In the spring of 1989, the first-born offspring of our newly established sheep flock were Jacob twin ewe lambs. Our young children named them, cuddled them and played with them, and inevitably these lambs grew up as tame animals. In due course they joined the breeding flock and over several years produced a regular succession of twins, occasionally triplets, until advancing age meant that it was unrealistic to breed from them again.
They retired gracefully to live out their remaining time here, still yielding a lovely fleece annually, and forming part of the attraction for the regular school visits that contribute to our income. Sheep retain family bonds for life, and these twin sisters were always together within the flock.
One began fading last summer, losing condition when the grass was lush and full of goodness. We fed her extra rations for a time, but she gradually lost her appetite for even this and grew steadily weaker. One hot day, she sat down with the flock under the shade of an ash tree, but when the others moved off to graze again, we found she had died peacefully, and buried her where she lay.
The remaining twin has just followed a similar path. She'd lost condition, then stopped eating altogether. The nights were long and cold, so we brought her inside to a pen at dusk, returning her to the field by day provided it wasn't raining. She'd sit in a favourite spot, watch the world go by, talk quietly with the flock when they moved within view, then follow gladly back to her pen as the light faded. Once or twice we had to carry her the last few steps of the way. She was in no pain, there was no suffering, just a progressive weakening. The last night, she fell asleep in a comfortable position in the pen and didn't wake up again. We buried her alongside her twin sister, under the ash tree, within sight of their birthplace fifty yards away by a bend in the river.
In April, burial will become illegal and such old faithfuls are to be taken away for some process of rendering that is devoid of humanity and respect. If we permit this, we demean our relationship with our land and livestock - and ultimately we demean ourselves.
Sentimental? No, the word is respect. These sheep had grown up with our own children. Yes, they were pets in a way, but also productive, giving us meat and wool, work and pleasure. Their lives were spent entirely on our land, in our charge. To bury them into the very ground from which they sprang is to complete the natural cycle, and is a final act of respect for lives that had formed an integral part of our own.
The failure to respect livestock, in the broadest sense, underlies so much that is wrong in farming today, in parallel to much that is wrong in human society.
Of course we acknowledge the need for various other means of disposal, but we reserve our right to continue burying those animals that are special to us.