Where have my sheep hurdles mysteriously disappeared to? The Easter hunt begins. If I offered chocolate eggs in exchange for hurdles, might they magically reappear? It’s a reoccurring theme when lambing preparation start. Hurdles get scattered far and wide, bolstering up weak places in hedges. They might be a quick fix, but I’m fairly sure I stipulated my shiny purchases were strictly to be used for pen building only. However I’ve found some in the cattle yards, in random gateways, making dens and guarding the fire pit. They’re not looking so smart, and they don’t fit together as seamlessly as they did. But doing the job they’re designed for will make a pleasant change for them.

If Nigel had his way, he wouldn’t pen any ewes and lambs; he says I mollycoddle them. If a ewe has carried her lambs for five months, I think it’s worth giving them a little attention for 24 hours to set them off on the right foot. With a starting date of
14 April, I wasn’t expecting a ewe to appear with one lamb in tow on April Fools’ Day. She didn’t reveal any birth details. This lamb didn’t look single size, and mules are apt to produce multiple lambs. I’m suspicious, but the flock was running over 50 acres of land which includes several ponds, woodland and shaws, which provides plenty of cover for sneaky ewes. Unfortunately it is also home to several predators.

Incidentally I’m rather enjoying seeing the increased numbers of pheasants around, in particular Mr Reeves’s. He must be three years old now. Floss, our spaniel, gets all of a quiver when she spots him. I tell her he is off limits. The Reeves’s cockbird looks magnificent, especially when the sun glints on his plumage. I was amused when he appeared to have collected up a harem of six hen pheasants. He was intent on chasing off the competition, sending other cock pheasants running. I’m not sure he won all the battles, because next time I saw him one of his tail feathers looked damaged and he was on his own. But at least he’s managed to evade the foxes.

The next morning a second ewe had lambed, but this time it was more obvious where her labour had taken place. There was one large lamb slightly wobbly on his feet and close by lay one large half eaten lamb and afterbirth. This young ewe was overwrought, and I had no chance of catching her. The lamb was a quick learner and tanked after its mother as best it could. I did manage to catch it to dip its navel in iodine. For a couple of days I only glimpsed these two from a distance, exiting the field as I entered it. When I did next get close enough to observe the lamb, it looked empty and gave a plaintive bleat, it ran up to another ewe as if looking for extra rations.

The ewe had calmed down but was still a good runner. I enlisted Brie’s help and together we managed to guide her into our large collecting pen. Now was a chance to try out the super crook. It clipped onto her back leg but she was powerful and dragged me along, so I hooked it into the fence. She was secure enough for me to investigate her bag, which was rock hard in one side, while the other side was empty. The lamb drank a complete bottle of milk. I unblocked the teat and milked what I could out. The ewe still had an appetite, which seems promising, and was given treatment for mastitis. We also had a good pair of twins born late in the day, so I penned them for 24 hours and they’re doing fine.

No more lambs born for 10 days. We walked the flock back one and half miles to the home farm over the weekend, which the grandchildren enjoyed helping with. Angus likes to take possession of the steering wheel and George likes to be where the action is. So now I can spy on the sheep from our bedroom window. Triplets born last night and twins this morning; lambing is upon us. Still some dagging out needed, along with marking up the ewes with numbers.

We’ve had some proper blackthorn winter weather this spring. The blossom in the hedges looks spectacular and matches the hard frosty mornings. When there’s a white frost I like to see the little bright green patches on the ground showing where the sheep have slept. This morning there was a beautiful sunrise at six and by seven it was cloudy and snowing heavily. Not exactly ideal lambing weather, but better than Arctic winds and rain. It’s the right time of year to improve, and when it does the spring cultivations will be priority. We have some nectar flower mix and winter bird food seeds to get in the ground. Grass growth is slow so no rush for first cut silage. Although our new mower has arrived at the dealership, it’s still in a box awaiting assembly.

The combination of Covid-19 and Brexit sometimes has unforeseen consequences; namely difficulties with supply of tyres. We’ve spent six weeks waiting for tyres to fit Shrek (ATV), and there is no sign of their arrival. When a puncture became unrepairable, it became disastrous. Coincidentally it happened when the container ship was jammed across the Suez Canal, so we hoped our tyres weren’t on board. Shepherding these days without the use of an ATV would cost lives, probably mine from stress. I was mightily relieved when we tracked down some that fitted within the UK.

Last Saturday I made a rare escape from the farm to support a new venture locally, a monthly farmers’ market held in the grounds of Ashburnham Place and set out in front of the lake. Hazel and Martin had a stall selling Pevensey Blue cheese, while Nigel and Hannah sold our beef and lamb meat. The next one is on 1 May from 9am to 1pm. Buying locally and the friendly market atmosphere combined with the beautiful setting sure beats the supermarket aisle experience.