Birth of Boreray Sheep

It was March and, having witnessed Billy’s amorous displays during late October and November, I was feeling supremely confident that all 10 Boreray ewes would be in lamb. Billy’s activities were in stark contrast to my Soay ram, Burstye Poseidon, who had seemed totally disinterested in his girls despite their frantic and unashamed attempts to seduce him. According to expert male opinion (husband John) this was all due to the fact that he was vertically challenged and would be unable to reach the ewes without the aid of some sort of lifting gear. However, unlike my now bulging Soay ewes who each gave the appearance of carrying a small hippo, the Boreray ewes looked no different at all. Admittedly their thick fleeces had the ability to hide a multitude of sins but I wanted evidence. Grovelling in the field underneath a flock of ewes searching for some sign of an udder was an activity which was almost certain to earn me an unsavoury reputation so I decided to be optimistic and imprisoned them all in their lambing quarters ready for the big day.

Quickly the house filled with sheep "junk"

The house was by now littered with an assortment of manuals on sheep-keeping ranging from the simple to the scientific and detailing every disease and physical deformity known to man. I remained totally convinced that my sheep would contract some hideous disease just prior to lambing and die because, as my vet reliably informed me once, “that’ll be right – that’s what sheep do!!” This ritual has now become an annual event prior to lambing: Step 1 – arrange manuals on floor in order of complexity. Step 2 – read all sections on lambing. Step 3 – make copious lists of equipment required. Step 4 – return to step 2 and so on. Yet in spite of all this thorough preparation the Soay ignore the textbook stuff and do it their own way so would the Boreray do the same?

Every day I carefully studied the ewes in eager anticipation of some signs of imminent lambing. Nothing! The Soay always gave me plenty of warning prior to lambing – moping around, fidgeting, not eating – before launching into labour with lots of strenuous heaving and grunting. They had perfected the art of “prolonged labour “, straining for just long enough to get me seriously worried and send me scuttling back into the house to collect an appropriate manual on lambing techniques. Of course, by the time I returned with the aforementioned manual the birth would be over and the lamb would already be frantically hunting for its first meal.

Wait, wait and more waiting and then eureka

The days went by and not a lamb in sight. Every morning I would stumble out of bed at some unearthly hour and creep down to the shed in the desperate hope of catching a Boreray in the throes of lambing because, as a dedicated stockperson, I considered it my duty to be there at the crucial moment to lend a hand if necessary. The Boreray however decided that under no circumstances were they going to allow me to witness the event and would wait until I was a safe distance away and then give birth. The first Boreray to lamb presented me with a big surprise – a dark brown lamb – nothing like any Boreray I had ever seen. The large horn buds evident on top of the skull immediately led me to suspect that this was a ram lamb and closer inspection later confirmed this. Filled with joy and excitement I rushed back to the house to give John the good news. He, however, was engrossed in studying his distorted reflection in the kettle whilst muttering “does my belly look big in this?”. I sensed vast amounts of disinterest and vowed that future progress reports would be strictly on a “need to know” basis.

The Boreray lambs then began to appear thick and fast and I was struggling to create mothering pens fast enough. Adding to my problems was the fact that the Soay ewes, seeing all this frantic activity, had also decided that this was a most suitable time to have babies and that a few malpresentations would be good fun just to keep me on my toes. It was time to call on the trusty assistant who was last seen heading off into the distance with a chainsaw in one hand and an assortment of tools in the other. He was eventually located several fields away wrestling with a collection of parts which had once constituted a fully functional chainsaw. “Some *!*!* idiot has put the chain on the wrong way round” he complained, throwing spanners around wildly. I contemplated pointing out that this was in fact a job that he had undertaken the previous week but decided that maybe this was not a good time and that perhaps the whole lambing process would run more smoothly without him.

By now the Boreray lamb count had reached 7 – 7 ram lambs that is – with only 3 ewes left to lamb. Every ewe had lambed effortlessly and had produced fine strong healthy lambs but I couldn’t help feeling a certain amount of disappointment that there were no ewe lambs. This was a repetition of my very first Soay lambing several years ago when I found myself with 10 ram lambs and 2 ewe lambs and foolishly thought I could keep all the entire rams as “pets”. Eventually, of course, Mother Nature transformed them into seriously hormonal monsters whose primary aims in life appeared to be the total destruction of their surroundings and the search for “girls”.

Oh no not another Boreray lamb...

The birth of ram lamb number 8 threw me into despair and immediately triggered an “I hate sheep – they’re all going to have to go!” mood. In our household this has become a regular occurrence but my ever-increasing flocks bear witness to the fact that I never actually carry out these idle threats. Pen in hand, I was on the verge of scribbling an advert for some country magazine or other when it finally happened – a ewe lamb – and then, another ewe lamb! Suddenly sheep were once again the most wonderful creatures on the planet and nothing would ever persuade me to part with them. This now left only one ewe to lamb but careful examination revealed no evidence of being in lamb so I resigned myself to the fact that she was barren and released her with the rest of the flock.

The Boreray ewes were excellent mothers and fiercely protective of their young. Jasper the ginger cat, who loves to get involved at lambing time, was frequently the unwilling recipient of a good butt in the ribs from an irate ewe as was the local pheasant who always put in an appearance at feeding time. The lambs grew rapidly and soon reached that stage where feeding from mum became a rather grotesque spectacle. The 8 ram lambs (all still entire) are now fighting for supremacy much to the apparent amusement of their father who strolls casually around the flock keeping a watchful eye on things. The barren Boreray did in fact have a little surprise in store for me and presented me with a beautiful ewe lamb 2 weeks ago.

Lambing is now well and truly over and, although the end result was only 3 ewe lambs, if they grow up to be as pretty as their mums then I will be happy. Maybe next year will bring a reversal of fortunes…..