Farming can be a form of therapy for people who are struggling with their mental health and overall sense of wellbeing.

The chain of events that led me to that conclusion began with new lambing facilities being constructed three years ago and finished with a couple of friends telling me how much they enjoyed the daily ritual of cleaning out lambing pens and how it had turbocharged their mental health.

Yes, I know – my generosity knows no bounds!

When I lambed sheep outside, in yards, and in antiquated sheds (the main one was built before the partition of Ireland) the helpers weren’t exactly queuing up to offer their voluntary assistance.

Let’s just call it cheap, cheerful, and cost-effective

Lambing pens were all over the place, feeding time was both awkward and complicated, and facilities for mixing bottles and washing hands was a lot more bearable when it wasn’t raining. Let’s just call it cheap, cheerful, and cost-effective.

But lo and behold, when the new shed was built, people started to appear out of the woodwork, asking if they could come and help.

Old habits

At first I resisted, partly because old habits die hard, and partly because I’ve worked far too long on my own, and watching incompetent folk doing stuff differently had me foaming at the mouth in frustration and barely concealed anger.

So, my wife Susan kind of took over: she would send me off to some faraway field, while she explained (patiently, and with kindness) to the inexperienced volunteer, exactly what was required.

We had several of these helpers this year, and by the time day two or three had come and gone, they became really useful

The art of imparting knowledge is possibly one that I need to brush up on.

We had several of these helpers this year, and by the time day two or three had come and gone, they became really useful.

This was particularly so because of the withdrawal of Spectam from our armoury, and I now confess to having been a Spectam junkie.

No wonder the E coli levels were stratospheric at times

In the old days, I would simply re-bed individual lambing pens between patients and some of them must have had seven or eight freshly lambed ewes through them.

No wonder the E coli levels were stratospheric at times.

With the extra help available this year, we were able to clean out and disinfect every pen after the ewe and lambs had vacated. Jeepers, it was near enough an Airbnb we were operating.

Eye opener

However, the real eye-opener for me centred on two of our male helpers.

One was a recently retired engineer, the other is a mature student, studying for a PhD in foreign politics.

At first, I felt guilty when they asked what was on the agenda that day, because the only show in town was cleaning out dirty pens.

While they graiped and sweated with the wheelbarrow, I would have enough free time to wander around the shed, checking wee lambs, and occasionally humming to myself (the guilty feeling doesn’t last long, believe me).

I was utterly gobsmacked, and it made me (once again) marvel at the everyday mundane tasks that we take for granted

Towards the end of their week-long stints, both of them thanked me for letting them come, and said how much they had enjoyed the physical work and sense of satisfaction associated with lambing.

I was utterly gobsmacked, and it made me (once again) marvel at the everyday mundane tasks that we take for granted.

In that sense, the whole process was probably good for me too. There were so many small positive observations voiced by these voluntary workers, which had me responding with, “Oh aye, right enough, when you’re doing it everyday you don’t notice”.

Some helpers consider lambing a ewe to be the pinnacle of their work experience, and if they are keen then I try to ensure they deliver a newborn.

Photographs are duly taken, with much grinning for the camera, and everyone goes home happy.


However, one of our volunteers had no such desires, and to call him squeamish doesn’t even begin to describe his aversion to blood in any form.

Just to get a sense of whether or not he could hold a ewe for me to lamb, I asked what he was prepared to tolerate.

He explained that many years ago, when his wife and he attended pre-natal classes before the birth of their children, he would regularly crash to the floor, out cold, when any of the birthing processes were being described.

Therefore, on a couple of occasions when he had to hold a sheep for me, I would be hoking away at the business end, and would glance up to see only the back of his head, as he tried desperately to concentrate on some faraway spot in the distance.

And if she was a noisy ewe during the lambing, her grunts were matched only by the groans from him as he tried to stop himself from hitting the deck.

Honestly, this was entertainment of the highest order – I can’t wait for more of the same next year.

Read more

‘Stay safe’ still relevant this spring

Watch: reassessing the formula for baled silage