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Saturday 19 April: How The Allotment Missed Out May 1, 2014

Posted by dawnshifter in Uncategorized.
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A dry day forecast, I start the day with a pot of tea – bird-watching from the dining room window. Tinker the cat likes to share this time, so the bird-food is topped up, and my knees almost touch the radiator. We welcome back our regulars: ravenous robin, bold little wren, nippy bluetits all get ticked off, along with the bumbling woodpigeons. Not so keen on the magpies or starlings – they bully their way in and bolt down everything before the smaller birds have a chance. Fortunately, they’re not as brave, so take longer to come back when I tap the window.

It would have been an allotment day, after ‘Sounds of the Sixties’ but before the teapot’s empty, P texts me: ‘Oestra’s started lambing’. Oestra is a Portland ewe, named after the Pagan goddess and fertility festival for the Spring Equinox. A legend says that Oestra turned a bird into a rabbit, which laid coloured eggs. Remind you of anything on Easter Saturday?

Anyway, that’s how I came to spend a goodly part of the day on my knees in a sheep pen, instead of at the allotment.Still, the bee-house repairs were sorted the day before, and the broad beans are above ground and looking after themselves, which, as it turned out, Oestra couldn’t do, so good call all round.

This isn’t Oestra’s first lamb, but she’s left it later than we expected and she’s huge and obviously uncomfortable. P and N’s strategy is for minimal intervention – less stress for the ladies means they’re soon back on their feet and making lovely mothers. So, we put the lambing box handy and find chores that will take us past her pen often. Progress is too slow, N makes the decision to help, and we climb over the hurdle.

With Oestra against the side of the pen, N takes first one back leg and then the front leg, all the time talking to her as she slides her down onto the straw. N takes the business end, while I hold a horn and lean on Oestra’s shoulder, to convince her to stay down. What N would like to find is a little nose and two tiny hooves under a chin. What she does find is one large nose and only one hoof. Ah – the other is somehow up above the ear. For a few pushes, we briefly see the brown nose appear – and disappear again, despite N’s best efforts. I find I’m all but breathing and pushing for her. The babe already has a suckling reflex, but is it getting enough oxygen? At last, it’s out – she’s out, a ewe lamb, and mum starts licking and persuading her to stand right away. As a wandering herd animal, the instincts tell Mum it’s safer to stay with the flock, so getting her on her feet is crucial.

Oestra's newborn Portland lamb

Oestra’s newborn lamb

It’s fascinating how fast a newborn lamb’s coat fluffs up, once licked. But then she’ll need all the warmth her rosy russetty wool can trap. For now, she’s a good colour to camouflage her from predators. Soon, we’ll leave them to get to know one another, but first, we spray the lamb’s umbilicus with iodine to keep the bugs out. Then comes the fun bit, and P’s grandson A arrives in time for this stage: out of the lambing box comes a cotton shopping bag and a spring balance, just like the ones anglers use. The ewe lamb is lowered into the bag, legs struggling to stay out. Under Mum’s nose, the lamb weighs in at 3.5kg, give or take a wriggle. The biggest lamb so far this year. For now, all that’s left is to take mother and daughter to the smaller laying-in pen – Aidan picks up the lamb and Oestra follows – she’s very biddable compared to Andy’s mother pigs, but that’s a story for another day.

Portland lamb standing

getting to her feet


Its already mid-afternoon – half a day has absconded, and they’re both very tired, but the lamb still needs to suckle. Instincts cut in and Oestra nudges the lamb to her feet and in the right direction, and nature does the rest. That’s lucky – I don’t think either would have appreciate my chilled fingers trying to help out. That’s one less worry for us, but don’t think we’re in the clear yet: it’s been hard work for both and it could still prove too much, so again we plan the duties to bring us past their pen regularly. Although we do take a break to toast the baby in tea. The little’un did give us some concern later in the day, when she seemed very floppy, so N lifted her to her feet to test for a natural reflex: this little girl gave a four-legged stretch, reminding me of that luxurious first-thing wake-up stretch, and yes, days later, she’s out in the paddock with her larger family playing steeplechase.



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