We were well into lambing. Almost half the ewes had delivered their yearly quota of offspring; a nice healthy crop of lambs were skipping around their mothers. The first lamb appeared on Tuesday and it was the following Saturday week that the story of Robert begins.
It was teatime. Two Cheviot cross ewes were brought into the lambing shed; each with a black Shetland lamb at foot. We will refer to them as Mummy 1 and Mummy 2. Mummy 1 was put into pen number 1 with black Shetland ram lamb. Mummy 2 was put into the next lambing pen, number 2, together with black Shetland ewe lamb. All was well. At bedtime, as part of the lambing routine, we went and settled ewes and lambs down for the night. Mummies 1 and 2 were delighted with their nightcaps; green cabbage, nuts and clean water. Ram lamb and ewe lamb were equally happy with their bulging tummies. What a happy peaceful place to be; a ‘safe environment’!
But all was soon to change! Early next morning a surprise awaited us. Mummy 1 now had two Suffolk cross lambs in her pen! How had that happened? Mummy 1 was starring at them in total disbelief; ‘are these mine’? Black Shetland ram lamb was aghast. ‘My milk supply’! As for the two hapless Suffolk cross lambs, well they just stood there, shell shocked in the aftermath of birth.
Obviously we had made a mistake. Assuming that Mummy 1 had given birth when in fact she was still a lady-in-waiting we had given her the wrong lamb. Oh dear! So we put the poor wee fellow from pen number 1 in with Mummy 2, that is, his real mother, explaining to her that she now had a son as well as a daughter. She just stared blankly back at us. We left them to ‘bond’ and came back a couple of hours later. Black Shetland ram lamb had quite clearly had his fill at the milk bar but was now standing in the corner of the pen calling most persistently for Mummy 1. But Mummy 1 was fully occupied with her Suffolk cross twins. And Mummy 2 was making it quite obvious that her son was unwanted.
By late Sunday afternoon the decision was taken at the highest level to remove black Shetland ram lamb to a safer environment where he could no longer be abused by his biological mother. So he was put into a nice clean pen in another shed and given a bottle of nice warm lamb’s milk. Oh, he did enjoy that and he soon fell asleep in his new quarters. He was such a cute wee fellow.
Monday morning dawned fair and sunny. ‘How many in today’? we wondered. ‘And how is the lonesome wee black Shetland ram lamb’? Well, he had survived the night and was hungry for his breakfast which he drank with great gusto, his tail going nineteen to the dozen. We named him Robert for it seemed to suit him and he began to skip and dance about when we let him out of his pen at feeding time. We all just loved wee Robert.
Around mid morning another Cheviot cross ewe came into the shed. She had yet to give birth. On close inspection a long tail was sticking out but nothing else. This was a classic breech presentation. Prostrate on a square straw bale Mummy 3 endured the indignity of a breech delivery. A large lamb came out but lived for only a few minutes. Bereaved mother was put into pen number 3 to recover on a bed of clean straw. Then the most amazing idea was conceived in our heads, ‘why not put Robert in with Mummy 3; after all she will think he is her real lamb’! Robert was fetched from the old lambing shed and put in with Mummy 3. He made a beeline for her bulging udder and drank delicious warm creamy milk to his hearts content. Then he fell asleep. Bless him!
Once again we left Robert to ‘bond’ whilst we went and had our lunch followed by an afternoon siesta. Fortified by our ‘kip’ and a cup of tea we returned to the lambing shed and took a tentative look into pen number 3. There to our utter astonishment was a tiny cheviot lamb! Mummy 3 had delivered herself of a second lamb. Stood in the corner, perhaps wondering if he was hallucinating was Robert. He was dumbfounded as he again pondered competition for his milk supply.
Well, we thought to leave Robert with Mummy 3 to see if she was more kindly disposed towards him than Mummy 2. For two days Robert snatched milk from Mummy 3 when her own lamb wasn’t looking. But there was no bonding between them and in any case Robert by now had begun to look towards humans for his source of food and comfort. So for a second time Robert was taken ‘into care’ and fed from a bottle. He started to dance, and hop and skip about the shed again. He was utterly enchanting and we were all deeply in love with him.
But Robert needed a more permanent home, preferably where he would be adored. A loving home was found in Aith where already three Papa Stour caddy lambs were ‘in care’, feeding from a special bucket with six teats. Of course, absolutely no hesitation, they had room for Robert and would make him most welcome. A basket lined with straw was duly found and Robert made the perilous journey by sea from Papa to West Burrafirth. It was a bit rough and with his endearing ways Robert travelled in the crews quarters aboard the good ship Snolda. Once safely across Papa Sound he was driven to Aith to enjoy a new life with cuddly Uncle Steve and his generous warm hearted family. He has captivated their hearts to such an extent that eldest daughter was allowed to miss church so as to play with Robert now renamed Black Jack. But with a change of name as well as three mums the poor wee fellow is now undergoing an identity crisis and may need counselling!