Lockdown at the Sheep Fank

With the lockdown continuing I was abruptly pulled out of my self-imposed happy ‘farming retirement’ at the weekend. Years ago, I had sensibly managed to ease my way out, as quickly as humanly possible, from most tasks that had any inkling of being associated with the word ‘farming’. Lambing duties and feeding pet lambs their bottles were the only farm jobs I had managed to retain. That and the odd farming duty of standing beside various gates, or acting as a ‘roadblock’, as and when required, at times of gatherings, to encourage and make sure the sheep were heading in the right direction. My fear of cows (the ones that inquisitively eye you up and down before getting ever so much closer), bulls (after one decided to join me on a jog one day), tups (the ones that think you are about to feed them and follow at your heel head butting your knees), cockerels (that chase you up the road), pigs (yes they have chased me too), quad bikes on rough ground and of course, over friendly horses may well have had some influence in convincing the Happy Farmer that I was, next to useless, when it came to participating in any farming adventures at Persabus.

On Saturday however, with social distancing in place the Happy Farmer had no option but to invite me back to the sheep fank to continue my initiation into the world of farming. An initiation spanning the last thirty years or so. Luckily for me the rest of the clan just happen to be at home too, so when several pairs of hands were needed to help at the sheep fank to mark this year’s spring lambs I was able for the most part to stand and ‘observe’, and only had to lift the lightest and youngest of lambs onto the upturned barrel for their ‘pampering’ session from the farmer. Only youngest managed to slip out of the farming duties with a ‘no show’ at the sheep fank. She was too busy working on a bee design as part of the #mcqueencreators project, which excitedly got shared onto the Alexander McQueen’s Instagram page, but that is another story. For the rest of us we had lots of laughs and fun in the hot sunshine helping the Happy Farmer as he worked with the flock dosing, counting and sorting the lambs, before we all led them happily back to the fields with their mothers.

Now thirsty work on a hot day calls for thirsty measures. Thankfully, Islay Ales stepped in with fabulous refreshments. On Friday afternoon I had been completely taken a back when a masked man, complete with dark shades, and gloves, walked into the farmyard carrying a large flagon of Ale and left it at our doorstep. It was like something straight out of the Man from Milk Tray chocolate adverts. A sign of the times during lockdown, as masks and gloves are necessary armour in the fight against the spread of Covid -19, but it is still quite a bizarre sight to see in our tiny corner of the world, especially when the Happy Farmer had not breathed a word of his little arrangement. The Ferryman’s daughter had given him the tip that, never mind deliveries of milk, the way forward is weekly deliveries of great beer to your doorstep here on Islay. Later then, one incredibly Happy Farmer proudly pulled his chilled flagon from the fridge to enjoy in the sunshine after a busy afternoon marking lambs.

Today’s delivery to our doorstep…. a lobster and crab claws, straight from the sea, courtesy of the Ferryman.

It might be quiet on the farm during the lockdown, but the island has a way of making you feel very cared for and certainly not forgotten.

Stay safe.

Until next time…