Monday 5 April 2010

In like a lion – out like a lamb.

That’s what the saying is for the month of March. If it comes in like a lion it will go out like a lamb. This year it worked in reverse. March most definitely came in like a lamb. Snowfall at the end of February ceased and March saw still, frosty days.

The frosty days continued through into the middle of the month and probably beyond. Good weather to work in and dry underfoot, it made life quite pleasant. There was a drawback however, seems like everything comes at a price. No Grass.

The cold weather was again preventing any grass from growing. Tarset was barren, fields were brown and bare. Not just Tarset but further beyond as well. A farmer headed over west on Mothering Sunday to find there was no greenness over their either. We weren’t the only ones suffering at the hands of the long winter.

Eventually life looked up slightly. It would be over enthusiastic to say the grass grew but the ground did freshen up. A few wet days basically washed the ground and gave the grass that green hue it is meant to have. Exciting times, optimism was growing that the nearing lambing season may well be saved by grass finally growing.

Unfortunately the weather worsened. March had come in like a lamb and believe you me it went out like a lion – teeth barred the lot, she was mean as she took us into April.

Cold winds from the North and East swept the countryside and brought with it the weather so accustomed from that art – cold weather, wintry weather.

The 31st March was lamb killing weather. Those due to lamb at the beginning of April were having lambs arriving and the weather was trying very hard to take them away again. Driving rain, sleet and snow with a perishing cold wind was what we had to endure. Shep wasn’t happy, cold and wet, barely able to lift my face to the weather but my problems were nothing compared to the stock who were desperately trying to seek shelter from the driving, persistent cold.

The 1st April dawned white in Tarset, this was no April Fool, this was for real. The shepherd out bye would be worst affected in the area, his rough hill ground appeared to be lily white, a sure sign of depth of snow. A surreal morning, one could have been forgiven for thinking you were in the depths of the winter months, except – the skylarks and curlews were calling, our spring ground nesting birds were going about their business most probably wondering why on earth they had bothered to come back and visit.

I headed off lambing that night in the knowledge that 6 inches of snow had fallen where I was going, the electricity had been off for 36hours, trees had been brought down with the weight of wet, heavy snow. Needless to say a shovel and bag of salt travelled with me over the border and into Scotland.

Here we are, nearing the end of the first week of April and life is cold. Grass is none existent. Sheep are hungry. Lambs are being born onto wet, cold ground. These aren’t the hardy hill lambs which are being born at the moment but the softer, barer skinned in-bye type lambs; lambs less capable of coping with inclement weather, weather which is hitting both in-bye and out-bye places.

Ewes are feeding their lambs but as the lambs grow they want more milk, there’s no grass for the ewes, no natural way of boosting their fitness and milk production. Supplementary feeding is being shoved into these sheep but still lambs are beginning to lose their ‘bloom’, the signs are there that milk supplies are not lifting as they ought. Ewes are still grateful to receive hay as well as the hard feed, although many are now getting painfully short on the hay and silage front, the long winter having taken its toll on the reserves which were harvested last summer.

There ought to be grass, sheep ought to be going off the idea of eating hay preferring the sweetness of the new growth which ought to be showing in their fields, that’s how it all works. This year it isn’t working at all. All it is doing is causing a great deal of hard work and heartbreak.

Tales are already filtering back of great losses of lambs in the stormy weather from a few days back. Anything which did not have a full tummy would succumb but seemingly even those lambs carrying a bit age also dropped. Heart breaking.

Tarset is lucky in one respect that the early lambings are only just beginning, maybe the weather will pick up next week? The ground is so cold and wet now that a dry warm spell is desperately needed. A warm spell would suffice if necessary although the idea of dry too would be gratefully received.

Hill sheep are weakening as their burden is getting heavier, some are being lost to drains (open ditches) which are full of flood water from the wet and snow; the heavily pregnant ewes are struggling to navigate these obstacles. Twin lamb disease is still a problem and not one easily resolved. Life at the moment for the sheep is shite – no polite way of putting it I’m afraid. That’s life. Not always rosy and often a challenge.