Our first morning on the farm began à bonne heure (early), 7:00 AM. We were soon dressed in our farming clothes, not knowing whether or not they would be appropriate, and making our way to the barn where the sheep were kept. It was time to find out what we’d be getting up to. Scary stuff.
The first task in any given shift is checking for new arrivals. While we slept, there had been three tiny white additions to the flock. Why are lambs so painfully cute? Luc has to figure out which lamb belongs to which ewe. That is not always obvious. The process involves unceremoniously picking up a lamb by its front legs and moving it around in the hope that the mother follows, which it normally does. A new crèche is built for each nursing mother to suckle its lamb(s). The crèches are built from sections of fencing tied together with twine. Once erected, a family of lambs is put in and the dutiful mother follows.
Most ewes have twins, we are told, which is handy ‘cos the ewes have two teats. Sometimes, before a lamb can suckle, Luc has to unblock a ewe’s teats which have some kind of bouchon (a plug). Curious. Occasionally the newborn lambs need encouragement to begin suckling. The encouragement involves introducing the lamb to the teat and repeatedly agitating its tail with one’s finger. Day one and I got to help a newborn lamb suckle. Fiddling under its tail with my finger felt a little like bestial paedophilia at first but I soon got over that. According to Luc, the action with the tail mimics the encouraging actions of the mothers, which nuzzle their lambs backsides as they suckle.
There is a second bergerie (barn where the sheep are kept) which we checked later and heard the plaintive cries of another newborn lamb. It took Luc quite a while to locate this lamb’s mother but eventually he did and this family was eventually separated and sent to join the other nursing mothers.
Luc and Nadine were visited by Luc’s parents and his brother’s family (wife and three daughters) for dinner in the evening. We had foolishly/bravely (delete as applicable) brought some English wine and cheese as a small gift. Bringing cheese and wine to France is very much like carrying coals to Newcastle. Nonetheless, some of our English produce was wheeled out and presented to the family. They seemed to like it. Some even came back for more. We breathed sighs of relief.
After a hard day beginning to learn the art of sheep farming followed by a long evening listening to 9 fast native French speakers and, with some difficulty, following very little, we eventually retired, limbs and ears exhausted.