Sheep Thoughts

'Mum says this tastes okay - what do you think?'

‘Mum says this tastes okay – what do you think?’

Lambing means not much sleep and  a good deal of stress. It’s all that responsibility I guess. Anyway I thought I’d put up some photos of some of those cute moments that make it all worthwhile!

I never planned on being a midwife! Or a nurse. So finding myself in both roles, even if my patients are sheep, is pretty strange.

Over the last few weeks as I filled water buckets, freshened the pens with clean straw, brought in the food buckets, hand-fed a ewe who had survived a particularly traumatic delivery of her lambs (by the vet, not me in this case!!!) and wielded syringes of pain killers and antibiotics to other ewes who had had to have some lambing assistance, I couldn’t help wondering how any ‘real’ nurses, could ever be as completely blind to their patients’ needs as has recently been reported in the press – after all my patients can’t tell me what they need,  but I work it out. Their patients could talk – but those nurses weren’t even pretending to listen!!! Of course, I know the vast majority of nurses are dedicated, caring and immensely hard-working.

'Mum makes the best bed!'

‘Mum makes the best bed!’

But I have other roles to play too – ‘adoption facilitator’ for one – this was down to a ewe called Francesca. Francesca is a rather beautiful ewe, with fantastic wool and not so fantastic ‘attitude’! This year she had two lambs, a nice largish ewe lamb and a smaller ram lamb. She fell immediately in love with both her lambs, and was a brilliant mother for at least two hours.

Then something happened – I don’t know what! But all of a sudden she decided that the ewe lamb was hers, and the ram lamb was… well, not! And there was nothing I could do to persuade her otherwise. I tried everything – spraying both lambs with delicious vanilla scented musk so they smelt the same, and even tying her up so she couldn’t sniff either lamb, on the basis she would forget which lamb she had decided wasn’t hers.

'Those are the strangest looking lambs!'

‘Those are the strangest looking lambs!’

Francesca is many things – but forgetful she is not. In the end she fed the ram lamb, but only under sufferance. I knew the moment I put her out in the field  she would turn on him. So another solution had to be found – and by this time he had a name – Milo.

I could bottle feed Milo, but a single bottle-fed lamb is a very lonely lamb, and it is SO much better if they have a mother to keep them fed, warm and away from danger, in our case the river. So the only real answer would be adoption. But for that I needed a ewe which had been scanned as carrying just a single lamb to give birth within two or three days, for the adoption to have a chance to work.

'I wonder what's out there?'

‘I wonder what’s out there?’

So one day passed, then another, and another – by the fifth day I had almost given up hope as Milo would soon be too old for adoption – he wouldn’t bond with his new mother. Currently he was surviving, his mother hadn’t actually killed him, but she ignored his bleats, and would lie nuzzling her ewe lamb, leaving Milo on his own in the corner of the pen.

Then at last an older ewe, Genevieve, scanned as carrying a single lamb,  was in the process of lambing. There was no time to waste – as timing in these matters is everything! I had to get Milo wet with Genevieve’s birth fluids and place him in front of her, before her own lamb was born. I also had to tie his legs (gently but firmly) as the fact that Milo at a week old was as agile as an olympic athlete might give the game away! Luckily Genevieve is a maternal sort of ewe, and although I could swear she gave me a knowing look when I plopped Milo in front of her, she obligingly began to lick him dry. When her own ewe lamb arrived a few seconds later she licked both, and never looked back.  Genevieve is a brilliant mother to both lambs and Milo is thriving.  Adoption is truly wonderful when it works!!!

Lamb in a basket with a difference!

Lamb in a basket with a difference!

Lambing is a time when writing creatively seems impossible – tiredness does not lead to imaginative thought – rather I sit down at my computer, open a document and… unsurprisingly, fall asleep. So not a great time for getting on with a writing project.

Yet I think this raw contact with life and death does feed the creative brain. And there is always drama in the lambing barn – whether it’s clearing a lamb’s mouth and nose so it can take its first breath,  watching an exhausted ewe licking her lamb dry, or supervising an adoption, like Milo’s. But I’m quite glad it is ten and a half months before it all starts again. Now I’m off to bed for an uninterrupted night’s sleep!

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