Everyday I check the ewes with eagle eye. Once over the frantic, hectic lambing and immediate post lambing days it’s very easy to rest on one’s laurels, sit back, enjoy the hilarious antics of growing lambs and the satisfying sight of the flock contentedly grazing.
One of my problems this year is too much milk…yes, too much milk! Supposedly due to last year’s wet summer I’ve had a higher than normal percentage of singles. A proportion of ewes that generally twin have given birth to single lambs and yet are still producing milk enough for two; resulting in engorged, painful udders until lamb, mum and milk sort themselves out – regulate. This can resolve itself naturally but not always, and if ignored could lead to mastitis. Mastitis in sheep is very serious, unlike mastitis in cows, and almost certainly results in the loss of the udder if not the ewe. An ‘udder’ (groan – sorry, just couldn’t help myself…) problem is orf. The stress of lambing can cause a break-out of orf pustules around the teat area (similar to reoccurring shingles in humans). It’s very painful and the ewe will prevent the lamb from sucking – and, you’ve got it…inflamed udder, damaged teat and possible mastitis if not detected and treated.
Today at feeding time I noticed a young feisty ewe with a very lopsided udder. Unfortunately the sheep were thinning out around the troughs (the easiest time to catch them is when they’re in a feeding frenzy) and she saw me coming. After several abortive attempts at trying to catch her I was about to give up when I thought I would try out some sheep whispering.
Crouching, I approached her and her lamb slowly, very, very slowly with my arms outspread. Looking her directly in the eye, I mumbled soft sounds whilst gradually moving forward. My mind was totally focused. Edging closer and closer I saw her fear and anxiety reached fever pitch then gradually subside; her breathing steadied. I was inches from her. I made no attempt to catch her. I waited just a second or so; she took a steady step towards me, looking unswervingly into my eyes she put her head forward to snuffle my hand. For a moment we were frozen together – a tableaux. She allowed me to put my arm around her chest, start the milk flowing from her swollen udder and encourage her lamb to suck.
It was over in minutes. One trance-like udder-relieved ewe and her lamb rejoined the flock and one happily flabbergasted shepherd walked the half mile back home – grinning.