Sunday, February 19, 2012

new life - with difficulty

A brief respite in the cold, just the afternoon sun projecting deceptive warmth. Then we saw the full extent of damage to the road surfaces: the French for pothole is nid-de-poule or chicken nest. What we saw were turkey nests. Overnight, of course, the temperatures dropped below zero again and the snow melt froze, creating invisible patches of black ice which, inevitably caused accidents.

Deceived by the afternoon warmth, the sheep started to give birth. Unfortunately the nights are still cold and some lambs born way before daylight, way before Arnold arrived to bring them into the lambing pens under the infra-red warming lamp. Sometimes it is possible to spot which ewe is likely to lamb in the next six hours or so and to get her into a sheltered pen before the lamb is due. But the sheep are hardly co-operative. As you try to study their rear-ends (you really don't want the detail here) they turn round to face you again. For the first couple of years we had sheep, I did go down to the shed before midnight, and back again at five a.m. - to no effect. Birthing is not a spectator sport. But I did lose weight.

It looks as though we shall have a higher than usual mortality rate this year – two lambs lost already, one through birth problems, another through cold, one on the danger list. Each death makes one feel a failure, feel guilty. No amount of saying 'they'd be worse off in the wild' brings comfort. All one can do is to give the homeopathic granules to help the milk dry up and wonder if the sheep is saddened. There is no way of knowing.

A sheep's eyes are not particularly expressive, probably something to do with the effect of slit pupils. There is a blankness when they look at you, perhaps, if you are imaginative enough, you can see a judgemental look: what is this two legged thing doing there, just standing, not bringing Me food? Certainly, after the ewe has successfully lambed, whether with twins or just a singleton, at the back of the eyes one can detect a certain look of triumph, 'look what I have done' or 'its all your fault'. Enough with the anthropomorphism, already.

Yet, I wonder. There was one occasion when a lamb had to be bottle fed as it was one of triplets (ewes only have two teats). After some stamping of her front right foot,
after I had politely expressed fear, I managed to get third lamb to take the bottle. The second day, as the lamb was busy with the bottle, its mother came to inspect me. I was hanging over the barrier of the pen. The mother faced me; lifted her nose to mine and breathed at me; I breathed back. She sniffed her lamb. Then she backed off a little, still looking at me. The ritual was repeated a second time.

Then – I'll swear – she imperceptibly nodded; perhaps there was approval in her eyes. Certainly I was hired. I fed that lamb for nearly three months.

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