Sunday 25 April 2010

Rantings of a lambing ‘man’

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As you can tell by the above picture there are lambs being born, this pair on the first lap of the morning out on the top of the Dodlaw, catching the sun as it rises.

So the lambs are being born – great news! The ewes are kindly and carrying plenty of milk and most of the lambs are very strong. The 20th saw arctic gales with a flightering of snow in the afternoon. It was a dismal day but fortunately dry. I felt as though the wind was peeling the skin off my face as I went around the hill, down at the steading (farmyard) it was far more sheltered and I couldn’t help wonder what the fuss was all about, that is until I ventured out onto the tops again. Since then the weather has settled down. The air is still very cold and frosts down to -7 degrees in the mornings but with brightness and sunshine during the day, which when in shelter feels very pleasant.

All in all life seems to be looking up......... Except.............

Shep has been losing lambs. By losing lambs I mean they are dying. All belong to the Crunchylaw ewes. The first was a twin, a strong lamb, mebbes 4 days old, totally unexpected to find it lying dead in the morning, I had been unaware of there being anything untoward regarding its health, big, fit, well nourished, healthy lamb, lying dead. Not to worry, these things happen and at least she still had a lamb.

The Crunchylaw are the only sheep lambed in an enclosure, which I am thankful for as they are becoming a lot of work.

A day after the twin was dead there was a dead single in the enclosure. About three days old, well thriven, getting plenty of milk – again an unexpected death.

Then a twin disappeared out of the twin field. Gone. Vanished. Must be fox or badger, not to worry, she still has one.

Yesterday morning (21st) I was greeted by a dead lamb on my first lap around the sheep, again a few days old, again totally unexpected and again a well thriven well nourished lamb and again belonging to the Crunchylaw. I also had a ewe frantically looking for a lamb and a twin which was yet to be walked off into the twin field had also lost a lamb.

The lost lambs were never found, the single ewe kept running to one spot and sniffing the ground, a fairly sure sign the lamb had gone. However, I hunted all over, leaving her until well into the afternoon before concluding the lamb was not likely to reappear, it was not in a drain or a rabbit hole and definitely appeared to have vanished. Again fox or badger was held to blame – opportunists, lifting a sleeping lamb whilst mother was away grazing. Highly frustrating but there you go – that’s life!

During the day however yet another lamb ‘dropped dead’, the lap I did after breakfast, mebbes 3 hours since I had first seen them, another lamb had died, again with no reason. I was starting to get concerned. All lambs to date had signs of milky tails, which is good; they are getting a good supply. However, one had shown slight signs of scour ( a paler, waterier yellowness on the tail) but the alarm bells really began to ring when the first of the morning had obviously passed blood prior to dying.

Doubts were starting to creep into my head. The first doubts are that you’re not doing the job right; you’re overlooking the problems, not keeping on top of the job, missing the first signs of something not being right. I’d already chewed over this, given myself a doing for not concentrating sufficiently. However, these were now different alarm bells. I’d seen this sort of thing once before, two years previous and on this farm. Lamb Dysentery.

Surely not. A directive had been passed from the organic organisation and these sheep were now inoculated prior to lambing – weren’t they? The cold wind could have taken its toll, chilling the tummies of the little blighters and possibly causing them to die, that would be a sensible explanation, would it not?

Now I had been lead to believe that these sheep were now inoculated to prevent Dysentery in the sheep, how was I to broach the subject with the shepherd in a way which would not cause offence? It’s not like me to think long and hard about a discreet and diplomatic approach to a problem, but I did. The conclusion? Say nowt, whatever I say will sound like I am accusing someone of something. The problem will pass and all will be well.

As happens daily the shepherd enquired how things were going, my reply was almost non committal, a slight utterance of a dead lamb passing blood, the Bermuda Triangle was mentioned along with the possibility of fox trouble followed with a shrug of the shoulders and an utterance of ‘that’s lambing time for you!’

This morning the proverbial shit hit the fan. I dropped down into the enclosure off the hill at about 8am and came across a lamb in absolute agony and close to death. I knew what the problem was, the same problem I had two years ago which I had finally been told had been Lamb Dysentery. I left the enclosure with a heavy heart. The ewe could wait until the next lap and I’d set a lamb onto her. I was hungry and feeling slightly despondent. I checked the twins and found another one had vanished – there last night, gone this morning – sod it!!

After breakfast off I went to the hill, dropping down into the enclosure just before dinner time knowing I’d have a lamb to set on. I definitely did not expect to find yet another lamb in absolute agony and close to death. My eyes stung with tears, not a thing I’m proud to admit but a mixture of despondency, despair and sheer disbelief struck me, along with anger and a questioning of what on earth I was doing here – anyone could pick up dead lambs.

I didn’t get in for my dinner; I sorted the problems, lifted twin lambs, skinned dead lambs, set on the twins I’d lifted, stomped around muttering under my breath, grumbling at the dog. Poor Moss, he does lick his lips when I’m skinning a lamb! My thoughts were racing all the time, a cloud was gathering. For all I tried desperately to remain rational and logical about the whole affair I was failing dismally.

