This week my twins were thrilled by the experience of bottle feeding some baby lambs. Usually I’m the one in our family that gets rather excited by the sight of baby lambs in the English countryside. It just gives me that spring feeling and makes me think they just look right “In England’s green and pleasant Land” (quoting from William Blake’s poem). Indeed sheep are Britain’s oldest domestic animal, able to survive the harshest winters and trim our mountains, hills, moors and fields perfectly with their grazing.
But it’s not always easy for baby lambs. Some are orphaned or an ewe may not have enough milk if she’s had triplets or more. Some farmers have worked out cunning methods to get other ewes to foster lambs – even using perfume to disguise an orphan lamb.
Or you can get families to pay by lining up in a long queue and taking turns to bottle feed young lambs in a 17th century Sussex flint barn. My twins and I happily and willingly stood in this line.
In fact I think it’s important for my children to come into contact with farm animals and learn about the care they need. Moreover just bottle feeding a young lamb will give them a better understanding of compassion, responsibility as well as empathy for animals in the countryside.
We had been busy fossil hunting, rock pooling and walking on the East Sussex coast this week when we passed a large sign saying there were bottle feed times twice daily at the Seven Sisters Sheep Centre in East Dean. The next morning we joined the rows of cars parked in the field outside the entrance. We were in time for the morning bottle feed of the ‘orphan’ lambs. A poster explained why these young ones needed to be individually given milk. I’m not sure who was more excited the kids or the thirsty lambs!It’s actually a working sheep farm. It’s also been turned into an attraction as a family day out during the spring and summer seasons. Personally I view this as a win-win situation as it helps a farm survive while educating children about farm animals. As well as bottle feeding the baby lambs, the Seven Sisters sheep centre has a playground, a cafe and all sorts of animals to keep adults as well as children entertained. Luce and Theo insisted on going on the tractor ride. I soon learnt this meant a beautiful view of the South Downs but way too bumpy for taking photos.
There were also South American alpacas in the field and in a stable. Did you know that the British Alpaca Society has 1400 members representing 35,000 alpacas in the UK? Blake definitely wasn’t considering them when he wrote in the same poem “And did those feet in ancient time, Walk upon England’s mountains green.”
Everywhere the cute factor was in full mode. There were tiny baby lambs bonding with their mothers in individual pens. Even a piglet who was the runt of the litter slept alongside other newborn lambs in a pen with heat lamps. When we bought our tickets I also purchased little bags of feed. Later my son ran back to buy some more with his pocket money as he was so thrilled at feeding the sheep! The ewes in the pen outdoors were also rather eager for some more treats.It was rather wonderful watching Luce and Theo interact with all the animals at this sheep farm.
So next spring I’ll once again be stopping at every chance to gaze at my idyllic view of the countryside when the baby lambs reappear. I won’t be surprised if Luce and Theo suggest we also find some orphan lambs to bottle feed so they’re fit and strong to mow England’s pastoral land.