I first met her in the spring of 1995. She was just one year old and had spent a fairly harsh winter on the remote island of Papa Stour. By all accounts she had had rather a traumatic arrival into this world needing to be revived by a visiting GP using a stomach tube. The inevitable then happened; she became a caddy lamb. In other words she was bottle fed three times a day and no doubt afforded great entertainment for visitors to the croft. But as she grew older and was weaned off the bottle she never forgot that humans spell ‘food’. Even in adulthood she would make a beeline for the bottle if she saw one! She was a friendly soul and obviously did not consider herself a ‘sheep’.
Being a cheviot cross ewe lamb she had a pure white face and a slightly shaggy fleece that grew well. Her eyes were rather ‘wide set’ and she had a permanent unblinking and some what vacant stare. In fact, wherever and whenever a ‘human’ appeared she would ‘be there’ watching. Whether or not she ever understood what was going on is of course open to speculation. As I am slightly anthropomorphic in my outlook and consider all sheep to be intelligent beings I do like to believe that she always understood things.
But I digress. We were introduced early one spring morning in the ‘arise and shine’ field. There was a rapid response from Tanya to the rattle of a bucket of nuts as she led a troop of fellow ewe lambs to the trough. She was greedy. From that day on she and I established an unspoken rapport .We communed via unblinking eye contact.
On a cool and windy day Tanya underwent her first ever ‘clip’ and emerged as a ‘gimmer’. It must have been a very uncomfortable experience for her. I tied her legs together and started chopping away with a less than sharp pair of clippers. Two hours later she was returned to the flock a few pounds lighter in weight and almost unrecognisable. But she bore me no grudge for the rough treatment she had received at my hands and in future years as I improved my skills with sharper clippers she would always look quite trim.
In her second autumn, she was ‘put’ to the ram; an experience which was not quite to her taste. However, she was soon ‘in lamb’ and the following spring started to show signs of an imminent birth. She was taken into the large corner pen of the lambing shed and cushioned on a bed of clean, crisp straw. The transition from gimmer to ewe was not smooth. The contractions came but Tanya made no effort to assist by pushing herself. However, a large head with even larger ears eventually appeared. But the legs were well and truly stuck. There was no choice as, with my hands well coated in fairy liquid, I went in to explore and pull out the offending legs. All this was being videoed by friends staying on the croft for the weekend. Thomas finally emerged, wet and soggy and had to be revived with a twirl outside. With a couple of rasping gasps and a vigorous shake of his head he soon had a hold on life in the outside world. But Tanya did not display normal maternal instincts. She simply ignored him. I pleaded with her to lick her, by now, very vocal and hungry son.. But to no avail. The whole experience had disgusted her and she refused to give him any of the comforts that a new born lamb expects from his mother. There was no choice, Thomas was given colostrum via a stomach tube and then introduced to the bottle. For a couple of days, mother and son remained together till eventually Tanya was tipped out into a field with a group of barren and bereaved ewes. An indignity she did not easily forget.
Again she was put to the ram the following autumn. But come springtime, no lamb appeared. What had happened? Did she somehow manage to avoid the attentions of the ram or, as I fantasised, had she given birth and then simply tipped her off-spring over the banks? I never did find out. So she managed a second summer without having to feed a lamb.
Then I got tough. ‘Either you produce a lamb next year or you go in the freezer and your skin will adorn the back of the sofa.’ I threatened her almost everyday until finally, having taken the hint, she produced a lamb; twins in fact! She worked hard. Her lambs were good and healthy and she fed them well. After that she produced a single lamb each year until this year when she finally went to meet her Maker. By then she had just one front tooth left and was becoming a little slow in her movements.
But she had been a real character. Always first to arrive at the trough for nuts; never contented with grazing on her side of the fence; getting in the way when gathering the flock in for drenching. She would loiter in the yard long after the others had gone through into the next field, knocking over the wheel barrow and then looking innocent. ‘What me’ she seemed to say. Dear, lovely Tanya, with your torn right ear and distinctive facial expression I really will miss you.