For those brave souls tempted to add shepherding to their future curriculum vitae, here’s a warning. You might have to lock horns with lambs like the one on the left. This is Surly Lamb, age one day and three quarters, and she doesn’t look happy to have her sleep disturbed by a photographer.
Yes, it’s lambing time again. We have four ewes lambing this year and all four were due on consecutive days, starting today. Shelagh keeps track of their previous form though as the gestation period is plus or minus three days and some ewes have a habit of being early. All ours appear to have that habit.
This year we had the added stress of unseasonable snow – we had over a foot of it deposited on us last week and it was taking time to thaw – and, far worse, Schmallenberg – a virus which first appeared in 2011 and has been sweeping across Western Europe ever since.
What makes Schmallenberg particularly insidious is that you don’t know you’ve got it until lambing starts. The ewes show no symptoms at all. But their lambs … they’re either stillborn or grossly malformed and die within minutes. It’s believed the virus is transmitted by a midge bite around the time the lamb was conceived. And, besides, trying to prevent midges from biting your ewes, there’s little you can do about it. At the moment no cases have been reported in our immediate vicinity, but there are cases within 80 miles. Some flocks in the UK this year had a 50% mortality rate with their lambs.
So, with a little trepidation, we drove our four expectant mothers into the lambing stable on Wednesday evening. There was still some snow in the field but mostly in isolated clumps at the base of hedges. And we had our new lambcam CCTV system up and ready to monitor the ewes overnight.
After an initial inspection and a ‘no lambing imminent’ verdict, we returned to the house for a sandwich. Two hours later when Shelagh went back for a look, she found triplets – two girls and a boy. All perfectly normal. Lambing had begun!
Surly Lamb was one of the girls. Here she is again in a better mood.
Here’s her sister, lying down, while Surly drinks at the portable milk bar.
And here’s her brother, the white sheep of the family.
The next day we had ewe number two producing a single male lamb. Here he is with his mother. He’s one day old in the picture.
Meanwhile, back at the farm, the two brave sheepdogs take a deserved rest in an armchair after a long hard day of chewing sticks, chasing tails, and devouring postmen. There’s not a lot of room but Zen finds a warm furry mattress.
Chris Dolley is a NY Times bestselling author living in France with a frightening number of animals. His novelette, What Ho, Automaton! was a finalist for the 2012 WSFA Small Press Award for short fiction. More information about his other work can be found on his BVC bookshelf .
An Unsafe Pair of Hands – a quirky murder mystery set in rural England charting the descent and rise of a detective on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Which will break first? The case, or DCI Shand?
Medium Dead – a fun urban fantasy chronicling the crime fighting adventures of Brenda – a reluctant medium – and Brian – a Vigilante Demon with an impish sense of humour. Think Stephanie Plum with magic and a dash of Carl Hiaasen.
What Ho, Automaton! – Wodehouse Steampunk. Follow the adventures of Reggie Worcester, consulting detective, and his gentleman’s personal gentle-automaton, Reeves. It’s set in an alternative 1903 where an augmented Queen Victoria is still on the throne and automata are a common sight below stairs. Humour, Mystery, Aunts and Zeppelins!
French Fried – the international bestseller – true crime, animals behaving badly and other people’s misfortunes. Imagine A Year in Provence with Miss Marple and Gerald Durrell.
International Kittens of Mystery. If you like a laugh and looking at cute kitten pictures this is the book for you. It’s a glance inside the International Kittens of Mystery – the only organisation on the planet with a plan to deal with a giant ball of wool on a collision course with Earth?
Resonance – “This is one of the most original new science fiction books I have ever read. If it is as big a hit as it deserves, it may well be this book which becomes the standard by which SF stories about … are judged.”