Last month I had the wonderful and short experience of taking part in the lambing process. I went initially with the sole purpose of recording sound but soon enough realised it was too close to the motorway to get anything other than the background humming and the occasional bird song. So I focused on making a short recording of the shepherding and little by little started helping out with the work, more often than not leaving my camera and recorder inside the bag.
I soon started looking forward to the morning routine, waking up just after 5 am so I’d have time to have a coffee and get in my waterproof clothes.
At 6 am, barely light, we’d arrive and go around checking 4 different fields, each one allocated to a different situation. The weather was incredibly difficult, with the highest remembered rainfall for that month, leaving the fields extremely wet and muddy, which made it extra difficult to walk and wasn’t ideal for the sheep to be giving birth and nursing their new lambs.
First we’d check if any ewe (female sheep) was lambing or had already done so in the night and would subsequently help her. If lambs were born we’d check them and their mother and spray the lamb’s navel with iodine to avoid infection. By this time all expectants ewes were already following us with close attention hoping to be given sheep feed. We had to place the sheepdogs in strategic places around the troughs so we’d have time empty the troughs of rainwater and fill them with sheep supplement feed. As soon as we moved out of the way they would come quickly like a sea of muddy wool for their morning treat. Sometimes a ewe expecting two lambs would give birth to one before we arrived and we’d have to help her have the next one.
My help was fairly limited. Most of it was walking across the field getting a bucket of feed or lambing medicines, sometimes holding a ewe down while she was being lambed. They are very strong animals, so I’d have to hold her lower front leg upwards with one hand and her neck down with the other. I also sprayed numbers on the ewes and lambs so we’d know who belong together. I never lambed myself. I’m too squeamish and inexperienced for that. I definitely wouldn’t trust myself.
When all was well, all lambs due were born and sprayed and everyone fed it was time for breakfast. This was the highlight of the morning! Everyone who still has the thrills of being a kid somewhere inside them knows that breakfast in a stationary caravan in a field is one of the best! I’d gulp an enormous cup of coffee and two slices of toast with butter and I’d always pinch a Kitkat from the biscuit tin for later. Then, it was time to start the whole thing all over again.
I’m looking forward to doing this again. I can see now how it can be addictive. It’s the constant sense of achievement of a job done several times a day and the slow progress towards accomplishing the whole surmounting job. Next time hopefully I’ll be more useful and learn a bit more.
Al photos taken with Mamiya 7 II and Fuji Pro 160NS film, except for pictures of the breakfast and the shepherd’s crook, taken with an iPad Mini. Forest of Bowland, north Lancashire, April 2016.