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Bagging up nicely

In my career as a yachting journalist, I’ve routinely used terms such as ‘tacking for the lay’, ‘bear-away set’ and ‘finite element analysis’.

Back in July last year, I learned to lean nonchalantly against the ute in my Red Bands and observe: “She’s bagging up nicely.” One day I’ll be able to say it while chewing on a piece of grass.

I’m learning my new terminology from Tim, who sold me my sheep. You can apply “bagging up nicely” to the udder of any heavily pregnant mammal such as a cow, sheep or goat, but don’t try this at home. Please do not describe your radiantly blooming sister as bagging up nicely.

My first lamb was born in late July last year while I was visiting friends in Auckland. I received the news by text and announced the birth proudly to my hosts.

“It’s way too early for lambs,” they told me.

Oh. I’d been so proud of increasing my flock and I’d got it wrong. My little lamb, so young the sun shone pink through his perky ears, might succumb to the winter because I’d let him be born too soon. I told Tim.

“Look at all the other farms,” he said. They’d got it wrong, too.

For three weeks, all was quiet in ovine midwifery then one day two ewes started lambing simultaneously. I texted Tim:

One of my ewes definitely birthing, she has a bloody bum, standing but nothing out yet…Maybe another one too as she’s laying down with big poo coming out. I’m going to tear up some towels and boil some water.

An hour later both lambs were bouncing in the sunshine. Judging by the bagging, the next lambs were only a few days away. One of the sheep was super-fat and every day I texted Tim – today, surely… until he came to see for himself. Not only was she not bagging up, he was a wether.

Tim said that to ensure all ewes lamb within a few days of each other I should separate them from the ram in December for two months. Then when I put him over the ewes – “over” being another word for bonking, apparently – the ewes will get into synchronised ovulation. That’s nearly as impressive as finite element analysis and would produce waves of lambs born about 16-17 days apart.

With my fences, separating Snowy the ram from his girls wasn’t going to work so Tim suggested I lend Snowy to my neighbour for two months – but you can’t just put a ram on a leash and walk him down to the next farm and I don’t have yards to facilitate putting a ram into a trailer.

My neighbour and I discussed it at great length. By the time we’d finished, Snowy was playing piggy-back with the ewes.

“See?” said Tim, “the ewe’s standing for him. That means she’s ovulating.” Which means, come late July, she will be bagging up nicely. The others will follow in their own sheep time and I’ve flunked Sheepish Family Planning.101.

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