Lambs' tails

There are lambs’ tails lining the roadsides.  Of course, I mean the pollen catkins, dangling from hazel bushes in the hedgerows. The real lambs with real lambs’ tails are being born now and soon there will be hundreds of them in the fields with their mothers.

I remember lambing on our farm. The sheep were brought into the barn and my father stayed up all night and often watched all day too. We used to keep the ram in the field with the ewes and lambing was spread out over quite some time. Once, my father said that he was going to solve this problem with a marvellous new idea. At great cost, the vet came and gave the ewes some hormones so that they were all ready for lambing at the same time. It didn’t work though, and I don’t think that the problem has ever quite been solved. Sheep often have ideas of their own about lambing.

Out for a bike ride some years ago, I stopped to look over a gate and watch some new born lambs. They were playing the game ‘I’m the king of the castle’ using a little hillock in the field.

Did you play this game when you were a child?  The idea is that one person is ‘king’ and s/he stands on the top of a hill or mound and on the word ‘go’ the other players try to push the ‘king’ off the hill until there is another winner. Not much to it really, but for the lambs it was all that mattered just then.

It could have been one of William Blake’s innocent little lambs with ‘softest clothing woolly bright’ full of the joy of life, engrossed in the game like a child.  One lamb claimed the hill and then I could see others trying to take its place. The ‘king’ triumphed momentarily before another skipped up.

I was watching this peaceful scene, when suddenly the lambs and their mothers decided that it was time to end the game. Mothers called ‘Baa’ and the lambs cried ‘Maa’ and they ran back for a milk break. All except for one. One was left with no mother.

It was getting cold and dark; his head fell to the grass, but he was too young to eat. I was sure his mother would appear soon, but she didn’t. What should I do? I raced to the farmhouse and hammered on the huge door, but no one was there. Then I hastily rode to the next farm, where the neighbour, after searching his own flock eventually found the ewe on his land. She was soon restored to her original field (the escape hole was blocked) and the lamb was reunited with his mother.

These days, lambs have a coloured number painted on their backs which matches a number on their mother so they can easily be paired. Also, you often see a phone number on the gate so you can ring the farmer on his mobile if you are worried about any of the animals.

And ‘I’m the king of the castle’ is now a computer game and you don’t even have to go outside to play. I’m not sure that’s progress, but
don’t tell the ‘little lambs’.

(Adapted from my Nature Notes column)


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