What is good welfare? Discuss. This was the opening line…
Always one to want to share the joys of the farm with whoever wants to come, I came up with the brilliant idea of promoting the B and B during the dire, dank, month of February by offering “Lambing Weekends”.
The theory was for families, couples, in fact anyone who wanted to come, to book into the B and B and then work alongside me for a couple of days (shovelling s**t and generally working hard) but with the hope that they see some ewes performing on time, with beautifully presented lambs (two feet and a nose – not a tail first!), full udders, producing plenty of the essential colostrum (the first, thick, creamy, milk which has all the goodness lambs need to kick start them) and then enjoy the idyllic scene. AAhhhhhhh! That’s the theory.
The uptake each year has been great, but not without a few ups and downs and my patience being tried to its limits resulting in me smiling through gritted teeth on numerous occasions. A childless couple were one of my first guests to come lambing. They arrived in the obligatory sparkling clean BMW company car, sunglasses on (don’t know why, part of the Surrey uniform I suppose) and… wait for it… yes, white jeans and matching Barbour’s. Hey Ho, this was going to be fun. Before I could offer a welcome hand, a smile and “Hello, I’m Janet, you must be…” my beautiful sheepdog Kit welcomed this immaculate couple with all four paws and a lick! On no! Back came a hasty, giggling reply:
“Don’t worry; these are only our old clothes!” I swear I could see the new labels. I shouldn’t think they even knew what old clothes were. I’d swop my best clothes for their old ones any day.
“Hi… I’m Jane and this is Derek and we are soooooo excited – our friends think we are daft coming all this way to get muddy!” Heck, have I sold them the wrong story?
Keen was an understatement. My ewes are penned in groups of 10-15, so it’s easy to spot problems and easier to manage the ewes when they lamb. I’ve never seen my pens and yard so clean – cost me a fortune in straw – shouldn’t think even the Queen has clean sheets like my ewes did. Unfortunately, the ewes weren’t particularly obliging and my guests, who even got up in the night desperate for action, (probably had a white silky nightie under the jeans and jumper!) were showing signs of despondency, but never once did they complain. I kept a cheerful note in my voice, saying:
“I think a ewe in Pen 6 will lamb soon – she didn’t eat this morning, which is a sure sign that she will lamb today” (or she’s bl**dy ill and will pop her clogs, heaven forbid, in front of these lovely guests).
Then, hey presto, as their bags were being packed into the car on the Sunday afternoon, one ewe must have felt sorry for them as she had watched them working so hard all weekend, decided to give a big old push and a lovely water bag appeared. Thank Heavens! Excitement was an understatement, so, with huge smiles all round, the welly boots got unpacked, the smelly clothes retrieved from a black rubbish sack – they were probably destined for the bin, not the washing machine – and they were back on duty. Said ewe, got up, laid, down, pushed a bit, shoved her head high in the air (as they do), showed her teeth, and repeated this performance for some 30 minutes before a lovely black nose and a pair of front feet appeared. Thank goodness she decided to do it properly for my guests. As the lambs were born and the ewe did her bit by cleaning them up quickly and efficiently, I sensed something weird and wonderful was happening. Derek’s head was bowed and I could see that he was actually crying, quietly, standing back to avoid eye contact with me or his wife. Given everything looked in order to me; I just walked away and didn’t say a word and left the two of them together. Lambing is always a very special time, but, for Jane and Derek maybe this tiny act of birth meant something more to them. I went to prepare the small pen which we use to house the ewe and her new lambs to give them time to “mother-up” properly for 24-48 hours. I needn’t have bothered as Jane and Derek had prepared beautiful clean pens in anticipation – every blade of straw looked like it had been placed individually by Jane’s perfectly manicured hands. Returning to the main barn, I could see that order had been restored and I offered a lamb to each of them to hold briefly. I will never forget the genuine joy this brought to a truly wonderful pair of guests.
It was a very poignant moment for me too, as it made me realise that something perhaps I take for granted, is indeed very special – new life.