So here they are, still in their early morning fogginess. They know that we are up and about because they have heard us, but they are in no hurry to get going today. Sometimes they are still in bed in their house, sometimes up at the gate moaning about wanting to get out into the field. Today, though, they are calmly drifting about in a state of mental fogginess, watching to see what's going on, interested in the world outside of theirs, but feeling safe within their own.
"Come along everybody" Hubs says, as we walk along the drive beside the Paddock. Up they get, trundling towards the gate.
Time to move. Bools and Gus are inside the Courtyard, their help not required at this particular moment, because it is time to cross the lane. The ones in the front group are this years youngsters, all wanting to be first to get through the gate. The back group is led by Mr Sheep, with his girls standing behind him. They are patient creatures, unless it is raining and they are still out in the field. Then they will make endless complaint until we bring them back in again.
Now it might seem strange that we bring them to and fro across the lane, so that they spend the night in the Sheep Arbre. Most flocks are left out, some all year, so why go to all this effort? Because we will be slaughtering some of them ourselves. By our own hands will we be doing this, although this year we were going to take them to the local abattoire which we can't do now because the Vet said it was closed and the nearest one is Tarbes, and no way are we going to subject our animals to a longish road trip before going into an environment which is hostile to them.
So we are going to recycle them ourselves. Hubs is familiar with the process, me not so. But I will not absent myself when the time comes. Out of respect to the animal, I will stay close by to give it ease as it breathes its last. And the routine contact they have with us ensures that they will be calm, hence the toing and froing across the lane each day. It makes us all a team.
A car whizzes by as Hubs starts undoing the gate, but not too fast because it is a neighbour.
And this young female always says hello to Hubs, sniffing his hand as he continues to undo the gate.
Yippeee! Across they go, at quite a trot today. Sometimes they meander slowly across still half asleep and not really interested in getting a move on, but today they are keen to get into their day.
And through the gate, with Hubs chivvying up the last ones. Sometimes the leading sheep get seduced by the grass growing near the gate and stop to have a munch, thus creating a traffic jam, or should I say 'sheep jam', which is not the best of situations to have given the speed of some of the cars which pass by.
And off they go, into Station Field. The green swathe in the centre, through which they are walking, is minus dock seed heads. This is the part I have been working on before they get up, before anyone gets up actually. The other day I was doing my 'three wheelbarrow loads' target, which has to be done before the sheep come into the fields, so it was about 7am. Bools and Gus had gone back to sleep under the caravans, Hubs was still in bed, Max the piggy had got up to have a chat with me and then had gone back to bed, as had the sheep. The rabbits had not even bothered waking up. And so I had the early morning all to myself. Apart from Claudine, over at the Chambre d'hote, halloooing to me as she opened her bedroom shutters.
And did you know that sheep's ears go floppy in the rain? Well they do. We have been under orange alert here for a couple of days, as monsoon-type rains have hit the south of France. Yesterday afternoon we were working in the office, listening to the torrent of rain hammering down, when Hubs realised the sheep were still out. Huddled in misery they were, waiting by the gate to come back in, all droopy and forlorn and unloved and letting Hubs know that they were soaked right through by shaking themselves as they passed him, to let him know how wet they were just in case he didn't already know because by then he was as wet as they were. It was a hell of a downpour which lasted for hours.
But at least their coats are growing after the shearing a couple of weeks ago. Only we had hot weather straight after the shearing and some of them got a little bit sunburnt. Bless. Unfortunately applying sun factor was not an option.
Last night I stood for ages in the Arbre when they came in from the field, watching them as they bedded down for the night. It was magic.