There was a small skein of cranes flying over the fields as I went for a late afternoon walk this Sunday. They were seemingly heading north. Obviously they had not seen the same weather forecast for nothern Europe that I had on Saturday night. Perhaps they had been left behind, for in previous days, the more usual massive migratory skeins had been heard and seen, noisily going north. There is a perfectly nice, protected, reserve in the Landes where they could stay. But go they must, and so they went.
This last week our day time temperatures have been in double figures, the mid-teens. Overnight temperatures have stayed comfortably above zero. We have not felt it necessary to close the window-shutters to keep our house warm. So those ewes who had not yet lambed were allowed out into in the woods earlier and to stay for longer. Long enough, in fact, for one of them, apparently, to find herself a hiding place behind a wood pile. Her friends rushed in for supper and it was assumed – sheep being moderately greedy – that everyone had come in. (Counting sheep damages even more brain matter than counting ducks.) Her overnight absence was only noticed the following morning. There she stood by the electric fence, with twin lambs, an indignant expression on her face and doubtless a demand for breakfast – now. Those twins are doing well.
The slight increase in the number of twins has somewhat made up for the earlier mortality. Clun Forest sheep are thought of as having a high twin rate – somewhere between 1.2 and 1.4 lambs per ewe, we had quads, once – and being very maternal. But the maternal instinct needs practice and it seems that first time mothers often need help to 'bond' one would say if they were human. This is why we put make separate pens for ewes with lambs. I have seen it written that Clun Forest lambs are more than usually vigorous which, in my experience, is very true omce past those first few difficult days.
Also, Clun Forest lambs are particularly inquisitive (not that I have any personal experience of other breeds, just hearsay). They are particularly good at getting out of wherever they are confined, whether with their mother or with their half-siblings. They are totally hopeless at getting back in, proceed to bawl (and the ewes join in) until some human puts them back. Another favourite past-time is to put their heads through any aperture, whether a rectangle in the wire fencing, or a slit between boards. Then they panic. There is no talking sense to a panicked lamb, brute human force is the only answer. Struggling with 20 kilos that kicks is not fun. This is why they do not get a full sized ear tag until they have grown out of the habit, or are about to go on their final journey. It makes for too many torn ears. Clun Forest sheep have small ears, pointy and upright which gives them a (deceptive?) air of intelligence.
Of course, just as one is feeling quietly a little more confident, nature happens. The lambless ewes went outside, one hesitating a little, looking a bit confused. Then out she went. And there was a dead lamb in the barn straw. To be truthful, one forgets there are good years when lambing is relatively straightforward, but 2012 will not be one of them.