Our 2024 lambing started on Easter Monday, nine days earlier than scheduled. As I entered the field I could see from a distance an older mule forlornly wandering to and fro along the hedge line, bleating mournfully as she went.

It was such a sad sound, I immediately knew it would be a tale of woe. The rest of the flock was grazing in an adjoining field. The ewe led me to a twin-sized lamb which she had licked; there’s no telling if it was alive when born. A short distance away lay a fresh black tail, the body gone, no doubt carried off by a predator.

Shepherding is not for the faint hearted. Nearby, a robin was perched high in the hedge, chest puffed out, singing loudly as if confirming spring has arrived.

It was five days later before we had any more lambs born. It had been all quiet the evening before and early next morning I discovered two sets of triplets, a single and three sets of twins. It’s a relief to get live lambs; it restores your faith in nature when they are born unassisted. It was time to wander the rest of the flock down the lane back to the field next to our house. Ed, our shearer, kindly left his own flock to dag out our ewes; he’s so much quicker and more efficient than me.

All farmers have found the wet ground conditions challenging this winter. It’s been bad enough in the south, but the north has suffered even worse, which is unimaginable. Shrek (ATV) has been struggling to get about, and I’ve only used it to carry energy blocks. It already lacked a functioning four-wheel drive when the steering also went wrong prior to lambing; it’s going to cost a fortune to fix.

I threw my toys out of the pram. The Kawasaki monster we call Shrek had to go, but what to replace it with? A quick fix was needed. After asking other shepherds for recommendations, I tried out a Honda quad, which was impressive, but the constant fear of having it stolen made me reluctant.

We were offered a Suzuki Jimny and this has certainly got us out of trouble. I’ve changed from road tyres. I was given a choice of all-terrain tyres designed to use 50/50 road/off road, or mud tyres designed to use 20/80 road/off road. I went for the latter and they are brilliant. I’m so pleased with my new farm vehicle; it’s proved invaluable. Brie, my sheepdog, inadvertently stood on a purple spray can, liberally coating herself and the inside of Jimny in purple, so it’s well marked.

We’ve had some sharp April showers, it’s been mild and there’s plenty of grass, and it’s becoming less soggy underfoot. This year there seems to be a notable number of bees around, which is good. We’ve also endured an influx of midges that appear in abundance during the evening, their company a nuisance to sheep and humans alike. The flock is checked at dusk and then at first light. I enjoy listening to the dawn chorus, along with the ewes chattering to their new arrivals, and witnessing the sunrise is a benefit of crawling out from under the covers at unearthly hours.

The first couple of nights we lost newly born lambs to foxes. I found one twin with blood all around its neck; on close inspection I could see fresh bite marks. The mother had blood spatters on her face, so I reckon she made the fox back off.

I got them into the barn, sprayed up the wounds and the lamb survived. After this we used electric fencing to create an enclosure at the top of the hill, close to the house and away from the wood, into which we gathered the flock during the hours of darkness. This seemed to cure the problem.

With hindsight, I suppose we had fair warning, because pre-lambing the fox did run off with three of my five chickens one afternoon. I had gone to check on stock away from home, while other half was on his tractor cleaning out the home sheds. You’d think the remaining two chickens would be cautious, but not a bit of it. They are very intrepid, oblivious of danger. One minute they’re heading for the wood and the next they’re in the road. I’ve told them to learn the green cross code, because two eggs daily is essential for cakey…… the grandchildren expect it. Lambing time is very much a family affair; everyone pitches in and helps in some way or another.

Sheep in the shed have been kept to a minimum, only newborn triplets, ewes with milk slow to come in, a couple with mastitis and singles that we’ve fostered a second lamb on to; some wet fostered and a couple of skinned ones where the ewe produced large lambs which died during the birthing process.

One Charolais ewe has completely refused to rear her own lamb. I’ve tried every trick I know of, to no avail; this ewe is adamant she’s not rearing her offspring. I’ve warned her we do not keep freeloaders on this farm.

We’ve also been calving and have appreciated the user-friendly facilities provided by the new cattle shed. Calving has gone well. We’ve only had to assist one Sussex cow who struggled with the delivery of a ‘large for her’ calf, compared with a 30% assisted rate for lambing. Other half is keen to point out that sheep are more needy.

On Grand National weekend we did a family sweepstake, and as I drew out the favourite, I exclaimed: “The favourite never wins.” I was wrong, though, so at the end of the weekend I gave my two grandsons £10 each for their help with lambing. George (five) said he’d buy a Harry Potter umbrella. Angus (four) announced he was going to buy …… a hundred million lambs. Granddad commented that he would not be offering to work for Angus.

I suggested that with that many sheep, Angus might need a tractor as well, which prompted a beaming smile.