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Lambing Days

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New lamb on the east coast of Harris. Image © Peter Kwasniewski

There seems to be no end to life’s uncertainties at the moment. Each day brings new changes as the long and winding Covid road continues to twist and turn.

But the natural world still manages to keep to its regular rhythm as the seasons inexorably roll on and winter slowly segued into Spring.

The clocks have changed, moving forward one hour to herald the beginning of British Summer Time and all of a sudden the evenings have become long and full of light.

A stern stare from a protective mother, Isle of Scalpay, Harris.

And life is definitely springing anew as we welcome the annual arrival of lambs to our croftland, moors, and machair.

It’s been around 150 days since the rams ran rampant among the island flocks, and now the fruits of their frisky labours are being borne.

Those that still keep sheep here in Harris, and across the wider Outer Hebrides, will be busy bringing these woolly babes into the world, morning, noon and night.

Finding their feet and first bold steps.

Our apprentice distiller, Phil Bertin is one such crofter with his hands full this season, as he takes a break from his usual whisky still life to look after the ewes under his care.

Much of the lambing here in the islands is done al fresco in the great outdoors, although sheds and barns can sometimes offer shelter from the elements.

It is a period of patience and predictions, watching and waiting. Those with an experienced eye can read the signs like a fortune teller interprets the tea leaves.

Cheviot twins, full of milk and ready to return to outside life.

In the hours before birth, a heavy, wide-flanked expectant mother will slip away from her sisters to find a place with peace and quiet. Here, she will wait for her moment to come.

The clues will all be there for the observant crofter, her scraping of the ground a precursor to the prostrate straining which inevitably follows.

Some shepherds like to be hands-on, particularly with heavy-set breeds prone to problems due to their size. Others, like to let natures take its course, only stepping in when needed.

New lambs and life on the west coast of Harris.

Either way, lending a hand at the moment of arrival is always welcome. The small, slippery woollen mass which flops upon the cold ground will often need help to take its first breath.

A soft stick of straw to tickle the nostrils can help kick-start the process and the attentive licks of the mother will further stimulate the little lamb.

Within days, these lambs are full of life and literally bouncing with the joys of spring. As they grow more confident, they begin to form gangs and race each other helter-skelter across the crofts.

Those important first feeds.

It can be a long, hard slog for the local men and women who take on this work at this time of year. And, there’s often plenty lows to accompany the highs experienced along the way.

But, there’s something special about this time of year for all us islanders, a reconnection with nature after a harsh winter, the sense that the cycle of life, despite it all, has begun once more.

As we head into a brighter April, we hope these lambing days, and all that they bring will inspire you to keep your spirits high too.

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