Sheep Shenaningans

Suffolk lambs. Pic from highfieldhousefarm.co.uk

Yesterday was a heavy, sheep centred day.

Our lamb breeding programme got off to a sad start. We went out yesterday morning to check the ewes, and found a lamb’s head protruding from No. 28. We rounded her up and took her to a stable. I felt the little head and it was icy cold. Poor mite had been dead a while. I tried some gentle manipulation but couldn’t move it so we called in the experts. It took the vet a good ten minutes to manouevre the baby out – a pretty little male. My heart bled for the ewe during the internal rummagings. Any mum who has had medical hands up her during labour can totally sympathise. It’s agony – more than enough to make you hate, loathe, despise and detest all doctors and midwives forever, and to plan prolonged and painful ways of separating the guy who knocked you up from his manhood! And don’t get me started on the indignity part of it all. However, Mother Nature is a cunning woman. The moment your bawling baby is placed in your arms, you explode with love and forgive the hospital staff and remember that the father of this little miracle is the most fantastic person alive. You forget all about the painful part – until the next time you’re in labour!

I digress. While we’d first been dealing with No. 28, , the ram, had been a complete nuisance. So we decided the time had come. To cut a long story short, by lunchtime he was ready for the freezer. This wasn’t a straightforward matter. Hoisting a sheep’s carcass up for processing is a big job. We started off manually, heaving him up over a beam in the barn but soon discovered that Rameses weighed a lot more than I did. Chris asked me to shove my weight on the rope at one point so he could free his hands for a moment. So I plonked my feet in the loop of the rope. I went up. Rameses went down. Back to the drawing board.

We decided to use the autoportée, the ride-on mower, to provide the pulling power, but the battery was flat. So we pushed that out of the barn, and Chris went to get Sea Blue the tractor. While he did, I was in charge of opening the second barn door so the tractor could drive into the barn. We don’t often open that door but had never had problems with it before. But today, of course, it wouldn’t open. It had swelled up in the warm weather and was catching on a bit of wood nailed to the top of the doorway. We’d never noticed that before.

We resorted to more manual pulling and grunting with stronger straps – the washing line we’d been using had snapped – but to no avail. We had to get the barn open so we could use the tractor. So off we went to get the big ladder. Our barn doors are huge. Chris went up with a hammer to deal with the offending bit of wood. He was nearly at the top of the ladder when the tractor suddenly began to roll backwards. All we could was watch. I was on the bottom rung of the ladder, keeping it steady so couldn’t move, and Chris was ten metres up. Luckily Sea Blue didn’t go far and didn’t hit anything en route.

Ladder down and door finally open, Chris went in with Sea Blue and we soon had Rameses’ remains where we wanted them. Chris got busy, ably assisted by his fetcher and carrier and holder-stiller i.e. me, soon we had a nice lot of lamb for the freezer.

Yesterday evening, I had to administer this suppository to No. 28. There’s a first time for everything, as they say. This was my first time inserting things into a sheep. She was as good as gold, bless her. Another dose today, and then we’ll put her back with her sister, No. 27. I don’t think she’s passed her placenta yet so we’ll be keeping a close eye on her and will have to deal with that problem fairly soon if there’s no change.

No. 27 wasn’t very happy finding herself alone for the first time. We thought that Maisie the goat might be welcome company so we put her into the sheep field. However, Maisie, usually the quietest and sweetest animal imaginable, took against No. 27 and started butting her, so she came straight back out. No. 27 decided to make less fuss if this is what was going to happen to her and has been fine ever since. We’re watching her like a hawk since her lamb or lambs are presumably due imminently. Hopefully all will go smoothly this time round.

Suffolk in France

Lavenham and Debenham

We finally have some sheep. We’ve bought two Suffolk ewes from Edouard, the farmer who makes our hay and grows some cereals on our land. Suffolk is my county – I was born and bred in Ipswich – so I’m rather chuffed. We’re calling the girls Lavenham and Debenham after two pretty Suffolk villages not too far from my home town.

Suffolks are very popular in France. They’re a good all-rounder sheep, producing good wool and also plenty of meat.

What fate awaits our girls? Given that sheep are quite expensive, and having seen how lovely these two are, I’m now tempted to spare them from the freezer this autumn and instead invest in a ram and breed all our future supply of lamb. We have the space here.

At the moment they’re settling in. We’ve put them in the small stable for a few days so they get used to us, and us to them. They’re still slightly traumatised from the journey here and the unloading ceremony. I missed their arrival as I was on judo duty, but Chris explained that Edouard lifted and them by their front legs. He handed one to Chris to carry in, and he can now confirm that sheep are a lot heavier than they look! We’re used to lugging relatively delicate alpacas and llamas around. We’ll have to develop sheep wrestling muscles.

Before they go into a field, probably Denis and Maisie’s, we’re going to have to do a good fence check. The sole purpose in life of a sheep is to escape, I’m reliably informed by other sheep owners. We’re accustomed to boundary-respecting camelids. I dare say we have a steep learning curve ahead of us!

So I now have two of France’s nine and a half million sheep.

And a quick update … our polytunnel is nearing completion – slowly!