Every year, come snow or shine, the lambs start to arrive. It’s the hardest work in our farming year, and the happiest time. Each year there’s a sense of wonder at new life, and the reminder that life is precious and precarious.
The weeks leading up to lambing are always hectic. There’s all the preparation, which on our farm means setting up the lambing pens in the sheds. We aim for the maximum number of lambs so we look after each and every ewe as well as we can; this means lambing inside, each ewe being put in a pen shortly before or after her lambs are born, and somebody checking up on them for as much as is possible of the 24 hours in the day.
A few weeks before the official start date of lambing is the time when problems start; ‘abortions’ (actually miscarriages), prolapses, twin lamb disease, and sometimes a ewe that is so large she rolls onto her back and is unable to roll over again. Sometimes a plucky little early lamb will be born alive and fight. Occasionally one survives.
Then suddenly there’s the morning where Mr Woollydaze goes to feed the sheep and comes home with some live, healthy lambs, and that is officially the start of lambing. This year it was three days before the official start date (blame the nice weather over the weekend). We usually have a slow few days where we can ease ourselves into the familiar routines and Mr Woollydaze can prepare for the idea of working until 5 a.m., but this year the lambs starting popping out like corks from champagne bottles on the day before the official start date. We have a willing and well-trained group of friends and family who come and help out, providing labour in return for cake and company. I do not know how we would cope without them. We also have vet students from various universities who come to do their lambing placements and uncomplainingly work 12 hour shifts. All the cogs work together and together we get through it, one day at a time.
And this, fellow wool-lovers, is how it all begins. Although wool comes to you as a product off a shelf in pretty colours, it has a living history. Our lambs are produced for meat, but some wool is spirited away at shearing by Woollydaze Two to be transformed on her spinning wheel. This wool made its way back again in the form of a felted draught-excluder for my parents-in-law, who have tended this farm for most of their working lives.
And to heighten the emotion of this lambing season, there’s been an added human element. Our farm worker and his wife had a baby girl on the crazy champagne-cork lambing day. She made a hastier-than-expected arrival and was therefore born at home. In our sleepy little village, such excitement is rare. We’re looking forward to meeting the dinky new arrival and welcoming her into the mostly fun, occasionally fraught, always special world of growing up in the countryside with a farm as your playground.
This post is dedicated to friends who recently lost their cherished baby girl shortly after birth:
A little soul scarce fledged for earth
Takes wing with heaven again for goal
Even while we hailed as fresh from birth
A little soul.
(A Baby’s Death by Algernon Charles Swinburne)