In the middle of my routine round of mothers and babes I looked into the lambing pen and there he was. This minute black lamb being unkindly kicked about by his uncaring mother. In the corner, and looking smug, was a fine upstanding lamb who was obviously the favourite. In fact I had the distinct impression that he was watching mother and brother with glee. But my immediate concern was for the welfare of this tiny shrimp being mercilessly buffeted by his cruel mother. It was a definite case of lamb abuse and on informing the duty ‘social worker’, my boss, I was told ‘Do not become emotionally involved’.
Unimpressed by these instructions I went and gathered this poor little mite up into my arms, gave him a cuddle and ministered to his needs with a stomach tube full of rich colostrum followed by a bottle of milk. He was obviously very hungry as he demonstrated an amazing ability to suck straight from the bottle for one so tiny. In spite of his size he was a robust little fellow. He needed to be to have survived the kicks and cuffs given by his brutal mother during the first few hours of life.
Encouraged by his determination to live I took him ‘into care’, placing him in the lamb orphanage; another shed already occupied by three more hapless and unwanted lambs whose mothers had either died or abandoned them.. Here, on a clean bed of straw and with a nice full stomach he soon fell asleep. Bless him. He really was just so sweet and of course I had by now become ‘emotionally involved’ with him.
Small, narrow shouldered and with a thin pointed face, the little fellow seemed rather lonely. He never played with his larger and more self confident companions. They consisted of a large arrogant cheviot hog lamb, a dainty dark brown Shetland ewe lamb and a somewhat dull looking Suffolk cross. They were noisy, boisterous and got on well together. But always this fourth addition stood alone. Something was wrong.
It soon became apparent that this miniscule black lamb had ‘problems’ not shared by the others. His eyes seemed dull and lifeless. They had no sparkle. I noticed that he would bump into the side of the lambing pen or into a bucket or whatever else might be in his way. At feeding time he always had difficulty in finding the teat on the bottle. It suddenly dawned on me that the little fellow was blind. He was given the name Stevie Wonder.
A few days later another ‘problem’ emerged. When banging and clattering about in the shed he made no response, unlike the other lambs who would all get under my feet. There was no reaction to any sudden loud noise. Strangely, he never uttered the word ‘baa’. So I came to the conclusion that he was both deaf and dumb as well as being blind.
But in spite of these shortcomings Stevie Wonder had spunk. He started to put on weight and became more sheep-like in shape. As the weather got warmer he was taken outside with the other lambs where he would run about in circles though obviously not seeing where he was going. But he seemed happy and contented and everyone loved him.
When Stevie was a few weeks old two ladies came to stay for the weekend. It was not long before they were taken outside to meet the four caddy lambs. Of course, it was Stevie Wonder who caught their eye and soon the offer of a foster home was made. This was an opportunity too good to refuse and I knew that Stevie would be exceptionally well looked after. So arrangements were set in motion for Stevie to accompany his new foster mother all the way from Papa Stour to Cunningsburgh that very weekend. Such a long journey by land and sea for the wee fellow!. A cardboard box was found and lined with newspaper and straw. A supply of powdered lambs milk and a bottle was put in a carrier bag and, as is my want, I gave endless instructions as to how Stevie should be cared for in his new home! The lucky fellow was put in the box and driven round to the pier in the tractor. I waved him off as he sailed away to his new home. (Later that evening I found the visitors luggage lying, crushed, at the side of the track, forgotten in all the excitement. But that of course is a minor detail!)
Stevie enjoyed his new home and his foster mother showered all the love and attention on him that he could possibly want. He had a local caddy lamb for company. School children came and played with him after school. He grew big and strong and very handsome. I hardly recognised him when I went to visit. He survived the winter and as spring gave way to summer his foster mother came out one day with a pair of clippers and clipped off his magnificent fleece. Washed and spun it was soon knitted up and made into a beautiful waistcoat. Stevie had certainly earned his keep.
But of course all good things have to come to an end and that includes the life span of handsome hog lambs. In the late autumn, Stevie was ‘taken away’, his devoted foster mother accompanying him to the end. A few days later coming out of church I received a large parcel. Stevie had donated me his skin. I washed, stretched and cured it with loving care. Then I entered it into the Millennium Agricultural Show where it won first prize. I hasten to add it was the only entry! An American visitor, gushing with admiration, offered to buy it. Absolutely not! Stevie Wonder came back home with me and lies at the side of my bed where I warm my toes on him each morning. Thank you Stevie!