Udderly Wonderful

Fresh lamb ‘T was thrashing with rain this morning. There were another few lambs born overnight which we moved into crèches with their mothers. The technique for this is worth a word or two. One grabs the less-than-steady new infant by the front legs and half carries it, dragging its back legs along the ground. The dragging action leaves a scent trail which the mother ewe follows. The cute one is then unceremoniously tossed into the back of a crèche and mother goes in after it. We climb in behind the mother and unblock the teats by squeezing and pulling.

Sheep walking That, I’m told, is the theory. I seem to be successful about 50% of the time, mother dutifully following her lamb as intended. I must say that grabbing a freshly delivered, still damp lamb is an odd sensation. The other 50% of the time, mother obstinately remains stationary, staring me in the eye as if to say, “if you think I’m following you, a rank amateur, just because you are manhandling my child, you’ve got another think coming”. “Luc, help!” Of course, when the professional takes over, the ewe behaves impeccably. Luc even seems to be able to make the ewes follow with the lamb walking – some of the time, at least.

At the end of our pre-breakfast session, the dark side reared its ugly head. The unfortunate ewe that had suffered a prolapsed uterus was still alive but Luc’s experienced eye told him she was not going to recover. I helped him to pull her out of her crèche and she could hardly stand. He despatched her later in the morning. Her lamb, though, is doing well and will be suckled by another ewe.

This herd of 320 (Luc’s quota set by the EU) is a dairy herd, the ewes’ milk being collected to make Roquefort cheese. 80 or 90 female lambs from this year’s crop will be kept to refresh the herd by replacing older ewes keeping the head count the same. The replaced ewes are sold and end up in some product or other. All the male lambs and the remaining female lambs will be sold and it won’t be too long before they are on our plates. The Spanish like them at about 12kgs, the Italians at about 14kgs. They’ll be gone around 15th December. Happy Christmas! When the lambs have gone, milking for cheese production begins in earnest (twice a day). For now, though, only a few ewes, those with excess milk, are milked. This small amount of milk is just discarded.

Yours truly gamely playing with a ewe's udders Luc explains how to drive a milking machine We’ve been initiated into the gentle art of milking. Did I say gentle? It isn’t. 40 ewes at a time, 20 on each of two sides, are marched into the milking parlour. Luc checks the udders to see which need milking and we get to try to attach the suction cups of the milking machine. Some of the ewe’s take exception to having their udders messed with and repeatedly kick the suction cups back off. The solution is as many firm thumps on the rump as are required to make the ewe accept the cups. Luc can do all this by feel. For us it is necessary to have a damn good look and find out exactly where the teats are. It’s amazing how varied the anatomical details of ewes can be. If one is really lucky, a ewe will either defecate or urinate all over one’s hand while one is up close and personal attempting to attach said suction cups.

Great fun, particularly the shower at the end of the day. ❗

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