Growing up, lambing time was one of my favourite parts of the year and holds some of my fondest memories. As a child and teenager the burden of keeping poorly lambs alive or the extreme tiredness that sets in was shouldered by my parents. At worst for me I would complain a bit at having to fill water buckets and bed pens with straw but generally I loved everything to do with lambing. I think I actually felt that in a world of cows and machinery I could actually be of some use.
Dad would always ensure that the sheep would start to lamb during the Easter holidays when my two sisters and I were not at school. This always coincided with my birthday. My parties generally involved my school friends getting to watch lambs being born, 25 years before ‘Lambing Live’ became an idea! Some friends watched in awe and some were repulsed, however all had to contribute, this was not optional! The one condition of me having a party was that I would be providing the work force. One of my friends still retells of her horror at entering the lambing shed to see my dad swinging a new born lamb around by its back legs and proceeding to shove a piece of straw up its nose! Seasoned lambers know that these are both techniques used to clear the airways in lambs that have ingested too much mucous (in actual fact a technique that D wanted to try on our youngest son as he was a bit phlegmy at birth!). I can see that to my townie school friends this may have looked like a brutal torture ritual! It was also a bit awkward when we sat down for my party tea and our King Charles spaniel ran into the kitchen with some afterbirth it had just dragged in from the shed!
In my late teens and twenties I would ensure that returning from a night out coincided with my shift to check the sheep. Again, I was usually accompanied by a couple of non- farming friends. Over the years they didn’t think anything of walking through the lambing shed in high heels and hopping over a gate to get a closer look at that sheep messing about at the far back corner of the shed… you know the one! Sometimes, Dad would already be there and we’d help to get the sheep into a pen whilst dressed in all our finery! One year Dad thought he’d get his money’s worth out of his wedding suit and that spring he wore his wedding flares as farm wear! Our sheep have certainly seen some glamour!
There was usually a poorly lamb in the kitchen in front of the fire that the dog would make friends with and I loved bottle feeding the cade lambs. Along with the good came the bad and it was sad when some lambs didn’t survive. People think farmers are cruel but it was always upsetting when a lamb didn’t live.
Farmers know when lambing is starting to wear them down as they may get ‘lambing ear’. This is where the outside of your ear itches and breaks out in sores. I presume it’s caused by prolonged tiredness as D gets it all the time and we don’t have any sheep….just a milkround.
I often feel sad that my children won’t get to experience a childhood with lambing in it, but I’m also aware that sheep are hard work. I can’t drive past a field of sheep without convincing myself that one is overthrown and having to pull over to check. Sheep always escape and try to find new ways to try and die on a daily basis. As an adult I’d probably find it all too stressful. We have the best of both worlds as we still get to see the lambs at my parent’s farm but without the responsibility. That said, I think I will always miss it and to me the smell of the lambing shed is the smell of home.