So many developments have helped shepherds at lambing

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I was so happy recently to see that the south of England was getting temperatures well into the 20s while in our area they struggled to get into double figures and cool, not to say chilly, breezes lowered that by another two or three degrees.

But this is April in north Britain. What do we expect other than several types of weather every day? The net result so far is a dry, cool, but often sunny month that has suited growing crops and ewes and lambs going out to grass from the lambing sheds.

Sheep being sheep, I don’t doubt there have been problems along the way, but most of the lambs I’ve seen at grass seem to be thriving and their blaring mothers are in good condition.

The same might be said of shepherds, who respond in much the same way as their animals to sun on their backs.

There always seems to be fewer problems, and those there are are more confidently dealt with than when rain or sleet at what feels like zero temperature is making lambing time hell.

What fascinates me is the way some farmers and their staff now lamb up to 2,000 ewes with apparently less trouble than the old-timers used to have with three or four hundred. So many developments must have helped, such as pregnancy scanning to allow specific feeding, improved medication, sheep housing, better understanding of what happens to ewes during pregnancy, better management after lambing, and so on.

It’s as well some parts of farm work are satisfactory because in both Scotland and England there is chaos with what used to be paperwork, but is now computerised support payment claims.

So much chaos that the deadline for the annual single farm payment from European Union funds has been extended and frustrated farmers who have lost hours, days even, that will never come again, trying to register their claims online have been sent good old-fashioned paper forms.

In Scotland, according to rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead, the new, malfunctioning, IT system “is complex and has presented significant challenges”.

Several thousand cursing farmers can testify to that.

A news item last week reported that a rare butterfly, the high brown fritillary, has escaped extinction. I was happy for the butterfly, but admit that I wouldn’t know one if I saw one.

It sometimes worries me that in spite of being country born, bred and resident, I have trouble identifying butterflies, birds or wild flowers. I’m reduced to the same state as a friend, a dedicated rambler, who still tends to describe birds as “little brown jobs” or “big ’uns”.

It’s a failing I try conscientiously to correct, but I still never get much beyond tortoiseshell and cabbage white, crows, pigeons and gulls, primroses and snowdrops. But ask me anything about breeds of sheep or cattle.