Listening to Sheep.

I think the problem started when I spend 8 weeks working nightshift on my own amidst almost a thousand sheep. It was April 2008 and I had found a job as a night lamber at a farm in Milton Keynes. For those of you who are not farming British, a lamber is a person who takes care of a flock of ewes during their lambing period. It’s a very intensive time on the farm, and a very important one because ultimately, your sheep’s progeny is where your profits are. Starting in January, there are quite a lot of temporary positions opening up for lambers. The hours are brutal but the pay is very good. There are two types of lambers. Day lambers, who help during the day, feeding the sheep, taking care of the ewes, assisting with difficult births and taking the strong lambs and ewes out to pasture. The night lambers work in the evenings, normally on their own or in teams of two (where the day might be teams of four or eight people) and they are only responsible for the ewes. It’s a difficult time to lamb. More often than not, it’s completely dark or with limited light, it’s cold (very cold sometimes) and you are on your own.

I was a night lamber by trade. I have always loved the dark and the solitude it brings. I loved the silence, or rather – the lack of human noises and I loved the way the sheep were never silent. You learned to listen in the dark, feel the dark, look with more than just your eyes at the world around you. In the 8 weeks that I spend on my own lambing (from 8pm to 8am) I learned more about sheep than I did in my 5 years at university. I also learned about the thin line between life and death and how – if things really get tough, there is really nobody who can help you except yourself. I think I went a little mad (or madder) in those long hours in which I had almost no human contact save with my landlady and her husband who made sure that I ate at least two meals a day. For the rest, it was just me and the sheep.

Sheep are herd animals (flock) and are therefore very social. Put a sheep on its own and it will die of misery. Because they are so aware of their fellows, they are always communicating, always voicing opinions so to speak or calling out to others. Therefore, when you are lambing, you are always aware of the sound of sheep. I learned to recognize various ways that they communicate. I could tell you when a mother was calling a lamb, when she was in trouble or just ‘calling out’ to a friend. You could even tell when she was about to go into labour, the way their noise would get an edge of hysteria to it. When I worked at night, I rarely actually looked at what the sheep were doing, but became quiet inside myself and listened to them.

Although my days of lambing are forever behind me, I still find myself going back in my mind to that space, that equilibrium that I had had with the dark, my flock and myself and this is also why I will forever love the sound of a sheep’s call.

I hope this answers your question Antonio. 😉

5 thoughts on “Listening to Sheep.

  1. Antonio August 3, 2010 / 4:11 pm

    That’s beautiful, Alyss. I actually have a slim connection to a family who owns a large piece of land in New Zealand and are sheep farmers. I think the smell would get to me…but, I don’t have alot of experience around animals…

    • Alyssa August 4, 2010 / 7:06 am

      *laughs* Sheep don’t smell much. Cows do. I don’t like cows. 😉
      Thank you Antonio.

  2. Jenn August 3, 2010 / 7:01 pm

    That sure does sound peaceful, but lonely as well. It’s one thing I couldn’t do as I’m allergic to wool lol! I can see why you go back there in your mind…thank you for sharing.

    • Alyssa August 4, 2010 / 7:05 am

      *laughs* That would’ve been a problem for me, being allergic to wool. Though, I was allergic to the hay… lol. I was alone during that time without being lonely. I realized with a shock that I didn’t need human company as much as I thought I did.
      As I said, lol, I suspect I went a little bit mad.

  3. suziwong August 4, 2010 / 1:58 pm

    beautiful… for a moment i was there with you

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