We hadn’t particularly considered getting sheep, had spoken of it in passing but no more. The grass in the field grew to a metre tall, and hid monsters within the blades. We asked our old friend Maurice (he of the water-divining) to come round with his mini tractor and cut it for hay, which he did. We then spent what felt like months raking the hay into rows, only for it to be rained upon, and rendered useless as animal feed. So we have used it as mulch, expanding the no-dig beds ready for next year.
Having battled the grass in the field, and called on favours once again, we decided that maybe a sheep or two, as lawnmowers, might be the answer. The more we thought on it, the more we realised that it might be a way to get something back from the meadow, as our plans for it are long-term, half-formed, and will not be realised for a few years yet. So, we thought, let’s get some adult sheep, and breed lambs from them for our own consumption. Easy.
ML has a cousin, Guy, who has a large sheep farm in a village a few miles from us. She called him up and told him of our ideas, asked what he thought the options might be. It turned out that he had some ewes, along with their lambs, that weren’t working out for him. The ewes were tending to lamb too late in the season, and as a result their lambs were not of a weight yet whereby he could sell them at a profit. Would we want to come see them? We did.
Guy’s farm is in an idyllic setting, atop a hill with a view across the fields and forests in the valley below. Fields full of sheep surround the farmhouse, a large pond is home to shouting geese and flapping ducks. On the day we visited, two newly arrived pigs were pelting chaotically around the farm, playing hide-and-seek.
Not knowing what we were looking for, but trusting Guy, we agreed to buy the two ewes and three lambs that he suggested. We retreated to Guy’s farmhouse and drank whisky to toast the deal.
Two days later, Guy arrived, sheep in a trailer. We released them into the field and they ran, eating as they did, which is quite a skill. With grass aplenty, and an old pig house for shelter, they were content.
As we are going to eat at least two of these animals, we have not named them. Well, nearly not named them. The ‘queen’ sheep, who is the bravest and stamps her foot at me if I stray too close, has been named Eyebrows, as she has white markings over her eyes. The other ewe has been termed Non-Eyebrows, for obvious reasons. The lambs remain anonymous, as they are definitely for the pot, and are simply identified through the numbers on their ear tags – a legal requirement in France. None of this, however, prevents me from becoming attached to them. They are scared and brave, always hungry, incredibly destructive, curious, intelligent, and I spend more time with them than is sensible. We’ll forget about their final day. For now.
Sheep are determined to die. The number of diseases and afflictions that they can suffer from is astounding. Our sheep are healthy, but we have had one lamb with diarrhoea and one who started to limp. Sheep need their feet trimming now and again, and the most common reason for diarrhoea is worms. Fine. Easy. We’ll worm them and trim their feet. Problem solved. To do so, we must catch them and upend them on their bottoms so we are able to minister to their needs. Guy demonstrated to us how to do this, and it seemed so easy.
Not so. After half an hour of chasing five sheep around the field, we decided to rethink. So, I built a pen from wooden posts and wood reclaimed from pallets, so we could restrict their fleeing. A ruminants’ nail salon. They’d love it. I spent a few days feeding them in the pen, so they associated it with food, and all was well. Then, one afternoon, we took them some extra buckets of food, and lured them into the pen.
Lamb number one was a struggle, but I eventually managed to put her on her bum whilst ML administered the (alarmingly day-glo yellow) worming medicine, and trimmed the hoofs. Lamb number two, similar. Lamb number three, a bit more of a struggle, but done (with only three or four pulled muscles – mine, not the lamb’s).
Next, the ewes. Eyebrows, stronger and more stubborn than me, was having none of it, and fought back. The chickens had come to watch, as had the cat, and there was a sudden explosion of limbs. Sheep, human, cat, chicken, mud, grass, passing sparrows. Like a Dali painting, exploded. And then one of the lambs put her arse through the fence. It was chaos, and it was over.
With the fence broken, and me being unable to move, we decided to retreat for the day. Recover, regroup, and try again.
Wish us luck.