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.