A week ago, with the spring sun shining down on the Cambrian Mountains, we took ourselves off for a Sunday visit to Caroline Lewis, a supplier of high quality fleece to craft makers. Caroline was coming towards the end of lambing, and though weary with constant vigilance of her ewes and the feeding of the 5* lambs in her care, nevertheless welcomed us warmly to her farm.
First, we visited with the cuties, and ‘helped’ with their feeding. The first of these was a weak twin lamb from a neighbouring farm that couldn’t stand when Caroline first took him on. Too fragile to join the other 4 more robust lambs, he was living in the house, and wobbled out to say ‘hello’. Little Pil looked as though he didn’t fit his own skin, though Caroline told us this was quite normal in a newborn tiny lamb.
He thoroughly enjoyed his feed and then had a tentative trundle around the yard before being taken back into the warmth of the kitchen. Fed 4 times a day – 6am, midday, 6pm and midnight – hand reared lambs are just an extra duty for shepherds at this busy, tiring time of year.
The 4 thriving lambs finished their feeds in no time at all, so after a little ooh-and-aah play time we moved on to visit a ewe in the barn, who had delivered twins just the night before our visit. During lambing, many farmers are up at night checking on their flock to make sure that any that are finding the birth a challenge are given the help they need: 5 hours of interrupted sleep a night is about as much as a hands-on shepherd can hope for. This ewe was a first time mum and one of seven welsh ewes that had been inherited as pet lambs from a neighbour who was unwell during lambing and they were kept on in his memory and honour when he sadly passed away at the tender age of 58 later that year.
The older girls – ewes over the age of 8 that were no longer being used for breeding, but are kept for their wool and ‘just because’ – were in the next field. After a life in service living in the tranquil environments of a Welsh hill farm, this shepherdess has no heart for sending her older ewes for despatch. Some of the lambs are taken to the local abbatoir in Tregaron for meat each year, but for older sheep, long distance transport and halal slaughter is the more likely outcome. These lucky few instead get to live their life in sheep luxury with first class care and can easily live into their late teens.
All that said, they are still of value. Caroline has always bred for the quality of her fleece and has won many prizes for this, including Award for the Exhibitor with the Highest Number of Points in the Open Fleece Competition at The Royal Welsh Show for the last 3 years (2012, 2013 & 2014) and Jacob Sheep Society Wales Champion Small Flock in 2011. The fleece of ewes that have not lambed is of a better quality since they have not endured the stresses of bearing offspring. Nearly all of Caroline’s fleeces are booked in advance by canny spinners who know a thing or two about quality wool.
An elderly goat was thoroughly enjoying the warmth of spring. This lovely old lady is a companion to Caroline’s mare, who was frustrated that the lens was upon the woolly things rather than upon her, and did her best to attract attention.
In a separate paddock, the Jacobs were somewhat camera shy and rather more agile that us in this hilly terrain.
Moving on, the rams were rather easier to get to. Clearly Caroline has no fear of these boys, though I have to admit to a being a little nervous myself since I had been told tales by my farmer neighbour Bryn about how one can NEVER trust a ram. I suspect Caroline might beg to differ!
Along with the rams was a Texel wether that had been reared and cared for last year. This lad had had weak legs, and so had worn splints in his early days until his legs became strong enough to support him.
These boys will also get to live out their days on the farm after their ‘useful’ life is passed, and sadly Caroline’s Jacob ram died suddenly in the field last year just before tupping. Having been brought up on a farm, she is the first to appreciate that she does not operate under the commercial imperative of other farmers and is thankful that she is able to provide dignity and care to her working stock in their twilight years.
*There are now 6 lambs, as a nearby farmer “donated” another sickly lamb for care. This little one had entropian (painful inturned eyelids) so has been to the vets for a little nip and tuck. All happy! We have been careful not to refer to these lambs as orphan since none of them are. In the case of Caroline’s own stock, they were the 3rd of triplets and removed from mom for the good of all. Happily all of Caroline’s ewes and lambs survived this year, and having witnessed the degree of love and care that is evident in her stewarding of these lucky, lucky animals the reason for that success is clear.
Thank you Caroline for the welcome and for letting us share this story. You can find out more about Caroline and other farmers that are able to supply fleece direct to makers on our Connections page.
Photographs John Pocklington apart from Denis-in-Splints from Caroline’s own collection