Bears and tortoises hibernate in the winter but they’re not the only ones. Shad the Cat has been lying dormant over the winter period although obviously not hibernating in the true sense of the word. Real hibernation involves a sleep so deep that body temperature and heart rate would decrease and I would not be required to eat or eliminate body waste – 2 things essential to my daily routine! Since I’ve been inactive over the last couple of cold wet months, what better way to celebrate the coming of Spring than with new life in the form of little lambs as they begin their journey from carefree folly to maturity and beyond.
Gaston Farm in Slindon opens to the public in April for lambing season and gives everyone a chance to get up close to the sheep and see the lambs being born. John and I arrived just after one ewe had given birth to two little babies who were nuzzling their mum while their wobbly legs held them up. She was in what I called the ‘birthing barn’ which was a warm dry outhouse containing all the pregnant mums and sectioned off areas for the sheep who were about to lamb so that they could have their offspring safely. The shepherd told me that ewes will normally lamb without any need for assistance but sadly a few don’t make it through the birthing process resulting in orphans. Most sheep have two lambs but some have three or one, so the orphans and any lambs from a group of three are fostered by ewes with only one in order to make sure all the lambs have a mum and to minimise the risk of some mums working too hard with three lambs while others have too much milk for just one. It was all very magical and inspiring until things got icky when the shepherd took the afterbirth that had been expelled and gave it to his dog, demonstrating why his nickname was the Grumpy Shepherd!
We took a tractor and trailer ride out to the fields where the sheep live on the South Downs. It was bumpy along those country lanes and every time John got the camera lined up for a great shot the tractor driver would pull forward causing John to bounce up and down so it was difficult to get the camera steady. The driver said that the sheep in the fields had been moved there away from close supervision in the barns as their lambs had got stronger. Each ewe was then painted with a coloured number to indicate how many lambs they had produced. A green 27 was the 27th sheep to have one lamb, a blue 15 was the 15th sheep to have 3 lambs and a red 1 was the very first sheep to have twins this season. We caught a glimpse of this special set of twins just before the tractor heaved the trailer back towards the farm. By the time I hopped off the trailer I had a skip in my step like the Spring lambs cavorting in the fields and was determined that I would take a moment every day to appreciate the daffodils and bumble bees and warm sun on my belly. Goodbye winter and hello new life. Time to stock up on anti-histamines and sun-cream ready for John’s usual summer of sneezing!