25 years ago I experienced my first lambing time with Keith and I was surprised to see him do what he did. My grandfather had never kept sheep so I hadn’t witnessed a sheep birth before and I don’t recall many stories on James Herriot about sheep either, although I will never forget him going to calve a cow, heavily inebriated. I had no idea about lambing and I had no idea it would take my then boyfriend away from all other pleasurable activities off the farm for a couple of months.
It actually took years for me to understand why he couldn’t just take a few hours off and it meant me getting fully involved before I completely appreciated what he did.
When we started our family they were difficult times. I was expecting twice during lambing time and had to stay away from the sheep because sometimes ewes can carry a disease which makes them abort their lambs and it can be passed to humans. We don’t vaccinate our ewes, we keep what is called a closed flock where we breed all our own replacements thus preventing the spread of the infectious diseases which cause it. We don’t buy any vaccinated stock from other farms either. I had one child right in the middle of lambing on the cusp of one batch of sheep finishing lambing and another beginning. Keith didn’t take paternity time off but he was there for all three of the births of our children. When we got married the vicar said look after Lorraine like you do your animals, and that was pretty much what he did, as long as they were born healthy and breathing that was all the time he could spare with any of the children. He picked me up from the hospital and brought me home, dropped me off and went back to work.
I remember after having Luke our first born son I called Keith to tell him I could come home on the Sunday, he replied well you will have to wait because we are scanning the sheep today. Of course it upset me but what else could I do other than wait because I wanted him to be there.
During some of the years of lambing times we have spent together I have sometimes felt powerless and lonely in our marriage, neglected and very unhappy. Lambing time here on the farm can last up to 10 weeks and it really takes every last ounce of the energy we have to keep going for so long, it is arduous. But over the years we have had some very special memorable experiences too. We had scones with jam and cream in the middle of it one year when Prince William married Kate. We have had so much fun over the years when the weather is on our side, and things go well, its a family effort and it’s such a privilege to be part of it first hand and amongst around 1700 lambs there are always some we will never forget.
One experience I remember was long back before we had a quad bike. If you have read the one cow wife blog post this was pre engagement. We were ‘courting’ and I had arrived back from University for the Easter holidays.
I always met Keith up at the farm and the feeling of anticipation before seeing him again after a number of weeks was exhilarating. I can still look in my minds eye and see his face light up as we met as if it were the first time over again.
I remember the feeling of just wanting to whisk him away to be alone. Kissing was the best thing ever back then and I never wanted to be apart from him. We were in lust, and that lust grew into love, a love that has stayed strong through life’s shit and shiny. And still today I have some of my happiest times when we work together outside, I don’t really care what it is we are doing I just truly appreciate being able to be close to him at work.
But we couldn’t get away back then because lambing was in full swing and we had to walk quite a way to fetch a ewe back that was giving birth in the rain near the hedge of the furthest field. I was given wellies, waterproofs and leggings and off we went. It was pouring down and the ground was soft and muddy, we were holding hands but I was almost being dragged along by Keith who knew the urgency of the situation. When we got to the sheep it had lambed itself, twins, both alive so Keith was able to just stop for a minute to look at me.
There in the field, in the hammering rain, we stopped. Keith was looking down on me because I was much shorter than him in my wellies and he took my face in his hands to pull me to look up at him and he said ‘You look beautiful.’
Nobody had ever said that to me before. Here I was drowning in borrowed green Flexothanes and the one of the most special moments of my life occurred. I can remember it so vividly it still almost moves me to tears.
Keith then had to fetch the sheep in, he walked her with his legs either side of her and a crook round her neck. I carried the wet, lambs ahead so the mother followed.
Some years we’d fall out at lambing time when we were supposed to be going out somewhere for a meal but we never made it. My Easter Egg from Keith would sit on the sideboard untouched and I would look at it pondering whether I could cope with his life forever.
People’s perception of happy lambs running about in sunbathed fields is only one aspect of lambing time, the reality behind the scenes is much more intense but from that first lambing time back in 1993 when I was Keith’s girlfriend I remember instantly wanting to have a go.
Even though I was incredibly scared I would do it wrong I wanted to see what it felt like to birth a lamb. With Keith guiding me and explaining what to feel for, I birthed my first lamb and I was hooked.