so I was understandably dismayed to discover that our expensive pitchfork was broken as we cannot afford to replace this necessary tool.  But I was particularly angry that he hadn’t bothered to tell me it was broken, & had typically waited for me find it in that condition; nor had he even attempted to mend it.  And the ‘good’ fork beside it, was caked with muck & had not been cleaned after use, having been left for me to sort out as usual & being much more difficult to clean as the muck on it had been left to dry.

I was already in a frustrated mood as he had – yet again – left a very expensive heavy-duty cable in a tangled heap on the barn floor rather than reeling it in after using it – so it could be ruined if we have any heavy rain & the drains overflow.  His workshop was again in a chaotic state after I’d managed to snatch some spare time to tidy it for him; so having had enough, I expressed my frustration at finding the pitchfork in its’ mangled state. 

He exploded in a fury, & snatched up the goat tags & started indiscriminately stamping them into the alarmed kids’ ears.  We had agreed a specific order in which we were going to insert the tags; however he was in such a bad mood he completely disegarded it & just  tagged whichever kid happened to be within reach; leaving me struggling to adjust my record book as we are required to keep accurate records by law. 

We ended up having a shouting match which reverberated down the valley & sent the roosting rooks clattering out of the trees in alarm.  Tony stormed back to the cottage, leaving me to finish feeding & bedding down the rest of the animals for the evening, not in any hurry to return to the strained atmosphere within the house & dreading the following morning – when we’d unfortunately be forced to finally take our precious male kids to slaughter – even more. 

A day I’d rather forget, sadly; lucky they are so few & far between.


About LittleFfarm Dairy

The LittleFfarm Dairy Team: Jo - Goat farmer & Gelatiere Artigianale, plus General Dogsbody; Tony - Airline Pilot & part-time Herd Manager, Product Taster, Accounts Secretary, Handyman etc!
This entry was posted in Animals, Anything Goes, Diary, Farming, Livestock, Nature, November 2007, Smallholding. Bookmark the permalink.

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