Foolish

 I didn’t think I could be fooled, by April’s seemingly callous start;

but tragically, I was……

It had been an early start in vicious weather, with Tony up at around 2.30am to head off for a 24-hour round trip to Cairo.  I rose with him & after seeing him off at 3am, took advantage of a slight lull in wind & rain to briefly wander across the damp orchard to check on the sheep – all placidly tucked up against the big, stout, protective hedge; cuddled up with their lambs against the inclement weather.  I went inside for a restorative cup of smoky Lapsang Souchong  tea & caught up on some paperwork before snatching a brief ‘forty winks’ prior to starting the usual morning routine of checks, chores & milking.

First I found to my frustration that Bayleaf – one of our irritating little hoggets – had managed to tangle himself in what I’d foolishly deemed an impenetrable mass of brambles behind the caravan.  So of course I had to wade in urgently & extricate the weakly wriggling creature from the vicious thorns, which tugged at my clothing & snagged at exposed skin leaving cruel red stripes across my sore hands as I repeatedly tried to get a purchase on the thick fleece but only seemed to find nasty little flesh-biting briars for my pains.

Having finally successfully saved Bayleaf (who was always geting stuck when & where he shouldn’t as a lamb, incidentally – thus Tony keeps muttering about how tender & tasty he’ll be!) I made my way into Parc Tu ôl Tý (the Field Behind the House) to check on the ewes; especially as Althaea had been yelling her head off for some time; although by now I was used to a mum occasionally thinking she’d lost a lamb & calling for them when the little thing would in fact be trotting along just behind her.

But before I could address Althaea’s apparent plight there was a more desperate problem: to my dismay I could see the prone, bloated body of a ewe on the side of the hill – woolly, chocolate-coloured Achillea was lying dead still; I could just make out a lamb tucked into her side, trying to suckle from the exposed udder which poked out from between the stiff, straight legs.  I sprinted over but feared the worst: but what on earth could have happened?  Achillea was a young ewe – this was only her second lambing – & seemed in perfect health when I’d checked on the flock only a few short hours before.  And now we apparently had a cade lamb to care for…..one lamb, just one.  But she’d had twins – Cicely & Chanterelle……

To my immense releif as I came closer, the ewe twitched; then grunting, rolled her eyes & half-heartedly thrashed her legs.  Gently moving the lamb – little Cicely – aside, I worked urgently to help Achillea upright; although being a big, bulky ewe it was by no means an easy task, especially as I was trying to be as careful as possible to minimize any damage.  With my help she heaved herself upright but initially couldn’t stand; although after a few long minutes she managed to stagger to her feet, one of her legs apparently lame initially but this could have been where she’d trapped a nerve or through stiffness; there was no obvious sign of any injury.  Once joined by her lamb she made a remarkable recovery & soon headed off down the field to join the rest of the flock – except for Althaea, who was still bleating anxiously, her exhausted lamb collapsed in a heap nearby from attempting to keep up with the frantic ewe. 

Again though; a lamb. Singular, not plural. Yet she too had given birth to twins – lovely, long-legged Calluna; & the exquisite little Candytuft, whose fleece had already amazed us with its length & lustre, the best we’d seen in our flock to date so with high hopes for her future.  But she was gone. 

Feeling sick with apprehension I immediately scoured the field in case as usual the errant ewe had simply missed something & her lamb had teamed up with some of her chums; but no; our little flock was definitely missing two of its’ younger charges.  They were nowhere to be seen – & more worryingly, not to be heard either; as generally lambs are thankfully vocal when separated from their mothers.

So I searched the edges of the fields for any sign that the lambs might have somehow slipped through our very robust fencing, but there wasn’t so much as a wisp of wool to suggest where they might have gone.  By this time I had to temporarily abandon the search as it was getting late & there were other animals to be fed & watered; so I hurried as quickly as I could through the rest of the chores before resuming my anxious search. 

I spent most of the day fruitlessly searching every inch of every hedgerow, fenceline & field boundary on the property; to no avail.  Althaea eventually settled down & to my relief tended to her one remaining lamb whilst I prepped the Lambing Shed in readiness to bring all the ewes in for the night – I wasn’t taking any chances; as neighbour had observed, if the lambs had been taken by a fox – the most likely scenario – it would certainly be back for another meal, this evening.  But would & could it have been so desperate as to actually attack Achillea, & bring her down to take her missing lamb?  Or did the silly girl just somehow manage to get herself cast, so providing easy pickings for the fox – yet why was her other lamb spared?

I don’t know; but I DO know I won’t be so foolish as to leave the ewes out at night again until the lambs are quite a lot bigger.  We’ve never lost lambs this way before as we never let them out until they appear sufficiently robust to be safe from predators.  So I’ve learned a salutory lesson, today; but in doing so have also lost two lambs; that’s three, in the space of only a few hours. 

April 1st has played a bitter joke on us, this year; that’s for sure.

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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, April 2008, Diary, Farming, Life, Livestock, Sheep, Smallholding. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Foolish

  1. I’m sorry. thats hard.

  2. been thinking on this…
    worth thinking about whether the lambs might have died first before being taken.. .. particularly if one was not able to get milk through the night. I can’t imagine a fox actually attacking a ewe.. but it might spook them and that cause the sheep to end up on her back.
    The other thing is, I dont know how close you are to other houses etc, but don’t rule out dogs as a problem, particularly a pair. My parents keep sheep and once found two dogs from neighbouring farm trying to take down a fully grown ewe. might be worth keeping an eye out for dogs as well as foxes.

  3. LittleFfarm Dairy says:

    Hi Nick,

    thanks for putting some thought into this one! I would have been mightily surprised if the lambs had died during the night & then been taken as we haven’t lost any, ever, this way; in fact the only one we lost was the lamb born with a sealed anus – so two in one night would be pretty odd. Other than that they’ve all thrived – & we keep them in anyway after they’re born, until we’re confident they are robust enough to manage. So I’d be surprised if weakness was the case, especially as the weather on the night in question was relatively mild in spite of the rain….

    As for other houses, we are pretty remote; completely ring-fenced by our own land including a thickly wooded valley cross-sectioned by rivers, with no near neighbours. That said, the previous owner of the farm apparently had a ram killed here by a pair of dogs from a smallholding a couple of miles away across the valley, who had escaped & were roaming…whilst the shepherd witnessed the incident the Police said they could not authorise the dogs to be destroyed, as only the one which actually killed the ram could legally be put down – & as the two were very similar-looking canines (Malamutes, I gather) the culprit could not be readily identified; so nothing was done.

    Another neighbour has a more worrying theory owing to strange sightings on a nearby property – basically, big cats – but personally I’ve not seen any such evidence here.

    regardless, anything seen taking my livestock will get a goodly bunch of buckshot up its a**e if I catch ’em at it!

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