is for Alphabet, Art, Agriculture and Animals. And A is also for Alicia. Aunty Alicia!
This morning, driving through Haun on my way to the croft for morning feed-time, I was brought to a stop by a ewe standing in the middle of the road. One of our ewes. She was staring into the distance, baa-ing with all her might. She’d let off a couple of baa’s in one direction, turn a little, and baa some more. Then she’d turn again and keep up a barrage of baa’s. Apparently, she wasn’t getting any answer. Whoever or whatever was she calling for, she wasn’t letting anyone past until she got what she wanted!
I pulled over into a passing place, and got out to investigate. There were no other Hebrideans in sight. Possibly they’d all made their way to the croft to wait for me, and somehow this ewe had got left behind. She let me get near enough to check her ear-tag: Aha, Alicia – who, this year, hasn’t produced a lamb. Yet. Perhaps she had – but had promptly lost it? I started searching about. Nothing. Could she have wandered too far from her newborn, and it be snatched away by a predator?
I heard someone call and looked up: someone pointing, directing my attention to the bottom of a grassy bank, out of view. Aha – two lovely lambs, lying against each other, snoozing … but already with ear tags. So they can’t belong to Alicia: their mum (or mums) must have left them here to walk over to our croft, half a mile away, to get some breakfast. What should I do … ?
I decided to try and persuade them to come with me back the croft, to join up with the others ; but for all the nudging and coaxing and leading and calling, they simply went round in circles and eights – back to where I’d found them. So what was the invisible tie that held them there or thereabouts?
I returned to the van and drove to the croft, and worked through my usual routine.
Job done, I set off back to Haun, on foot, with a bucket with some sheep nuts. That’d do the trick, surely?
It didn’t. Alicia was indeed very grateful for breakfast being brought to her. Some Erirskay Ponies came over to show their appreciation, too. But Alicia still wasn’t for budging – and without her moving away the two lambs wouldn’t move either.
Just then a great black cloud of commotion came hurtling along the road around the old harbour (the Haun) from the croft: two Hebridean ewes at full pelt, almost falling over themselves, baa-ing furiously, tails whirling round like propellor blades. Oh my! So what was afoot now!
As the ewes approached, the two lambs sprung into the air and hurled themselves at the ewes. Aha! So that’s it, eh? They’d left their little darlings at Haun with Auntie Alicia – the maiden aunt who, not having any lambs to feed, wouldn’t need any breakfast. Auntie Alicia would be only to happy to stay in Haun and keep an eye on the lambs. Wouldn’t she?
“No she bloody wouldn’t!” mutters Alicia, who had now abruptly stopped her baa-ing and was walking back to the croft with me, hoping for a few more sheep nuts. “What do they think – that I’m running a Kindergarten?” Dear Alicia, you are a good-hearted old girl, really aren’t you. You might not have been happy being left minding the bairns like that, but you wouldn’t leave them until their mum(s) came back to collect them. Aaah!
The two ewes would turn back again, too, but the little ones needed a feed. Just one thing, though. Both are feeding from just one of the ewes – I see now that it’s Imani – who produced twins.The other ewe, I see now, is No 11 – mother of twins Windy (and Wet). So she’s doing again what she did last year – and the year before that: unable to feed her own lambs, she ‘puts them up for adoption’ – but then attaches herself to another ewe that has twins, wanting desperately to have a lamb of her own to care about, even if she can’t care for it.
Sheep, it seems, have social relations as complex and conflicted as a soap opera!