Sunday, March 4, 2012

the male: essential but expendable

Well, this past week has gone on much like its predecessor – except that the weather has been abnormally warm for the time of year. Last Thursday it was over 20 C in Perigueux which is absurd. And I was absolutely wrong about the cranes, many more flights came across at all times of the day. Quite a few of them hovered over La Chaise but whether they were looking for thermals to help them rise higher or whether they were just having a parliament to chose a new leader for the next stage of the flight, I don't know. No way of asking them.

Only one disaster in the lambing : an ewe tried to deliver triplets by herself. The first lamb died before it was fully born, the second was probably stifled in the womb. The vet – who came promptly when called, unlike spirits from the vasty deep – managed to save the third, small but vigorous. I sometimes wonder if ewes know numbers more than two...especially since a third lamb is usually pretty quickly put on the bottle. Ducks, I have been told, cannot count – one, two, three, a lot - I would like to know who established that, and how. The only proof I have is that ducks that take their brood into the long grass of the fields, do not always bring back all of them and do not seem perturbed. But how does one know if a duck is perturbed? Crossness is easy to detect: it flies at you, hissing. A perturbed sheep tends to become listless, off her feed, even if best lucerne.

So the Wonderful Arnold and I had a rather depressed conversation, ranging round all the possible reasons for this difficult lambing season, the first in the 15 years that there have been sheep at La Chaise. After going round in circles for a while we settled on the possibility that it might be due to the new ram, DSK, whose first season this is. Given that there is only one of him to 38 ewes, he is the easiest factor to change. The same applies when there are problems with ducklings, but drakes are less expensive than rams. One does try to keep the same ram for at least three years. DSK's predecessor, Sarko, lasted four years. (This fact does not indicate the outcome of the French presidential election.) The question has been left open until all the ewes have given birth. Ten more to go.

Not that all is doom and gloom down the farm. In the fields the daffodils are
tentatively trying to flower again. On the edges of the woodland, small sping flowers are beginning to show. There are violets and daisies, sweet nettle and a very few piercing blue speedwell flowers. If you look hard, the occasional rosette of wild orchid leaves is pushing through the earth.

And now it has started to rain, the kind of rain that we need. Not so hard that it washes the soil into the ponds and makes mud slicks on the paths, not so light that all it does is to dampen the worm-casts. Professional forecasters predict a cool rainy week to come. If true, the grass should start to grow and the sheep can go out for real food and exercise. The problem will then be to get them inside again.

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