Last weekend Henry made good on his invitation to visit his farm during lambing. About six hundred of the farm’s seven hundred sheep had already given birth, and he must have figured husband and I could inflict minimal damage. So on Sunday afternoon husband, one half of R&R, and I made our way up to the farm near Stow-on-the-Wold. Heeding Henry’s advice, R. and I were dressed in sensible jeans and sweatshirts. Husband, on the other hand, had found it unnecessary to change out of the tweed blazer and cravat he had worn to church; wellies were his sole sartorial concession.
Not long after we arrived, R. spotted a ewe that was about to give birth. I won’t describe here how we could tell she was about to give birth. Let’s just say it involves some telltale signs visible from the rear and that unlike Alice, the shepherdess on duty with Henry, I couldn’t sit around slurping an instant pot noodle while I watched said signs expand, contract and leak. Waiting for this ewe to give birth was like waiting for a watched pot to boil, so we strolled around the individual pens that had been setup for ewes and their new babies on the other side of the barn. One pen looked like a dismantled kids playhouse with daisies painted on the side and a heat lamp hanging overhead. Inside, five lambs were regularly reassembling themselves from huddle to snoozing heap. These five were too small to make it on their own when they were born, so they were now being hand reared as pets. This included feeding them what looked like orange Gatorade through a syringe while the no nonsense Alice held them upright by their front legs. The cutest was a girl called Jeff with a black face and black legs. She was already so domesticated she cuddled like a kitten.
Back in the lambing pens the expectant ewes were looking fed up. There was a lot of panting and pawing going on. I’ve never been in the same room with a woman in labor, but I’ve seen some on TV screaming and cursing out their impregnator and it was hard not to anthropomorphize these ewes when the looks of disgust in their eyes was so similar. Soon R. had spotted another ewe who had started to give birth — ewe number one was still holding out — and within five minutes a tiny, gooey lamb had plopped out on the straw. Mom was immediately upright, licking and preening, and the other ewes gave her space. Within five more minutes the lamb was taking her first steps, just in time for mom to go down again and pop out the twin, another girl, which took even less time than the first.
At this point husband had already named both the babies, Lord and Lady Glebe (don’t ask me why most the female lambs in this story ended up with male names), and was asking to buy them at well over market prices. He even offered to go into Stow-on-the-Wold to get cash out of the ATM. He didn’t want to take them home to our pebble courtyard, just to buy them a life as replacement stock rather than heading to the abattoir in as soon as twelve weeks. I was trying to be more sensible and embrace the “know where your food comes from” ethic so suggested we should buy them to eat. We could, I wanted to think, have a bit of a feast and know that our food was reared and killed ethically. But the truth is I don’t think any of us, except Alice of course, could have eaten Lord and Lady Glebe after we spent a few more minutes watching them come to life like one of those sponge toys that metamorphoses from a cubic centimeter to an animal when you sprinkle it with water.
In the next few days Lord and Lady G. will get a number spray painted on their side, the same as their mother to make sure they all end up together when they are put out to pasture. Henry promised to make note of their numbers and keep an eye on them. He says there is a good chance they’ll end up as replacement breeding stock anyway — their mother gave birth to twins which means they have hearty breeding genes. I’d like to believe that’s true, but husband is taking no chances. He sent Henry another text today to see if he could still make the deal.