The joys of farming in December: Winter sunshine, leaping sheep and hens who lay an extra Christmas present

Rosamund Young, author of The Secret Life of Cows, on sparing walnut trees, freeing sheep and a very special Christmas Day breakfast.

December and it’s cold. The sun gets up and then goes to bed again. Our house and farmyard are flanked on the southern side by tall, dense woodland and the sun has disappeared from view by half past two in the afternoon. Walk through the wood to the field beyond, and the sun is still up there in its proper place.

If we felled the poplars and Sitka spruce, Norway pine, Redwood cedar and Douglas fir we could have a further two hours of sun a day in winter. When we moved here in 1980, several of our new neighbours said they expected us to chop down the centenarian walnuts to get some quick cash but the walnuts are not felled and neither are the poplars. Miraculous Goldcrest ring their Christmas bells high up in this wood as they jet from treetop to treetop.

Yesterday, the little sheep were having fun just as the brief sun was hiding. They have coats that mock the wind and they raced in tight circles, pretend-fought one another, raced faster, leaping and twisting in the air – I feared at first that they were running from something but no, they were just happy.

Hill sheep grazing in a misty field

One of the bigger sheep got caught in a blackberry bush, tightly, tightly bound.  One of her half-sisters – this group were all sired by the same ram – waited next to her, keeping her company while I completed my daily perimeter and criss-cross search of their grazing range. The caught sheep fought against me, my secateurs, and all my strength as I worked to free her. I held her front leg with one hand and madly snipped the determined, spikey bonds but she wouldn’t wait to be completely de-briared.

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As soon as she felt freedom a possibility, she powered clear, tipping me towards the unrepentant bush, with its siren December leaves.

I am reading That Inward Eye, reminiscences of Black Mountain farmer David Griffiths, which he dictated after tragically losing his sight at the age of 59. When he was a small boy he would go with his father to cut “…a few briars to make a couple of baskets…we would look for tall long thin ones…” – the very ones my sheep wish I had cut!

There has never been a time in my life when we have not kept a few hens and for many years we have associated the festive season with an increase in egg production.

The hens moult and look bedraggled, then they re-feather and look brand new again and almost always on Christmas day we find a statistically impressive increase of 100%: two eggs instead of one. Perfect for Christmas Day breakfast!

The Secret Life of Cows by Rosamund Young is published by Faber & Faber (£9.99)