Guess what? It turns out that I am a trendy farmer, currently at the cutting edge of farming fashion.
I have arrived at this conclusion after noticing that, for the past few months, half the programmes on television have been based in lambing sheds all over the country.
And apart from those of a queasy disposition who were put right off their spaghetti bolognese, half the UK population must now be dab hands at understanding the intricacies of birthing a pregnant ewe.
This upbeat and constructive view of agriculture reflects our industry and ourselves in a positive light, even if it is tinted heavily in the Walt Disney style.
I only ever see ewes being assisted that would, in my judgement, have lambed themselves anyway. There don’t seem to be any of those half-hour sessions, complete with moaning mother, and a sweating, expletive-laden shepherd. And the very real ending (“Oh ****, the thing’s dead”) does not seem to occur too often in the sanitised world of “telly lambing”.
However, with a new lambing shed in full swing, and a bit of extra help this year, we had, at times, a parallel version of these popular programmes – good facilities, cosy, straw-bedded pens, an area for the delightful orphan lambs, and the background orchestra of mothers and lambs calling and talking to one another.
It was, in the more relaxed moments, a little bit of rural bliss. The only thing missing was that piano that always begins just as a living lamb is successfully delivered on television. Susan had to make do with my tuneless whistling.
Far away from the general public’s perception of lambing, there will always be those perplexing issues that crop up every year.
I wonder is there a shepherd, anywhere in the world, who can honestly claim to have seen it all? Because I’m still learning a bit, year by year.
Scanning remains frustratingly inaccurate, with 30 or 40 ewes carrying one more than the scan suggested.
In the end, my concerns at a fairly average scan of 178% were misplaced – they were bang on 200%
A change of personnel and equipment threw up a similar result to other years, so I’m beginning to assume it’s something to do with my ewes at time of scanning.
Maybe they’re not fasted long enough or are too fat in early December. I don’t know, except that no blame is being apportioned to the men doing the scanning.
In the end, my concerns at a fairly average scan of 178% were misplaced – they were bang on 200%.
I don’t “do” drugs, but if I did, my first choice would be the lifesaving combination of oxytocin and calcium. For no apparent reason, there were at least a dozen sheep that didn’t open properly at the outset of parturition.
Typically, there would be a small string of slime below the tail, but the ewe would continue chewing her cud, and pretend to have no intention of lambing.
Examination usually showed a non-dilated cervix, (with a lamb jammed up against it) and therefore it was time for a bit of magic; 1ml of oxytocin and 30ml of calcium doesn’t sound impressive, but the results were spectacular.
In over half the cases, the ewes opened up, and lambed themselves in under two hours. I wonder, were these sheep lacking in a trace element or vitamin?
Another first (for me anyway) concerned a ewe lamb that needed a bit of assistance. She’d been pressing and monkeying around for a couple of hours, so I decided it was time to give her a hand.
I delivered a decent single (not huge), but as the lamb slipped out, it was immediately followed by her lambing bed (uterus).
I watched her for a few minutes, but she seemed perfectly happy and comfortable
In all my life, I’ve only ever seen lambing beds coming out after prolonged heaving by the ewe, usually associated with a very stressful birth.
However, this time I reached forward, squeezed it gently back in, and it disappeared like a rat up a drainpipe.
I watched her for a few minutes, but she seemed perfectly happy and comfortable. Next morning, she was lying contentedly, without even the gentlest hint of a tell-tale push or grunt. No stitches, no painkillers, or anti-inflammatories.
It was one of those farming incidents that, if another shepherd had told me, I’d have nodded and listened appreciatively. Then, as I walked away, I’d have thought, “That guy must be the biggest liar in the country. You couldn’t believe a word he’d tell you.”