As the saying goes, the weather in March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb-but not this year. When I was a boy, the beginning of April was when our lambs started to be born. Our flock began with an orphan given to my sister and I. We would feed her bottles of milk, which she would drink with alarming speed, her clipped-off tail wagging faster than a spaniel’s. In the end, we had about 30 ewes and, due to three very tame orphans, there was no need for a sheepdog as the flock followed us wherever we went.
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Lambing was an incredibly exciting time. Delivering a lamb that had got stuck during birth in the dead of night as the barn owls and vixens traded their ghastly screams give me a sense of controlling life and death. The smiles as the newborn staggered to its feet amid the wafts of coffee and Lux flakes are an abiding memory. One year, our entire flock averaged twins, the Holy Grail of shepherding. It felt as if we’d won a marathon. Our sheep are long gone, but this year has been a disaster for lambs.
The corpses in the snowdrifts are matched by piles of dead in the lambing sheds. There has not been enough food, too many were born thin and farmers have been unable to afford the feed over this never-ending winter.