It is a while since we last had pet sheep. When the children were small, we got a couple of pet lambs and while Henry went to the freezer, Matilda paid a visit to a ram occasionally and had three sets of lambs with us. We then sold her and two of her lambs to a farmer where she went on to have two or three more sets of triplets until she was found lying on her back on day. Unfortunately, sheep can die if they end up on their backs if a human doesn’t find them soon after and give them a helping hand. She was a brilliant mum and always gave birth on her own without any bother.
Now that we don’t have the goats any more, I had been thinking of getting a couple of pet lambs but never got around to it last year. After being contacted by a Sunday World journalist last week asking to come down so I could teach her how to be the perfect farmer’s wife, I decided to get a couple of pet lambs. We don’t have any calves yet and I knew a ‘cute factor’ would work well in photos but where to source pet lambs around here this early? Many of the farmers around here wait till March to lamb so I turned to twitter and after two phone calls, I found a farmer who was in the middle of his lambing season only ten miles away. Last Friday we went to collect two lambs, the female is one of a set of triplets and the male is a single lamb but his mother didn’t have any milk.
We did suggest to the children that we call them ‘Chop’ and ‘Shank’ but they weren’t having any of it – hence the names, Jack and Daisy. When we had Matilda as a lamb, Kate surprised us one day but saying she couldn’t wait till Matilda was yummy in her tummy (she loves her meat) but this time, she doesn’t want to send her lamb to the factory so it could be interesting!
It is very important that the lamb’s navel is dabbed with iodine when it is born and that it receives sufficient colostrum. Years ago, artificial milk wasn’t available and if a triplet or orphan lamb couldn’t be fostered by another ewe, they had to take their chance on cow’s milk. They just weren’t up to digesting whole milk from another species and most died – it was very hard to keep pet lambs alive. ?We now feed pet lambs on a specialised milk replacer such as lamlac. Nevertheless, they can still become poorly. Jack got joint ill which could kill him so he needed injections. Daisy was a bit fussy on her second day and wasn’t her usual self so she needed TLC too and they are both enjoying the heat of the infra-red lamp – it’s like a snuggly warm blanket keeping them toasty warm and cosy. I feed them five times a day, last feed about 11:30 and first about 6:30. They drink about 1.25 – 1.5 pints in the day at the moment.
I know some people think it is strange, that we are happy to send lambs and cattle to the factory and yet are sad if they die of an illness but that is what farming is about – looking after animals well so they can be a good product as well as live a happy life yet if they suffer through illness or die in pain, it really upsets us. Where there is life, there is death, where’s there’s livestock, there’s deadstock too.
I do find that seeing life and death on a farm prepares children for human deaths too – they seem to accept that death comes to us all when we get old. I remember accepting that my grandmothers had died, both were in their late 80s and they weren’t going to have much quality of life if they continued – it seemed the right time for them to pass on. Losing the occasional pet animal means the kids grieve over a funeral and then pass through the grieving process. I still remember the first cow I sobbed over, she died when I was 9.
On a happier note, I’ve been meaning to get hens for a few years but just didn’t have a shed to put them in. Every available shed is used by calves in the spring – as our calving is so compact!! ?I could have purchased a purposebuild wooden hut for hens but that seemed like an unnecessary expense on the farm.
Anyway, partly for the ‘cute factor’ for the photoshoot, I arrived home with 4 pullets last Friday and we put them into a small area off the old milking parlour. The old parlour is used for calves in the spring and the little area is occasionally used for a sick calf. Temporary doors were put in place for the hens and then Brian refixed the original door separating it from the calf area and he made an outside door for it – it is now a perfect hen house – all I need now is lots more hens and hope the fox stays away! Just for me to paint the door now on a dry day.
They still have to get their red combs so they won’t be laying for a few weeks. It’ll be lovely to have hens around the yard again – really adds charm and an old-fashioned feel to a farmyard I always think.
Had a good afternoon with the Sunday World team – photographs were taken of me showing Geraldine how to (hand and machine) milk a cow, move cattle in the yard, feed a lamb, hold a hen and of course, make scones! It will either be in the paper this Sunday or the Sunday after so it will be interesting to see what the photos and story are like.