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Did you think your kids were a handful? Save a thought for this isolated shepherdess

The last light of the day dives across the hill as Shepherdess Emma Gray gets on her quad to go home.

With her son Len tied to her back, she makes one last round of her fields before calling it a night.

It was a long day for the 34-year-old, who has welcomed 700 lambs to the world in the past three weeks.

Growing up on her parents' farm in Scotland, Gray became the first female winner of the prestigious Northumberland Sheepdog Trials League and wrote a book about her isolated life. Then, in 2018, despite living 20 miles from the nearest town, she finally found love with Scottish firefighter Ewan Irvine, 41

Growing up on her parents’ farm in Scotland, Gray became the first female winner of the prestigious Northumberland Sheepdog Trials League and wrote a book about her isolated life. Then, in 2018, despite living 20 miles from the nearest town, she finally found love with Scottish firefighter Ewan Irvine, 41

While the rest of the UK is in coronavirus locking, life – and death – has continued on Gray’s secluded 150-acre farm, near Morpeth, Northumberland.

She is a woman accustomed to challenges. At the age of 23, a split from her fiancé made her take on exclusive ownership of the National Trust farm she calls home, making her Britain’s youngest and loneliest shepherdess.

Growing up on her parents’ farm in Scotland, Gray became the first female winner of the prestigious Northumberland Sheepdog Trials League and wrote a book about her isolated life.

Then, in 2018, despite living 20 miles from the nearest town, she finally found love with Scottish firefighter Ewan Irvine, 41.

He now works next to her on the farm and last spring they welcomed a son, Len.

Here her diary entries reveal the peaks and troughs of the lambing season.

March 23: Now we wait

As Britain prepares to get closed, the lambing season is about to begin and it feels like calm before the storm.

The husband of the sheep’s echo (yes, that is a profession) has already scanned all the sheep to tell us which ewes are in the lamb and by how many.

We’ve color-coded each expectant mother: blue for triplets, red for singles, and no marking for twins. Now we can only wait.

One of the lambs was rejected by her mother. It was cold so I brought her in - it's not something I do much, but I didn't see any other option

One of the lambs was rejected by her mother. It was cold so I brought her in - it's not something I do much, but I didn't see any other option

One of the lambs was rejected by her mother. It was cold so I brought her in – it’s not something I do much, but I didn’t see any other option

March 26: The first births

That’s how it starts. At five in the morning, Len fed and set off. I found the first two lambs with their mother when the sun came up. They were all healthy and happy.

It was a strange start to the lambing. Normally we have a lot of problems with pregnant ewes, but the sheep have been very quiet. I can’t help feeling restless at how well they behave. A day later, another three weeks.

March 27: A tragic start

A ewe was slow to lamb and upon closer inspection I discover that both lambs died in her. This makes it harder for me and the ewe to deliver.

The ewe was a bit sick after that. I gave her a Lucozade to brighten her up. Worked miracles!

By noon she came back to life. I could give her lambs, but it is better that she has the summer to recover.

March 28: The virus threat looms

I just heard about a Covid-19 case not far from the farm. So far, it’s something we’ve seen on the news. It is scary to know that it has arrived close to home.

The affected family sent their child to the same childminder as our little boy. We just hope neither of us get sick while lambing.

We are two, and if we are hit with it, there is no one to help.

March 29: a house guest

One of the lambs was rejected by her mother. It was cold so I brought her in – it’s not something I do much, but I didn’t see any other option.

On the plus side, Len has a lot of fun playing with her, but it’s like having a second child – so many bottles. She will stay with us for about a week until I can find a ewe to report her.

Just before closing time, one of the dogs had a litter of puppies, so today we had a puppy photo shoot with Len

Just before closing time, one of the dogs had a litter of puppies, so today we had a puppy photo shoot with Len

Just before closing time, one of the dogs had a litter of puppies, so today we had a puppy photo shoot with Len

March 31: a great escape

I looked out the window this morning and the sheep weren’t there and the gate fluttered in the wind.

Hikers must have been through it and left it open. There is a lot of land and it is full of trees, so the sheep will be difficult to find. Ewan took Len on the quad to find them, while I had to deal with the lambing ewes.

It took a while, but he did it. Very annoying. If the sheep had been outside much longer, we would never have got them back. There are 4000 hectares of trees and no fences.

Ewan did a great job, but he had other duties he could have done, instead of chasing our sheep through the trees.

April 1: Puppy love and puppy snaps

Just before closing time, one of the dogs had a litter of puppies, so today we had a puppy photo shoot with Len.

I find puppies very frustrating to photograph when they are young; they always squirm and look the wrong way.

So we added a quirky one-year-old to the mix to spice things up. Len thinks they are little hugs.

In other news, we have a lamb with a black spot above its beak that looks like a mustache.

April 2: Everything goes wrong

Disaster day. Len woke up at 4 a.m. and it seemed pointless to go back to sleep, so I went to an even earlier beginning.

It was just as good because it was tough today. One of our heifers managed to put her head through a gate, lift it clean out of the fence and throw herself down.

