Jonathan and Denise >
So many things to do, not enough time. Life’s a blur!
After a few days of clear skies and warm summer sunshine, and more than week since the last rain, today’s low cloud and drizzle are good for the walled garden and the croft ; but they also make the morning rounds just a bit harder work – not least climbing the hill in waterproof jacket and trousers.
I reach the hill gate to find none of the sheep waiting for me – not even little Windy, anxious for her morning bottle of milk. (I’m going to have to start weaning her, soon.) I climb to a prominent high point and call Trobhaibh! Trobhaibh (Come hither! Come hither!), and listen for the echo resounding from the steep north face of Beinn Eisabhal. Satisfying, but unlikely to reach far in the low cloud.
I wait a while and listen: distant bleating: but from where ; from whom? And what’s that … neighing, too?
The cloud swirls and clears, opening up a view of the corrie above Seonaidh‘s crofts. In the distance, appearing over the high ground between Bun a Mhuillin and Roisinis, appears a few black heads, and the bleating becomes clearer and just perceptibly louder.
Suddenly, looming out of the cloud to the right, not the corrie below, appear two white Eriskay mares. A trail of others appear behind them. All uninvited guests, here for a free breakfast!
They’re friendly enough, and one older mare accepts my strokes around her head, but is more interested in the bag I have with me, containing the sheep’s morning ration. Within moments, I have twenty Eriskays pestering me for sheep nuts. “No way! These are for Queenie and her flock : you can [beep] off!”
Queenie herself soon appears at the head of the rise, Windy close behind, and the rest of the flock trailing along, all bleating ‘Wait for me!” “Don’t forget me” and more on that theme.
I lay down big fistfuls of sheepnuts, arranged in an irregular line (as tussocks and puddles permit), keeping it short so that the sheep crowd together and there’s few opportunities for the ponies to stick their heads in and steal.
But the sheep are skittish, nervous of the (to them) huge Eriskays: I stomp around the ewes in a circle, defending them and their breakfast from any disturbance by the avaricious Eriskays.
Soon, the sheep have had their fill, and move on: the ponies move in and comb the ground with their soft whiskers, their lips parting as they detect the occasional sheepnut missed by the sheep.
The older ewes, all with lambs to feed, prioritize feeding their young over growing a new fleece : they’re always last to be sheared – usually in mid-late July. It varies, depending on how good a ewe is at converting grass into growth.
Queenie’s first in line for anything, whether that be for the ram – or for shearing. Today was a fine one for shearing, so I took shearing tools and dosing bottles with me up to the hill grazing – along with the morning ration of sheepnuts.
The health condition I’ve developed in recent years makes it hard for me to cope with extended sessions of heavy physical work, and as the problem is centred on the nervous system – and the spinal cord in particular, I’ve given up on the conventional round-up and shearing a fank-full of sheep.
Now, I just quietly and (relatively) gently ‘nab’ a sheep whist he or she is pre-occupied with sheep nuts, and get on with it. Wherever that might be. One sheep a day – weather permitting. It really is so much easier for me and for the sheep – though it does mean we’re limited to around 15-20 ewes and a similar number of their hogs to shear, each year (the ewes in July, the hogs a month to six weeks earlier).
So, this morning, Queenie was first of the ewes to be sheared this year. She’s eight years old, so by now she’s an old hand at this sort of thing. She was a very good girl: no struggles, no baaing or bleating, she stayed calm and quiet right from the start … and when I’d finished, she just lay there, on her fleece, perfectly relaxed … I had to give her repeated nudges and encouragement to get up.
It took a couple of tries, flailing her legs around to set herself right, but once up she looked back at me, bleated softly, then walked quietly off to catch up with the others.
What would we do without Queenie to set a good example!