Emma: Well friends, I’m afraid that the optimism in Alfie’s post of earlier today was a bit premature. Oberon, the little lamb with a very high temperature and rattly chest, is improving greatly, and we hope he will be OK, but to our surprise and shock, the tiny lamb Mr Big has died. I found him stretched out peacefully on the straw in one of the shelters. I must admit that I haven’t taken it well. Our sheep are, as you’ve probably worked out, pets, and during lambing time you tend to find yourself working extremely hard on one or two lambs who really need your help. Mr Big was one of them. During his first few hours on the planet, Foz and I got up every three hours to make sure that he got the colostrum (the early milk from the ewe, which has all the essential antibodies) he needed, and we held him onto his mum’s teat so he could suckle. When he proved not to be too good at that, we moved him onto the bottle, and we fed him every four hours or so, making sure that he got enough milk to keep him going. We got him through the critical first three days, and felt as if we might be able to breathe again. I was curious to see what would happen with him. He was such a fighter that I felt confident we had a decent chance to keep him going – and I wondered how much bigger he would grow, whether he could catch up with the others, and whether he would become robust and strong. But sadly it was not to be. Our vet, who had visited him during the morning and given him antibiotics and painkillers for the pneumonia, was shocked at his death, and suggested a post mortem. It turned out that he had actually had pneumonia for a couple of days, but he also had a large internal abscess which would have killed him sooner or later, even without the pneumonia.
It’s a strange thing, but during very difficult times in my shepherding life, I am buoyed up by the thought that I am not alone, and that others have gone before me. Cotswold sheep are a very ancient breed – they may have been in England for 2,000 years, since the Romans allegedly brought them over – and I feel a real connection to the shepherds of the past. They will have sat in rainy fields in south-west England watching over lambing ewes. They will have had favourite sheep, animals for whom they had high hopes, or prize specimens which they will have been anxious about. They will have exerted themselves to help a tiny lamb, and sometimes they will have pulled off a miraculous saving of a little life (as happened with our very own Alfie, of course) – and sometimes they will have had the sadness and disappointment we’ve just had. I feel very strongly that connection with them, across the centuries. I hope that they would recognise my efforts, as I recognise theirs.
So in a way, what happened today is all right, part of the pattern, although very sad. These things happen, have been happening in this little corner of England for a couple of millennia, and will undoubtedly happen again – if we all keep going with breeding our Cotswold sheep. They definitely deserve our time and attention and love.