The Wychwood Woolley wonders, chapter 2

woolleywonders1I write this next instalment of the adventures of six tyro shepherds and their flock of fifty ewes under a leaden February sky. But when you read this missive, we will hopefully be basking in spring sunshine watching our newly arrived lambs gambolling in fields of fresh spring grass. This will make a very pleasant change from last year’s lambing that was conducted in near freezing temperatures, persistent rain and more mud than was good for either sheep or shepherd.

Our adventures with sheep have now rolled around to another imminent lambing season. The rams have been and gone and hopefully mother nature will have taken its course and all of our ewes will be pregnant. Any ewes that aren’t in lamb will have some very serious explaining to do and unless it is a very good excuse will have a great deal of difficulty justifying their continued highly pampered and indulgent lifestyles for another year. I know this sounds harsh but our ewes have a very comfortable life what with lots of fine Cotswold grazing, daily visits from one of the woolly wonders team to ensure that they are all happy and that appropriate medical help is provided – injections, drenching, spraying and the like. There are bottoms to groom, hooves to trim and, of course, an annual haircut. Add in extra rations in the form of sheep nuts, licks and hay and you are looking at a flock of rather expensive and over indulged ladies of whom all we ask in return is to get pregnant once a year and produce at least one lamb.

Despite this attention any shepherd will also tell you that sheep have an extraordinary knack of trying to, and occasionally succeeding in, committing suicide in as interesting and bizarre a method as possible. Going swimming in the river and then finding that woollen coats and steep banks are far from ideal when it comes to staying afloat has resulted in at least three occasions when members of the co-operative – who are not as young and sprightly as they once were – have been found wading chest deep in the Evenlode, hauling sodden sheep back into the field accompanied by the sort of language that would make a docker blush. Even in July that water is surprisingly cold!

woolleywonders2We had one ewe who had twin lambs last April, whose offspring suckled so vigorously and enthusiastically that they tore open the ewe’s ‘bag’ or udder and damaged it so badly that even after she was patched up it would have been impossible for her to feed any more subsequent lambs. A ewe that cannot feed or carry a lamb is sadly just an expense and must be culled but fortunately we had an order for some mutton rather than lamb, so this ewe was the perfect candidate.

We have also had a couple of ewes suffering from Strawberry foot rot. This is unpleasant and smelly and makes the ewes very lame, but some prompt medical intervention and a few days resting indoors in a barn soon had them back to normal. The hot humid summer also brought out the blow flies which will lay their eggs on a wet and soiled fleece and the subsequent maggots will quickly start to eat into the sheep. The ewes had their fleeces clipped to remove any soiling around their back ends but we had a few cases of flystrike which is again smelly and unpleasant and needs prompt shearing of the affected area and treatment with a topical application of dressing. Glamorous it isn’t and these jobs aren’t pleasant but they are absolutely necessary to prevent any suffering to the sheep and to maintain the overall health of the flock.

Our ewes were sheared by Nick Brown who clipped all of the girls in a day and whose stamina, skill and good humour whilst undertaking back breaking work on a sultry early summer’s day was truly admirable. Normally all the shorn wool would be collected and bundled up to go to the ‘Wool Marketing Board’ who pay a little less than the cost of shearing for the fleeces, but the Woolly Wonders and Nick’s efforts were overseen by Amanda Henriques who has a passion for wool and what you can do with it and was more than happy to take some of the raw fleeces, wash and clean them, spin and tease them, dye them and then go on to knit an astonishing array of garments. This year each member of the team was presented by Amanda with a woolly hat emblazoned with our WWW logo. These were warmly appreciated, especially when checking the flock on a bitter January morning.

I would also like to thank all of you have purchased one – or in some cases more than one – lamb from us this season. Some of you have had to be very patient because the long dry summer resulted in poor grazing and the lambs took much longer to reach a ‘finished’ weight, suitable for slaughter. We have been much encouraged by all the favourable comments that we have received over how delicious these lambs have tasted.

The trials and tribulations I have mentioned above only comprise a small part of the shepherding year and are far outweighed by the days you spend leaning on a gate in the sunshine just admiring the lambs and the ewes as they quietly and contentedly go about their days. All that effort has paid off and has proved to be – and I use the word advisably – absolutely priceless.

John Trevers

April – May 2019