I am sitting in the lambing shed with a lamb tucked inside my sweater. She’s having a little nap after her bottle feed of warm formula made from the yellow powder that mimics what Mother Nature produces naturally. Sadly, Mother Nature, like country life, has its share of doom and chaos, and the mother of this lamb took one look at her creation and booted her out of the fold.
Ordinarily, we deal with these displays of sheepish postnatal depression by confining ewe and lamb in a shed together and waiting for instinct to win out. With triplets, that’s harder to do. It’s as if a Medical Ethics Committee operates in the lambing fields, and the ewes decide to concentrate on the fittest, counting on rejection and sudden cold to be the kinder kiss of death.
Most shepherds accept this heartless Darwinian stance and, despite Defra laws, bury the lambs in fields far from the public eye. I’m the same, but more ceremonial. I line Amazon book boxes with soft dustless straw from Mr Dixon and chant ‘O Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us’, as I dig little graves in the moist ground of our woodlands. But this time, when I placed the still warm but lifeless shape in its cardboard coffin, I suddenly saw movement, like the subtle belch of porridge on the simmer plate.
I instantly made the transition from undertaker to nursery nurse, escaping to the shed every couple of hours, bringing with me a canvas sack containing Duchy oatcakes and two thermoses, one filled with mint tea for me, one to divide between lamb formula and the hot water bottle that has transformed the coffin into an incubator.
Like all Intensive Baby Units, this shed poses hard questions. What if this lamb survives over the next few days? Who is going to nurse it in the weeks ahead? On the Sunday after Easter, the Gospel is or was ‘Jesus said: “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep” ’. As country girls, we loved this image of Jesus as a shepherd, although our livestock was limited to Jersey cows. But I also know that I fall into the category of what Jesus called the ‘hireling’ meaning the people who are not committed to their task. I’m devoted and full of love for the lamb, but any day now, I’ll feel like taking Sam to Cambridge, eating lunch at Loch Fyne, making my pilgrimage to Kettle’s Yard and second-hand bookshops.
This lamb now thinks I am her mother and she is at my mercy. I may have given her life, but she has given me a few days of peace, space where no one can find me, a quiet oasis of solitude that smells of hay and lambswool. Unlike biblical shepherds, I haven’t written psalms or named stars, but I’ve had time to think. A chance to chew over the bitterness of things a war I hate, the destruction of rainforests in Borneo that is driving the orangutans to extinction and a chance to nurture a little hope: perhaps these will be known as the years when man woke up, realised the damage done to the planet, began to turn from death to life, began to clean up the mess.
At least, that is how it feels here in the lambing shed. I only pray that we don’t get distracted, don’t lose interest prematurely, before the lamb is robust enough to join her cousins playing lamb games on the fallen oak tree that is their playground; before the damage to the Earth shows real signs of reversal. This Easter, I want to believe that the Lord is our shepherd and leads us forth beside the waters of comfort.