Over the stable door: Our Johnny be too good to send to the butchers

THIS WAS the week my lambs were to be sorted out and sent in to the butcher ready for Christmas.

Jo Foster sorting out the tack at her stables.

Most I hadn’t got attached to as we knew they were always destined for the plate. Others, however, had bleated, skipped, jumped and eaten their way in to our family since their arrival in spring time.

One such candidate was Johnny the Swaledale. He arrived from high up in the Dales to act as companion to a fellow lamb, whose mother was struggling to care for twins. He soon turned out to be too big a character to be classed as ‘just another sheep’.

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We had bottle fed both lambs and once old enough, they were turned back out with the rest of the flock, happy to join their fellow pals, or so it looked. Johnny, who by now had developed definite dog-like traits, was locked securely in the field but continued to turn up in the garden, the tack room, the builders van and the kitchen. He played with the terriers, chased my son round the lawn and ate the builders’ lunch with them (or without them).

It was soon evident Johnny wasn’t going to be ending up as lamb chops. He was part of the family as I saw it.

Like the other young male lambs Johnny had needed castrating when he arrived. Tris, who spent a year working on a sheep farm in New Zealand, was in charge of the job. I held them whilst he placed the lamb rings over the right bits. It was a painless job for the lambs at such an early age and all seemed successful.

In a few days the bits we wanted to lose would drop off, or so they should have done.

Johnny, as a Swaledale has always been smaller and skinnier than the rest. When we brought them in to sort I noticed his bleat was deeper and he was acting particularly friendly with a couple of ewes.

“Is this thing actually castrated?” remarked Tris, scratching his head as he watched the scrawny Swaledale butt one of the big lambs away from the feed trough with his large curling horns.

“I hope so,” I laughed. “Why are you asking me? You’re the expert kiwi shepherd.”

Tris took hold of the deep throated lamb and had a ‘feel’.

“Christ. He’s flaming well entire. That’s it, he’s got to go in now. We can’t keep him and he’ll need to be separated from the others before he goes.”

I laughed half in horror, half in surprise. “Ha, some blooming shepherd you are! Typical it had to be Johnny who managed to squeeze out of his lamb ring.”

It wasn’t good news for the pet lamb I knew. The Swaledale was not a suitable tup for breeding fat lambs, scrawny wall jumping ones maybe, but I couldn’t send him in, I had promised my son. I was left in a dilemma.

As we are short of boxes I had to put him in with the pony Kizzy. There’d be no butting her away from the feed trough and getting away with it.

I spent the day deep in thought. Eventually I rang the vet and arranged to bring Johnny to the surgery on Friday for castration after explaining what had happened.

I haven’t told Tris yet. All those weekends spent fencing Johnny’s newest escape routes are still too fresh in his memory. Maybe I’m mad but I do like a sheep with some character and I can’t break the promise to my son. Not yet anyway.