April started on Easter Sunday this year, for us a fairly typical bright Spring day with the Easter bunny depositing eggs around the churchyard: so far, nothing unusual. But this April has been anything but typical. In the space of a month we have had a season’s worth of rainfall falling in a day, and temperatures peaking for one short week at 24 °C. So all our lambs have been born having to deal with the vagaries of a year’s worth of weather in a month, and our crops go from their winter dormancy to full on spring time blooming. Four seasons in one month, as opposed to one day, perhaps.
Let’s start with the lambs. Our Romney sheep have to cope with lambing outside, hence starting around the end of March so that, theoretically at least, the weather is a little kinder than their luckier relations who can deliver their lambs in a shed. Romney’s are not known for being prolific, more for their mothering skills, and thus ability to deliver and then look after their lamb or lambs well. And this year, I have been impressed with their ability to do just that. All but one were tegs this year, which means they were first time mums, so we didn’t know exactly what to expect from them, and neither did they! With one exception, they all delivered their lambs on their own, and no mother randomly rejected her lamb either. Fostering on techniques varied this year, and were ultimately successful: a ewe who had lost her lamb, was able to be tricked into believing another lamb was her own, and now they are rarely separated. One lamb got hypothermia from the biting easterly wind that hit when it was less than a day old, but with a combination of good luck, a warm Aga close by, and the help of a much loved teddy bear for company, it rallied itself and decided that life was worth living. That lamb too can now be seen running around the fields, which makes all the hard work and worry at the time seem worthwhile. Of course, it’s not all roses, and this year the first lamb to be born never stood up. And the recent prognosis from the vet was that it never would either, and would only end up living an increasingly miserable life, which makes us all sad. One of those things, but still pretty hard to take when you see the lamb calling it’s mother each time it wants a feed.
As April drew to a close we had our last ewe lamb, and hearteningly it was a healthy set of twins that we had been waiting for. So as they head off to pastures new to join the rest of the flock, I feel as though it has been a good lambing season, despite the weather variances these hardy sheep have had to endure. More encouragingly perhaps has been the interest that one of our young neighbours has shown in the sheep, rapidly hauling himself through the ranks of keen observer at the gate to assistant shepherd by my side. At just 11 years of age, Ethan has proved himself not only to be a useful pair of competent hands to have around, but also one with a suitably practical mind and deep interest in agricultural matters. It frustrates me that not more can be done to encourage such youngsters into the farming community, so I was delighted to hear that Countryfile was encouraging new entrants to be journalists.
Then there’s the crops – imagine being fast asleep and then suddenly having to be running a marathon with no preparation time in between! That’s been the effect of the Beast from the East suddenly and dramatically being replaced by the usual springtime weather, with a lot of rain and sunshine in between. Who knows what the summer will bring, but one thing’s for certain – the crops are not behind anymore!