Spring lambs

Days-old lambs are not quite sure who their mother is, as they race away from the photographer on a large field off the Whitfield Road further on from Five Lane Ends

The curlews have been heard early last week, apparently, (I saw one up at Elpha Green this afternoon) and these lambs emerged probably just over the weekend, from about the 1st of March, so such spring signs tell us that winter must be nearly over. We won’t bet on it yet, however, will we?

But the inescapable feeling of renewal is upon us, whether or not we get another cold spell, even a blizzard to give us pause in our cheerfulness. Even a blizzard, however, in its temporary ravage, cannot stop the inexorable seasonal change as spring becomes real. Even this mizzy drizzy morning can’t stop the onward movement of the season.

When spring comes to the lower altitude Allendale, on the high fellsides going up to Allenheads the sheep farmers there still have another month anyway to get ready; lambs traditionally emerge in Sparty Lea only by the beginning of April. And up on the moorland stints, even later, unless a chancer tup has escaped the upland farmer’s attention some five months earlier at the beginning of September for example. Nobody predicted the terrifyingly warm spell at the end of February, of course, so lambs should still be on their normal schedule — farmers wouldn’t have put the tup to the ewes any earlier than they’d ordinarily do. Farming is a long game — while weather reporting is but a week’s glimpse into the future at best, weighty almanacs notwithstanding.

Migrating birds though might arrive earlier and earlier, in response to increasing early spring temperatures in their winter hide-aways, but if they’re showered with an unexpected ‘Beast from the East’ their goose, and goslings, are likely to be as cooked as last year’s grouse hatchlings were. So the weather of spring is crucial to the normal seasons ahead.

But in the excitement of the season, as lambs begin to gambol hither and yon, playing ‘king of the castle’ on every possible hillock, and in general developing their muscles and limited intelligence (nobody ever said that domesticated sheep have much of that!) we can all share in the delight of life, even though we may pretend, jokingly, to be tempted to chase them through the fields with a potful of mint sauce!

No, let them fatten up — we’ll wait until their pre-ordained time, when they enter the ring at the Hexham Mart around about July/August and become due for the chop and the hygienic, consumer-distancing meat shelves thereafter. Lamb mince, so nice in shepherd’s pie, of course, or leg, a delightfully traditional Sunday roast. Come September/October, their lowing mams will have forgotten about their babies, and will be receptive to the tup, and the cycle starts all over again.

Musing over this meat cycle, I’m sentimentally moved and almost, but not quite, tempted to become a vegetarian, possibly extending to fish. On the whole though, for practicality, I’d be just as happy taking up the newly proposed ‘world diet‘ devised by a network of thoughtful scientists for sustainability.

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