By the time I got to her she was pretty out and had no more fighting. I had to call Ewan to help her get her out.

We cut her out and put her upright. Luckily she’s alive, but that’s about all I can say about her.

Ewan managed to hit a deer on the way to save the heifer, and then I snapped the fan belt in our little off-road Suzuki Jimny van. Then I had to lamb some dead lambs from an ewe.

Relieved when the day ended and a glass of wine was waiting.

April 3: A bad dose of mother debt

I hit a slat wall. I’m really tired right now. It can be hard to find an opportunity for yourself at any time with all the lambs and puppies, as well as a running toddler.

I leave the sheep at 8pm every night and arrive at 5am the next morning and it’s amazing how much damage they can do during that time. It can be quite a scene.

We also had to wait a few disturbing days to see if Len contracted coronavirus after the family in the village who went to the same childminder started having symptoms.

Juggling the farm and taking care of Len is difficult, although we like to involve him. But to make matters worse, he fell over and almost knocked his tooth out yesterday.

I feel terribly guilty about mothers. I asked Ewan to intervene so that I could spend some time with Len and collect my thoughts.

I invited my sister Caroline to help with childcare because Ewan and I cannot be in two places at once. And it’s not like we can just work from home.

She’s isolated because her dog grooming business in Hawick has closed, so it’s safer than using a professional childminder who interacts with many children. I don’t see what other option we have.

Life and death always go together on the farm, with 95 percent of all sheep deaths while lambing. It's just something you have to deal with [File photo]

Life and death always go together on the farm, with 95 percent of all sheep deaths while lambing. It's just something you have to deal with [File photo]

Life and death always go together on the farm, with 95 percent of all sheep deaths while lambing. It’s just something you have to deal with [File photo]

April 4: The magic of Lucozade

Back today and some problems with an older ewe. She has decided that she does not want to be a mother and puts her lamb away. It happens sometimes.

I put her in a halter, which is really just a piece of string that secures her to a fence. It means she can’t bow her head and can’t knock the lamb away.

On the positive side, the ewe I revived with Lucozade has now fully recovered, which I am very happy with. It makes me proud of myself and her instinct to survive. Sheep are the strongest creatures you will meet.

April 5: some corona blues

About halfway through. We have 400 ewes and each will have about two lambs, so that’s a lot of work for me, Ewan and the dogs.

Life and death always go together on the farm, with 95 percent of all sheep deaths while lambing. It’s just something you have to deal with.

I looked at some pictures taken outside the house just before the lambing season of Ewan, Len and me. It was not that long ago, but the corona virus was hardly on the radar at the time. Not an hour goes by that we don’t think about it.

An ewe on our neighbor’s farm needed a Caesarean section and he had to tie her to a lying fence so that the vet could do the section while observing social distance.

We are lucky to live in an isolated lamb bubble and not see many people anyway.

My parents are just 20 miles away, locked up in Hawick, but can’t come to visit. We keep in touch with them online, but I know they miss Len.

It’s a shame because he’s changing so much right now and I don’t want them to miss that.

April 7: Bullying the cows

The heifer that got stuck in the fence looks much better today. I have more hope that she will recover well, but the other cows are bullying her.

I am not sure if it is because she smells differently or because she is weaker. It could also be because she’s in season, which could explain her putting her head through the gate in the first place looking for Mr. Right.

April 8: Brought in from the cold

There was a bit of frost this morning and some lambs born at night were hypothermic.

They didn’t get up to feed on their mother’s milk, so we had to bring them in and put them in a warm box and give them glucose.

It was surprising how quickly they gathered.

The heifer that got stuck in the fence looks much better today. I have more hope that she will recover well, but the other cows are bullying her [File photo]

The heifer that got stuck in the fence looks much better today. I have more hope that she will recover well, but the other cows are bullying her [File photo]

The heifer that got stuck in the fence looks much better today. I have more hope that she will recover well, but the other cows bully her [File photo]

April 9: The lamb cutter

So we have a hormone mad wannabe mom called ‘a pincher’. This happens occasionally when the ewe’s maternal instincts overwhelm her and she wants to give birth to every lamb in sight.

She steals the lambs from other mothers, especially younger ewes. It can be frustrating for us because sometimes a peg is working at night, and we come down in the morning and she’s standing with five lambs, none of them own.

We placed it in a different field so she can focus on lambing.

Fortunately, we are almost there now. There are only about 50 ewes left to give birth to 400. I could even apply some makeup for the occasion for the first time in weeks.

April 10: a perfect way to finish …

Len became one today. A perfect way to end the lambing season. It was hectic, but we got to the other side.

Lambs are very similar to rotating plates. You just have to keep going and you can never stop.

At the end of the lambing I feel euphoric. It is such a relief to be finished and get a good result.

It also feels a bit like getting out of prison. I live, breathe, stop working, think about sheep all day, every day, and we can go back to a little bit of normality.

And in these grim times, there is no better view than a field full of happy ewes and frolicking lambs.

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