The shepherd turned up, enquired how things were going................ All thoughts of a diplomatic and discreet approach to the matter went out the window as once again I felt the tears sting my eyes. Trying to hold onto my composure I explained the problems I had been having; multiple sudden deaths and now dying pain stricken lambs, lambs disappearing off the face of the earth - but had they been live lambs lifted whilst slumbering or had they been dead or dying lambs taken as easy fodder?

“Aye, no doubt about it, it’ll be dysentery I’d say” My rantings as to the ewes being inoculated and that it couldn’t possibly be were brought to a sudden halt when I was informed that as the Crunchylaw had never had problems with Lamb Dysentery in the past then it hadn’t been deemed necessary to inoculate them. The wind was momentarily knocked out of my sails, probably a gasp of disbelief followed, I really can’t recall as I turned my back and rubbed my bloodied hands over my eyes.

I was informed that the farmer ( or ought I say owner) of these sheep would be notified immediately, this could not be allowed to go on and without doubt the problem would be rectified by next year – NEXT YEAR?

There are a 130ish sheep on the Crunchylaw, they’ve been lambing for just short of a week, to date I reckon on a loss of 15%, there are still many left to lamb and “we’ll have the problem sorted for next year”.... unfortunately that is how it seems to stand.

A quick reference to my bible – the TV vet sheep book – tells me “this is without doubt the most dangerous of all sheep diseases, it attacks lambs under a week old” seemingly caused by some clostridium germ which multiplies in the small intestine of the lamb and excretes highly lethal toxins and apparently the first signs noticed are sudden death, the book goes on to say that once symptoms have developed then treatment is a waste of money and time. It also goes on to say that “obviously this disease must be controlled, and it can be by vaccinating the ewes”.

I was beginning to feel like a pawn in some sort of evil experiment. A disease which is talked of often by the older generation and never seen by the rest of us due to a revolutionary vaccination which was introduced years ago and here I was seeing it, but for the second time on the same farm – humph!

I eventually got into the cottage for lunch at about tea time, the radio annoyed me; wittering on about politics, the status quo tape was played instead. For someone who enjoys peace and solitude an overwhelming feeling of loneliness overcame me, the four walls of the kitchen seemed almost overpowering and claustrophobic. I felt a desperate desire for human company.

The shepherd walked in and said all was sorted with the owner of the sheep, he was down at heart too, which instantly made me feel so guilty, a lovely guy who’s suffered many hardships since the turn of the millennium and a guy who does seem to get down in the dumps anyhow and here he was looking his age, weary and low in spirits. Chocolate was immediately administered – my answer to everything – good ol’ chocolate!

I have been around the hill tonight and my mind has once again been racing, I’m hired to do a job which I am paid to do to the best of my abilities. It isn’t really my place to tell someone they may as well get rid of the lambing man and let nature take its course – which is exactly what I did say and to be honest with you that is how I felt. I don’t know whether the inoculating issue is due to the organic organisation which this farm is involved with or whether it is down to the idealism of the owner of the sheep, what I do know is I am awaiting a phone call from my vets to see if there is anything these new born lambs can be injected with to give them a fighting chance against being hit by this curse, I am hopeful that there may be as a serum is mentioned in my ‘bible’. Once I have hold of the facts I will attempt to bring them to the attention of the owner of these sheep, after all, I’m here to do the job to the best of my abilities and should that mean catching and injecting every new born lamb then that is what I will do.

You may not have reached the end of this posting, it is undoubtedly long and quite possibly depressing but it has done me the power of good to get it off my chest. I have slowly accepted the worst possible scenario, I have also accepted that it is no reflection upon my abilities; I am also hoping that it is a blip, probably brought on by the stress of the weather. Tomorrow is another day dawning and life may well be looking up.

In the mean time I’ll end on a high. I saw my first swallow today (22nd April), totally unexpected and in an unusual spot I thought, it would be roughly 7am and was sitting on the fence wire of the field that lies at the bottom of Little Heugh, the field that I put my twins into over there, the frost was just beginning to give and I’m sure the little chap was dreaming of Africa at the time.... If you look closely on the photo below, not only will you see a live lamb but also behind the ewe, on the fence wire, is a swallow, summer is coming! I’m told the swallows were in Tarset on the 13th.
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pepperMO said...

Wow, a tough post to read. I enjoy all of your posts because you share ALL facets of life. Yes. loss is a part of life but hank goodness for new days with bright beginnings and chocolate.

Tarset Shepherd said...

Thank goodness for chocolate is what I say - a life saver in my book!! In many ways I was honoured to experience lamb dysentery, I've spoken to many elderly farmers and shepherds and very few of them can remember it. It is a cruel killer but it makes me appreciate the vaccinations which are available nowadays, vaccinations which I just took for granted and never realised just what life savers they were. Yep, I was definitely 'fortunate' to have the opportunity to experience a disease which is now virtually history.