A little bit of Heaven
Every Easter for the past few years we have headed down to Somerset to help out our friends, Naomi and Scott, during lambing. It is a wonderful time of year when you get to see the best (and the worst) of what nature has to offer, and the gentle bleating of lambs is a wonderful backdrop to any ‘holiday’. Things have changed a lot since the first year we went down when we sat around for days waiting for a ewe to pop…. although this year they have reduced their herd by half compared to last year, they still lambed 80 ewes, so there was plenty of activity.
Lambing is a tiring time for the smallholder lambing outside, with lambs being born throughout the day and at all hours of the night. Although most of the ewes can get on with it themselves, there are always a few who need some ‘assistance’ so the smallholder has to be around to help out as required. Once the lamb is born, the ewe and lamb are brought up into the barn and put in a ‘pairing pen’ allowing the two to bond without the danger of another ewe stealing the lamb, and once they are bonded they are transferred to the nursery – a small contained area with other ewes and lambs – before being moved back out into the field. Sounds straightforward?
A few years ago, we had gone down to help out at Easter, as always. At that time, Naomi and Scott were lambing about 150 ewes, and right in the thick of things they were going out to the field to do a lamb check every 3 hours or so. I offered to take the 3 am shift while I was there so at least they could have a few nights off. First shift and it is cold, wet and blowing a hooley. I drag myself from my bed at 2.45, throw on some clothes and drive over to the field, praying that nothing has given birth so I can be back and warm in bed before I wake up too much. Almost immediately, at the top of the field, I find a new pair of twins, and I quickly move twins and mum into the barn then head off round the rest of the field. Right at the bottom, as far away from the barn as it was possible to be, I find another set of twins. With a lamb in each hand, still slippery with amniotic fluid, my head down against the rain, I eventually get twins and mum back up to the barn. Phew!
But the night did not end there. There had been a ewe who was not doing well and who they had brought up into the barn that day to keep an eye on her. After installing the second set of twins and mum in their pen I did a quick check of the barn and found that the ewe had died. I called up Naomi to let her know. ‘How dead is she’ Naomi asked, ‘Go and see if she is still warm’. What????? The ewe was still slightly warm so Naomi rushed over to the field to perform an emergency c-section to see if she could save the lamb. In a cold, dark barn with the only light being the light from my head torch, I watched as she carefully sectioned the dead ewe to see if she could still save the lamb. Unfortunately, we were too late and the lamb had also died. It was a sad moment, but what really twisted my heart was the how Naomi gently, and with total respect,
laid the dead lamb next to the ewe and whispered, ‘Just lie there with your mum’.
As we sat in the barn with a cup of tea, listening to the sounds of the ewes and their lambs, and watching the sun come up over the fields, you could not help but appreciate the hard work involved in being a smallholder, and the wonderfully exciting and then terribly sad times you encounter seeing both side of the circle of life.
So, what does this have to do with needle felting and crafting? I have to admit to going off on a tangent with this blog – I had meant to write about the different types of sheep that they have on the farm and the different fleeces available to work with. But I will save that one for another day and leave you with a picture of the most recent addition to my personal flock – a beautiful Devon and Cornwall Long Wool ewe lamb, pictured here with Naomi - shepherdess and fibre artist, and the person who first introduced me to needle felting - aka The Crafty Shepherd.