Bear and Raff were both born in January, so they were only a few months old when lambing season began. After giving birth to my eldest child, Bear, I was so raw that I couldn’t even look at a lamb. As I walked through the fields, Bear cuddled up hot and tight to my chest, the only way I could get through the field without sobbing was to concentrate on the top of Bear’s head. Even though at the time we weren’t living on a farm and these tiny woolly things weren’t even ours; even though I’d grown up surrounded by sheep; even though my dad had drummed it into us not to be sentimental about farm animals, there I was, teary and slightly unhinged. They were just so tiny! So vulnerable! So untouched by this big cruel world!
I felt so frighteningly, shockingly, protective of them, in a way I never had before, when sheep had just been sheep and I had no baby through which to filter the world.
I was OK by the time Raffy was born. I’d had three years worth of motherhood and could totally pass a field of lambs without crying. Even the sight of a tiny newborn struggling to its feet for the first time left me dry-eyed; hardened mama that I had become.
And then came the pigs…
Or rather, the piglets.
Raff was six months old. Lack of sleep had nearly broken me and I was delirious with tiredness. Our Oxford Sandy and Black sow gave birth to ten piglets, and included in this litter was, of course, a runt.
Guess who fell for it?
It was so tiny, so vulnerable, so unspoiled yadda yadda yadda …I held it tight against my chest and willed it to live. It needed real, live warmth and a heartbeat – it’s mum was too busy with it’s siblings, who pushed it out of the way of the heat-lamp as well as her teats. It’s breathing was funny and it wasn’t really feeding; but it made it through the first night, then the second. I dared to hope. Then, on the third night, it’s mum rolled over and squashed it.
And I couldn’t quite believe how sad that made me. Or how annoyed I was with the mother (who was actually an excellent mum).
A couple of months ago the same sow gave birth to another litter. I went nowhere near the runt. This week Andrew let them all out for the first time, into the woods. They raced each other with all the delight of creatures who can’t quite believe how good running feels. They snorted and scrambled and squealed in the sunshine. It was glorious to watch, and that same feeling of love for these unspoiled little beings returned. And made me love my own two little piglets at home, that little bit more.