After what has felt like an eternity of storms, floods and frost, spring has finally sprung. The blossom is blossoming and the doom and gloom of winter is a distant memory. Spring is the season to be happy, the most exciting and magical time of year. The common man is given the chance to shake […]

After what has felt like an eternity of storms, floods and frost, spring has finally sprung. The blossom is blossoming and the doom and gloom of winter is a distant memory. Spring is the season to be happy, the most exciting and magical time of year. The common man is given the chance to shake off his winter blues, smell the daffodils, google photos of kittens and chicks and possibly even admire a field of fluffy, gambling lambs.

Being a Manchester girl through and through meant that until recently I had never considered how the British countryside came to be filled with ewes and their lambs, or even how it was that the supermarkets had lamb in their fridges. I certainly noticed the price of lamb, occasionally raising a disgruntled eyebrow while perusing the shops aimlessly five hours at a time, but I never once asked myself why lamb was so expensive, instead often settling for a cheaper, beefier option.

Soon after graduating, I unwittingly entered a whirlwind romance with agriculture while on a working holiday in New Zealand. I was quickly enamoured by farm life and became obsessive about how little I had known about food and farming before my trip.

On returning to the UK, I soon abandoned my Manchester roots once again to relocate to beautiful Wembury, Devon for this year’s lambing season. When I announced my plans to my fellow Mancunians I was met with a mixed reception. Most folk reckoned I was mad, some friends thought it was cool – in an ‘out there’ kind of way – and one dear work colleague sadly responded “but that’s what my parents told me happened to my pet rabbit when I was little”, as though my decision to go lambing was actually an obscure secret code for my euthanasia or entering into witness protection or something equally terrifying.

Mostly, I decided to go lambing because I have a passion and a longing to understand as much about the food chain as possible. I wanted to discover this enigmatic world of food production, from field to fork, for myself, and to gain some insight into this farming mystique that we city inhabitants tend to be so merrily oblivious to. The result of my investigative move was so incredibly rewarding and eye-opening that I wish everyone were able to have a go lambing, at least once.

My boss at the farm used to run a farm shop. He told me that the amount of customers who would complain that ‘lamb is just so awfully expensive’ was incredible. He apparently would respond, ‘You come and work for me for a week during lambing season and you’ll see it isn’t expensive’. Of course he’s right. If the nation were given the chance to see exactly how much work goes into lamb production and sheep farming then we would all have a much greater appreciation of this product that is so readily available on the high street.

Lambing time is an intense period filled with blood, sweat and stress from both sheep and farmer. It is exciting and demanding and exhausting all at the same time, a journey of new life and sometimes death. The flocks of sheep that we so often ignorantly drive past aren’t there by a happy coincidence. The ewes have often had assistance with lambing and have been safely put away into individual pens to help them bond with their offspring. The lambs have been given preventative oral solution, had their tails rung, been castrated and numbered to prevent mis-mothering, and then closely monitored indoors before being turned outside, where they are checked daily for the entire duration of their lives.

Another aspect of lambing – an aspect most farmers loathe and lambing students like myself tend to love – is the rearing of pet lambs. I am currently rearing ten orphan lambs, all who have their own story and personality. I have been bottle feeding them since they were tiny. Adorable though it may be, looking after them is a huge responsibility and can be tiring, challenging and frustrating. It is therefore only right that these lambs should be sold for a good price. If not, fewer people would be inclined to bother with the trouble of rearing them.

TV personality Kate Humble recently said, “Food waste is endemic but we don’t value food because it’s not expensive enough… the reason we can buy that without thinking of the implications is because we’re so disconnected from the land and farming process”. Kate’s comments caused quite the stir, with many accusing her of being removed from the real world. I’m not sure that paying more would necessarily re-establish a connection between the public and the land, but certainly if people were encouraged to investigate food production more they would be less inclined to begrudge the price tags on quality goods.

I hope everyone has a fabulous spring time, that the sun shines and the birds sing, and mostly that next time you wander past a field of sheep, you take a second to think about the farmers that put them there. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got ten hungry lambs to feed.

Jessica Newsome.