Spirits have been low at Stott Hall Farm this last month. Mother Nature has displayed her ever-changing moods with devastating consequences.
An uncharacteristically balmy March saw us lambing in shirt sleeves at Wild Boar Clough, the family farm at Hade Edge. So few of us could believe the weatherman when he told us to prepare for a brief, but heavy snowfall. Yet snow it did and under the frozen blanket that night, ewes and lambs perished in numbers. Early the following morning, everyone set out in a desperate bid to recover lost lambs, separated from their mothers. As each hour of struggling through waist- high snowdrifts passed, the futility of the search became apparent. Three days later through some miracle of fate, a ewe and her lamb were dug out from a particularly deep and persistent snow drift still alive. It made us all euphoric. This will to survive – quite rare in a sheep – became symbolic of our own determination to succeed.
At Stott Hall, as the first lambs started to make their way unsteadily into our world the rainclouds brooding menacingly overhead burst open and drowned us under a month’s worth of rain in two days.
Our enthusiasm plummeted almost as fast as the barometer. Gales and driving rain left the land waterlogged. New rivers flowed down hillsides, tracks across the moor were washed away.Every inhouse, outhouse, log store, dog pen and trailer was bedded down and made into a temporary shelter for frozen lambs and their mothers.
Our front room resembled a Chinese laundry where every beam, chair back and radiator was draped with dripping overalls and soggy hats.
Molly, our Jack Russell, was particularly bad tempered. A persistent chest infection left her confined indoors, forced to share her bed and prized fireside with frozen lambs.
We were only just getting going and already the kade lamb pen was crammed full, a sea of hungry faces crying out to be fed.
My nine year-old nephew Freddie came to stay for the weekend and made an overnight decision to become a shepherd. After a morning of feeding kade lambs, bedding down pens and moving sheep around, Freddie set out with Paul into sleet and howling winds to check his flock. I felt a swelling of pride as I watched them disappear down the lane together and I heard those words from my own childhood – farming is in the blood, it’s not a job, it’s a calling. I thought how proud my father would have been. It would have been his 80th birthday this year.
A Gritstone had just come into the barn as she was struggling to lamb the first of her twins. After a quick untangling of limbs, Paul stepped aside for Freddie. I saw the man the boy would become as with a calm and caring hand he skilfully delivered two perfect lambs.
Freddie’s enthusiasm was infectious and lifted our spirits. It was a tired but happy aunt and nephew that headed back to Honley to check on Ffiona, my beloved Welsh Mountain mare, due to foal the following week. There, nestling comfortably in the straw was a small, exquisitely formed filly foal. So typical of Ffiona’s character, without any fuss to quietly give birth.
After so many losses to the weather this was the perfect boost we needed. The rewards of this life always seem to outweigh the disappointment.