The other night I had an upsetting dream. I awoke from it at 3.44AM and in that halfway house between sleep and full wakefulness, in the predawn gloom, I lay experiencing a profound sense of loss. I felt emotional all day; I was merely tired and being stupid I told myself. But no, it was more than that; I was actually in mourning, in mourning for lost friends as it happens.
You see the last image I recalled from the dream was that of Janet, or Jannie as we used to call her. Now Jannie was special, a born fighter; one who had survived against all the odds. She had her own personality and knew her own mind; which is odd when you consider that Jannie was a sheep.
I remember when we got her. We bought her and her “step sister”, Annie, from the livestock market. We had actually gone to get some chickens for our small holding, but something made my parents get these two orphan lambs as well.
We already had 4 black faced Suffolk ewes. To identify them my father put a blob of paint on their ears. So we had Left Ear, Right Ear, Two Ears and Tufty… Tufty got her name for the patch of wool on her forehead.
Jannie was a little white faced Southdown and Annie was a brown faced Hampshire. Both lambs were under nourished and cold. Jannie was scouring badly which could be seen by the state of my mum’s coat as she carried the poor lamb. “You’re wasting your time with that one.” Farmers told her as she tried to keep it warm. Now my mum would take this “advice” as a challenge to her mothering instinct so really, in retrospect, there could only be one result!
Back home, both lambs were warmed by the Rayburn. For a while they lived in the living room with us, having a temporary pen in the room, while we fought to bring them back from the brink; much to our Springer Spaniel, Snoopy’s disgust! They were hand fed using a bottle with a teat and they did more than rally; they thrived!
Back in the fields, with the other sheep, these two lambs would bound over to us if we had a bottle of milk or not. If Snoopy went wandering they would accompany him; they thought they were dogs at times! My dad would show off Annie to relatives who visited. She’d actually jump up to him like a dog and my dad would pat his robust Hampshire sheep proudly.
Of course they weren’t really pets; we now had 6 ewes as breeding stock and we raised their lambs for meat and sale (we supplied organic lamb before the term was coined!). To that end we acquired a Dorset ram at a bargain price. Sam the Ram had a bad case of foot rot in his front hooves which was making him lame. A commercial shepherd would probably have seen him as a liability but, as with the two orphans, we had the time to put effort into his care. He always had a slight problem hoof but he thrived too; the monarch of our fields and Lord of his Harem. He didn’t take kindly to human visitors in his fields when tupping time approached, as instinct and raging hormones made him aggressive. We all learnt to stay out of his way if we could, as the bruises on our legs testified to. His favourite ewe always seemed to be Two Ears, although you had to be wary when Annie and Jannie would come over to say hello!
When the lambing season began, both Orphan lambs couldn’t be more different. Annie was distinctly unimpressed and didn’t initially take to motherhood very well at all. We had to confine her and her lamb in the goat house until she realised that the insistent lamb bothering her was her responsibility. The opposite was true of Janet; you would be hard pressed to ever find a more devoted mum. She rarely let her lamb out of her sight and would but any ewe who tried to bustle her lamb away from them. Both sheep were still friendly though, that was until two years later.
A terrible storm was raging through the early summer night. That years’ lambs were about three or so months old at the time. We had by then built a shelter for the sheep out of galvanised corrugated steel and apple wood (the fields were old orchards and we reused anything!). There was a gate tied to it which we used when we had to confine the sheep, for dosing them with worm drench or treating foot rot etc.
We awoke to Jannie bleating and running around the field like a thing possessed. Her lamb had got its head between the bars and the gate had fallen over breaking the poor creature’s neck. Jannie was distraught; it was heart breaking to see. The stress of it all actually made her wool fall out. Don’t let anyone tell you that animals don’t feel or don't have emotions because I know that it’s simply not true. Poor Jannie changed that night. No longer did she come over and say hello, she was forever stand offish with us. The sheep that thought she was a dog had died; the poor baby.
So why have I written this post? After all, all these animals I mention here are long gone and my parents were eventually forced by family commitments to abandon their self-sufficiency dream, and return to the suburbia they had escaped from.
It’s because I think these creatures deserve being remembered by me, they were part of my upbringing and so part of me. So here’s to Annie and Jannie, Sam the Ram, Two Ears, Left Ear, Right Ear (I knew them by their faces eventually, who needs paint?!), Tufty, Snoopy and Brock my beloved dogs, Arabella and Bluebell the pigs, Jessica and Juba the goats, Clarence and Clara the geese and not forgetting the chickens, Eric the Red and his girls, including Penny and little Banty; I miss you all… Banty? Now Banty has a story all of her own to tell, but that can wait for a future post. ;-)