Bringing a new meaning to the expression ‘counting sheep’!
It was the holiday time just after Christmas, and I was a fourth year Vet student.
At last my time had come to learn about lambing!
I had been waiting for this ever since I saw students responding to advertisements on the Vet School noticeboard from farmers asking for assistants during lambing season. What a brilliant job!
I was lucky enough to land some work experience with a sheep farmer in Oxfordshire near my uncle’s home, so that I could stay with family during the placement.
At first I struggled to tune into the local accent, where ‘ewe’ is said something like ‘yeeow’, so occasionally I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing. But after a little while we settled into a routine.
There were several hundred sheep at the farm, who had all been tupped at around the same time, so lambs were expected day and night for a few short weeks. Whilst awaiting their big moment they were housed in a huge roomy barn with lots of straw.
Occasionally a ewe might need a little assistance during birth, and once the labour was over each new family was carefully penned up together to help them get acquainted. The farmer’s family and I made a rota, dividing the nights up into 2 hour stints. We would come out into the dark and the cold, our breath steaming ahead of us, and quietly patrol the large barn looking for a tell tale bag of waters under a tail, or an individual lying down straining.
I adore supporting mothers during labour. It is one of the most miraculous incredible experiences I know to watch a tiny newborn arriving safely into the world. Lambs often take their first steps within minutes and shakily search for a teat. Quite soon they are able to follow their mums into a small pen I would have carefully prepared for them, and settle down to be licked dry and fed.
I became quite adept at knowing when to interfere and when to gently assist. I grew strong from carrying around bales of hay and metal fencing panels. And I became quite sleep deprived! One night, I was settling down for a few hours’ rest, having set an alarm for 2am. When I lay down and shut my eyes, a good 5 miles away from the farm, I could still hear ‘baas’ in my sleep!