Friday, 3 December 2010

Yesterday on the Farm

This last February we had been on the farm for a mere 3 months before we were treated to a massive dump of snow which iced us in, caused us to run out of heating oil and generally made us farming novices sit up and pay attention. Worst in 30 years said our neighbours – don’t worry its unlikely to happen again. Exactly 10 months later we find ourselves in exactly the same circumstances – a foot and a half of snow, icy roads and general mayhem. This time we are better prepared but in building up our flock of Southdown sheep we have a lot more in the way of responsibilities.
So when I looked out the window yesterday morning and saw this magical Christmas card-like scene complete with robin red breast and holly leaves, I thought: forget the romantic sentimentality, better get the sheep in. And thanks heavens we did.
First of course we had to prepare the barn for the influx of woolly-type folk. Easier said than done because the aluminium hurdles we used to build pens kept getting frozen onto my gloves. Even with two layers of protection my hands were soon aching with cold that no amount of happy clapping could remedy. Then it was in the four wheel drive Kawasaki mule and out into fields to drive the sheep in. The ewes were a dream. It was as though they knew exactly what was going on. I rounded them up like an expert sheep dog and within minutes they were in the barn. The lambs were another matter entirely. They were clueless, cold, up to their armpits in snow and hysterical. Marcin the farm manager was wading knee deep in snow that skiers would die for trying to keep the lambs in a group while I tried to herd them towards the gate. Bella the sheep dog sat next to me in the passenger seat of mule and rolled her Collie eyes as if to say where the hell did you two learn to sheppard? After about half an hour of rushing about, stumbling in the snow, cursing, cajoling, waving arms and feed buckets, it finally dawned on the sheep that we were trying to communicate something to them. They began to move in the right direction and I leapt back into the mule, cursing because the seat was wet; Bella having trailed a snow plough’s worth of white stuff into the mule which in the interim had melted under her fat backside. Ignoring my soaking and increasingly cold nethers, I rammed the mule into first gear and drove the lambs across three fields towards the barn. All appeared to be going well when Burt, a teddy bear of a lamb, decided she could go no further – leaping across three fields, belly deep in snow was just too much for her. Her short Southdown legs gave way under her and she collapsed in the snow. She lay there grunting as if to say: you guys go on and leave me to die here peacefully. I managed to close the final gate behind the rest of the lambs and Marcin and I carried Burt the rest of the way – no easy feat since this lady weighs at least 20 kgs more than me. Once in the warm barn on some dry straw and faced with a pile of fresh hay, Burt made a remarkable recovery, pictured here.
With the ewes and lambs in, the next task was to get the two rams in. Now they weigh at least 60kgs more than me and they can be rather pushy. Ask Marcin – he has been floored by them and he knows that they go exactly for the back of your knees with a force to send anyone flying. Well, I will spare readers what went on for about an hour. Suffice to say we got Jean-Claude and Range Master in. What astonished me was how their testicles had iced up – they were even sporting icicles! A fact not known to many folk is that sheep have the biggest testicles relative to their body size in the entire animal kingdom, so this was a sight to behold. Got me a bit worried though - we are supposed to be putting these rams to the ewes next week so that we can lamb in May. Question: how long do these things take to defrost, if at all?
With all the animals in their pens, fed and watered, a most wonderful calm descended on the barn. The sheep settled down to rest, chewing happily and the barn was filled with an amazing smell of warm animal. It was so biblical that I half expected to turn and see three regal men approaching bearing gifts. No such men or gifts but we were richly rewarded just the same- the content serenity of the animals was the perfect present. Four hours later I got into the farm house, chilled to the bone. Nothing a cup of tea couldn't remedy.