The park at Highclere is now full of hundreds of lambs. They look adorable as they leap around fallen trees, jump into ditches, play tag and collect together in their own crèche systems. It doesn’t take long for them to start experimenting with “who is the bravest lamb”, finding the cracks in fences and learning how to slip under gates. As a result, whenever I go for a ride at this time of year, I end up having to practice my shepherdess skills. My old Arab mare has learnt to be fast on her feet as we try to aim some errant lamb at a gateway. She goes from 0 to 60 in a few seconds and the main thing is to stay with her. She is then so excited at the project we continue to cavort around long after the matter is sorted.
My lovely new Andalusian mare Lara, on the other hand, approaches the lambs with interest and gentleness so no-one really goes anywhere. She prefers to sniff and inspect everything and the lambs tend to make a clean get away.
Highclere looks so beautiful at the moment; swathes of fresh grass and the scent of spring and trees in the air. The parkland extends for some 1,000 acres around the Castle, with farmland and woodland beyond, so that you cannot really see the end of Highclere’s world. It really is an English Arcadia as “Capability” Brown designed it to be back in the 18th century.
Within this Arcadia, the sheep remain our lawnmowers. The park fields are more sheltered than the high downlands so they act as the early nursery area. Many of our lambs have black faces; a clear marker from the Suffolk rams who sire them. Curiously enough, it was one of the breeds I enjoyed seeing in Houston last month at the Rodeo Show. Bit of a different climate…..
Highclere used to breed pigs as well and we had a visit this week from one of our old farm managers who was in charge of them. He told us that, such was the excitement of each new litter, he had strict instructions from the then Earl, my husband’s grandfather, to let him know immediately when one arrived. Once he even had to ring him at the Ritz hotel in London. When he was young, my son concluded we should have some pigs again, along with a Jersey cow for good measure. However, despite the fact that one of my less usual skills is that I can milk a cow, it was an easy decision that the menagerie at home was quite big enough already. Early milking hours were not a temptation when added to the round of looking after the horses, dogs, chickens and pet rabbits and even Sheila the pet Sheep….