A curious & disturbing revelation coming up…..
First though after a pretty sleepless night, came the moment I’d been dreading: rubbing the sleep from my eyes as dawn’s grey light crept over the valley, I padded downstairs to check on the fragile little occupant of the basket by the Rayburn.
The previous day the little chap had at least demonstrated he had a healthy pair of lungs, if nothing else; so I’d expected – hoped – he’d remind me of that, by bawling for his breakfast when he heard me softly reprimanding Nevada for sharpening her claws on the stair carpet as I made my way into the shadow-shrouded kitchen. The tiny, hunched form, almost invisible in the folds of the vetbed, was motionless……
But as I knelt at his side, there was a small shudder; a stretch; a yawn; & then a faltering, tremulous bleat – followed by another, & another – until he’d reached such a full-throated crescendo Bryn Terfel would’ve proud with its’ power & volume (much to the hissing alarm of the cats). Chuckling to myself with relief, I put ‘feline priority’ breakfast as well as my own vital morning mug of Earl Grey tea, on temporary hold whilst I bustled to fetch the hungry lamb his first feed of the day – warmed colostrum I’d taken from his obliging Mum the previous evening.
Having duly fed the offended cats then walked, fed & cleaned out the dog’s run & kennel before reviving myself with an all-too-briefly snatched cuppa & necessary boost of Marmite-on-Toast (too busy to even boil my cherished breakfast egg, today) I hurried on with all the other chores. Thankfully I was ably assisted by a somewhat jaded Tony, who fed & watered the goats & kids whilst I did the milking; after which he cleaned down the parlour whilst I fed & freed our various poultry before turning out the ewes & lambs; then tended to the current ovine occupants of the ‘Nursery’. Allspice is excelling herself by obstinately continuing to cross her birth-ready ovine legs; meanwhile adding insult to injury by liberally letting rip with her bladder & releasing a liberal stream of steaming urine over my hand when I went to check her udder for ‘bagging up’.
“Grrreat, just what I really didn’t need prior to a semi-formal, hand-shaking business meeting.”
After that I got on with the grim labour of mucking out the main sheep pen – it never ceases to amaze me how dirty sheep are, in comparison to goats – before checking on MacDougal (our lovely Greyface Dartmoor ram) & his older offspring, who’ve been nothing but trouble for months giving us the run-around in the field; blatantly stealing the pregnant ewes’ precious rations; & being the only sheep to successively get stuck in any available hedgerow brambles regardless of judicious pruning – & with boringly monotonus regularity. Roll on liberal lamb chops, for Tony; he’ll really savour every last mouthful of these little toe-rags! Therefore typically – because we were already behind schedule for our business meeting – one had evidently arranged to get firmly entangled in the hedgerow – yet again – so I summoned Tony’s assistance & together we hacked the errant creature free.
By now in a significant hurry we dashed across country & were thankfully only five minutes late for our meeting. We discussed fine-tuning of our brand design; & an hour later were wholly satisfied with the latest developments. So we feel we’re shuffling forward in one respect, at least….
The route home took us via a couple of essential en route visits; so we didn’t get back to the Ffarm until late afternoon. We were plunged straight back into the usual mayhem of kid feeding etc; although to my disappointment – on checking the little lamb, whom I’d again attempted to repatriate with his mother as he was so much stronger & more robust than the previous day, I found she was continually pushing him out of the way & again he clearly hadn’t suckled despite my best efforts to get him to latch on this morning; so although the ewe fortunately wasn’t being too vicious with him, he clearly couldn’t be left in the pen. On hearing my voice he bawled at the top of his trembling falsetto & came wobbling over to the door, so I fished him out & took him back to the house for some warm milk, which he greedily consumed & then promptly fell asleep on my lap, clearly exhausted after the day’s trials & tribulations.
On walking among the apple trees to check on our smaller sheep flock, I took a little time to just pause, & appreciate the beauty of the unfolding evening. Bathed in tranquil sunlight radiating from the brightness of a clear blue sky it was unseasonably warm, with the sights & scents of Spring all around: the first amethyst blush of violets peeping from a mossy bank; vivacious, clarion clumps of wild daffodils half-hidden in the hedgerow; a burst of blossom: petal-soft, snow-shower of flowers, sweet on the branches of the old plum tree behind the half-hidden cottage, tucked snugly into the steep, grassy bank of the orchard. And across the farmyard the bright eyes of myriad daisies, turned in unison toward the setting sun. Everything growing, everything stretching tired limbs, grateful that the long, lacklustre winter appears to be over at last. But is it….? Already there are worrying predictions of heavy snow during the weekend; it scarce seems possible.
And something else that doesn’t seem possible, either; however I suppose it could be, is an uncomfortable revelation from neighbour Quae, who bought some of our ewe lambs last year. Bumping into her in town earlier in the day, we’d exchanged news as ever; which for farmers at this time of year inevitably seems to involve swapping notes about lambing. I recounted the tale of the missing lambs, & she coughed uneasily, looking thoughtful. Apparently someone else in the locality has also lost lambs…..& saw – even photographed – what snatched them: a big cat, possibly a puma. I must admit, the hairs on the back of my neck prickled uncomfortably; I’m often out in the wee small hours, alone & generally unarmed, to check on the livestock.
Periodically of course, there are the inevitable scare stories & urban myths which abound regarding such things; but I suppose it’s a possibility; after all, the Ffarm is surrounded by thick, impenetrable woodland & only a couple of days ago I’d heard what I’d assumed were feral cats, screaming & fighting noisily, somewhere down in the valley just below us. And then last year there was the most blood-curdling, chilling screaming as something was killed in the wood: it seemed to go on for ages, & reverberated throughout the valley with eerie horror. And whilst it was probably only an unlucky rabbit being brought down by a fox, it certainly was unnerving in the extreme.
At any rate, at least the sheep are safely tucked up in the lambing shed overnight, now; if it saves only one lamb it’s worth the extra effort – regardless of whatever’s feasting on our flock. Mind you; whilst I’m not convinced it’s a big cat doing the damage (why didn’t it kill the cast ewe, for example – why only take lambs?) I don’t think I’m quite brave/daft enough to be doing any more nocturnal field checks, any time soon….