We’re back in December again. How on earth did this happen so quickly? Where has the year gone? In the last few months our trees have changed from the magical limes and pinks of Spring, through their summer splendour of greens and copper; then an artist’s palette of yellow ochre, gold, russet and burnt sienna. Soon we’ll be left with grey trunks, bare limbs and dark fingers stretching out against a dull grey sky. But considering the year, here, on top of the Cotswolds, we are so lucky to live in such a picturesque setting.
And the reality is that Christmas is almost upon us again. Let’s hope we will be able to enjoy the seasonal gatherings and parties this time that we missed last year. While I’m happy to draw Christmas to a close after Boxing Day, it’s good to meet up with friends and family during December especially as last year’s restrictions left the festive season a little flat.
Both Christian and Pagan celebrations of Christmas and Mid-winter were, at one time, in the middle of winter. A benchmark to show we’d passed the worst of the weather and were heading towards the start of a new year, with Spring on the horizon. Not anymore. We know we will be likely to have frosts and snow in March, and even into May. Our changing climate ensures we have at least two months of rain, when we’ll plod round in ground that changes in texture from glue to soup. We’ll probably be buffeted by winds, and face snow and ice, but rarely would we swap our office for one secured behind a desk.
I’m the eternal optimist though. We will be lambing in the middle of February, and lambing means spring. Not really, I hear you say, and you’ll probably be right. We have had glorious weather for February lambing and, equally, horrendous. Ewes and lambs will be safe in the barns.
Once the pregnant mothers give birth they move to a small, individual pen while they master the art of ‘mothering up.’ Basically the ewe recognising her children and the lambs their mother. Once a bond is established, they would ideally move into a field of fresh spring grass, but on top of the Cotswolds this is rarely seen at this time of year.
If the weather is dry the families will be outside for several hours a day, returning to their warm, comfortable shed at night. They are easier fed inside as we are set up with troughs and hayracks, and see little point in a young animal spending a cold, and often wet, night outside.
Our main pedigree lambing is usually over in seven to ten days, the ewes all synchronised to lamb together, and this early flock will be living outside when the Easter holiday lambing begins. This consists of late pedigree lambers, though very few we hope, and the small flock of commercial sheep. These generally give birth outside, although some may be brought in at night when grandchildren want to experience night lambing.
Excitement is rife once the date is secured. Checking those in the shed after supper, topping up hay and water buckets, then into the caravan, heater already on, to indulge in midnight feasts and sleep.
Grandpa makes himself a strong cup of coffee, stops any infighting, and settles down to read Farmers Weekly. He welcomes those still awake to join him when he checks the sheep at 2am, but often does this alone.
Gradually the days lengthen and become warmer. Summer approaches and the lambs grow fit and strong. Family picnics can be held on the warm, sunny banks overlooking the Verandas, where the main flock will graze, laughing at the antics of the lambs.
My third book ‘Sheep for all Seasons’ came out on 2 December. It follows the year on our farm, showing family involvement with cows and pigs as well as additional excitements of a new sheepdog puppy. Through both lambing seasons and on to interesting online sales, that result in the purchase of a new sheep enterprise. I hope all those who have enjoyed ‘If Clouds Were Sheep’ and ‘Jumping Over Clouds’ enjoy this one too. It will be available from all book shops and Amazon.
Wishing everyone a safe and happy Christmas, and already looking forward to an exciting new year. Best wishes, Sue