So, the story of our lost sheep...and why we'll be lambing later this year...
It was a strange year for us on the farm this last one, as regards our sheep anyway. It was way back at the late end of June when Rob came back into the yard early one morning after doing the daily check of our fields and stock, with the news that half of our sheep had been stolen. It was kind of like being kicked in the stomach, hearing those words, a physical reaction as strong as the one in your head yelling "NO! That absolutely cannot be." Behind eyes screwed up in anger and pain we could still see our sheep grazing in the fields as they were the night before, still see them as they were jostling in the shed after being shorn just a few weeks ago, and back further to lambing time - still smell the damp wool, the hay, the blood and smell of new life. They were our sheep flock, not a random collection of animals, but a flock which learns from you, learns the patterns of our fields, the lanes around our farm, knows where there is shelter and shade, the shed they come in to give birth in, and most of all, knows and trusts us. Although we've always bought in replacement young ewe lambs every couple of years, they have been in small number and when added to our established flock quickly learn to follow and fit in with the others.
We knew instinctively we were unlikely to ever see our ewes and lambs again (which proved right) and to be honest we couldn't hold on for too long thinking about what may have happened to them - the possibilities were endless, and weren't good to dwell on. So after a few weeks we had to begin to look for a replacement flock, not easy to come by as they would need to be fully organic and they aren't so easy to find.
Our new sheep flock came over five months ago now, and they are still very much "our new sheep flock". Used to being moved from field to field using man and dog, a man with a bucket has proved not nearly as persuasive for them! Whereas we could move our old sheep with three people (albeit three agile and fast moving people), one to walk in front with a bucket for the sheep to follow and two to cover any gateways or road junctions, we now need at least four and preferably five.... They are entirely unimpressed by the contents of the bucket, as they are with Rob, or those trying to whistle, clap and encourage them from behind. I'd like to say that they are getting better but I think that would not be entirely truthful!
And so to lambing... Along with the new flock, we decided to make a change to move from February and March lambing, to later in the spring - to April and May. Weather should be kinder, grass more plentiful for the newborn lambs and we will be able to move the ewes and their lambs outside more quickly after the birth.
It will be strangely quiet in the lambing sheds - can't remember a time when they have been empty of the clamour of sheep and lambs in the first months of the year for the past three decades, and the rituals of lambing time are ones we love - but they are only postponed. For that we are thankful.