What happens in the lambing shed one year affects the year to come in so many ways and what happens in the wider world affects the fortunes of those in the lambing shed too, but in that silence it was simple. We waited.
A couple of years ago, at the farm belonging to my father in law, I finally got to have the experience many wool fans wish for- helping to birth a lamb. I wrote about it on my old blog and the memory inspired one of my favourite designs and collaborations- my Lambing Shed hat and mitts, developed using the lovely Rachel Atkinson’s Daughter of a Shepherd yarn.
I felt that the story warranted repeating here as Spring is springing, the lambing season is coming to a close and the new generation of the woolly goodness we love so much can be seen, leaping for joy in the fields around.
Last year was the first year that the farm had its new, updated maternity ‘ewe-nit’ in action. Far easier to work in, it also boasts CCTV so that one can observe the sheep from the comfort of the farmhouse via an iPad. When we were down for the weekend, right at the end of the season, two or three girls were still hanging on. One at least, I was promised, looked like she might deliver that night. So while the rest of the family watched television, I was glued to the iPad, using the latest technology to monitor signs known to shepherds for years- were they restless? Were they gazing upwards?
Suddenly, I thought one of them was. My father in law confirmed it and I was hurrying into wellies and out into the night. When we arrived the lambing shed became a cube of strip-lighting in the centre of the pitch-dark farmyard. The swift, well-practised eyes and hands of a man who had been birthing lambs for the majority of his life were quickly satisfied that yes, the first of two lambs was on its way and yes, being pretty straightforward (the head was pointing the right way and presenting first) it was okay for me to be the one to deliver it.
As instructed, I checked once more for where the head was, felt for tiny hooves, gripped, pulled and suddenly- a little scrap of life, spluttering its first breath, knees knocking together as it staggered and sat down, being licked from slickness to fluff by an apparently unperturbed mother. Then we waited.
It’s the silence of that waiting I remember. During the birthing of that first lamb there hadn’t been more than a few words exchanged and while we waited for the second there wasn’t any need for more. It was so very peaceful, there with the cold seeping in through the ends of sleeves and collars, the smell of sheep and straw and the softest of animal rustlings. And even though our breath rising up in clouds was lit by neon tubes and we were watched by CCTV cameras linked by Wifi, it felt timeless.
How many hundreds or thousands of shepherds, in so many different places around the world, for how many thousands of years had stood, just like us, in the dark and chill of the night, waiting to see this same little miracle repeat itself? The little miracle that is part of a bigger picture of the fortunes of the flock- will the lamb be healthy? Will it strengthen the flock or fetch a good price? Will it benefit from a good year for weather and grazing or will expensive additional feed have to be bought in? What happens in the lambing shed one year affects the year to come in so many ways and what happens in the wider world affects the fortunes of those in the lambing shed too, but in that silence it was simple. We waited.
The second lamb was a slightly more complicated delivery and I was therefore assigned to holding the mother’s head, passing the antiseptic spray, keeping the first lamb out of the way. Before I knew it we were back in the house getting warm and dry and the present snapped back into focus. However, there was something profound about that night that stayed with me and I wanted to capture something of it in the design I came up with for Daughter of a Shepherd yarn, whose very scent takes me back to the lambing shed.
The Lambing Shed hat and mitts are both knit in the round and use a simple sequence of knit and purl to create a softly ribbed pattern reminiscent of fences and hurdles. This is an accessible and relaxing knit- the mitts have a shaped thumb gusset and there is shaping at the top of the hat but both are achieved with simple increases and decreases.
To celebrate this Easter Weekend I’m running a 50% off promotion on my Lambing Shed pattern. Simply enter the code ‘Lamb’ at the checkout in my Ravelry shop , anytime between now and midnight GMT on Monday 17th April.