During one of the worst summer storms, the adorable bleat of a newborn lamb rings out.

But this was not the normal sound a farmer would expect in August.

Lambing season normally runs between February and April, and experts say a ewe giving birth at this time of the year is virtually unheard of.

So imagine farmer Alistair Strong’s astonishment when he discovered one of the farm’s rare Black Wensleydale ewes was about to give birth - five months later than the rest of his flock.

“I though she was just getting fat,” said Alistair, 57, of School Hill Farm, Maulds Meaburn. “I thought she was a non-breeder because she didn’t lamb this year.

“It was when we were shearing last month, and the lad I had helping happened to say that he thought she was pregnant. I just laughed it off, because I thought she was a non-breeder,” added Alistair.

Last year the now five-year-old ewe gave birth by caesarean section. “It was a huge lamb, it weighed 19lbs. I had never seen one as big as that one. It looked like a small donkey and it was black.

“Once they have had a caesarean, sheep don’t normally get pregnant again, so it was a huge surprise to me when I finally realised she was.”

When the ewe went into labour last Friday, Alistair checked and quickly realised that the lamb was not going to be born naturally.

Alistair said: “It had to be on the night of one of the worst storms we had this summer, and as I checked and believed the lamb to be alive, we decided to take her to another vet, as our normal one was on holiday."

“It was blowing a gale, so we loaded her onto the trailer and took her to Paragon Veterinary Practice at Newbiggin, near Penrith,” added Alistair, who has three children, Amy 16, Maisie, 12, and Isaac, seven.

Vet Dan Griffiths delivered the lamb safely.

“It was very wintry conditions and it is most unusual for lambs to be born at this time of year, and even more unusual for this rare breed. She was a Black Wensleydale breed of which only around 50 are born a year, so the farmer was delighted to find a totally unexpected pregnancy,” said Dan.

“Alistair had come to Paragon as his local vet was on holiday and we were able to step in and help a local colleague. Alistair and his two daughters were on hand to help me,.

“This male lamb was not as big as the one last year, but it was sucking on the mum, while the vet was stitching the ewe. Wensleydale’s have a small head, but a big body,” said Alistair.

“I think the vet was more surprised than me when we said we had a pregnant ewe. I think he thought it was a wind-up."

The small flock of black Wensleydales belong to Alistair’s partner, Carol, 57.

“I think this lamb was a late one. Our black Wensleydale tup, Shiloh, is always around the ewes. Obviously the ewe didn’t take when she was out with the tup last October, November,” said Carol.

Carol spotted the black Wensleydale breed when at an auction in Kendal.

“I fell in love with them and asked Alistair if I could have two and keep them on the farm. They were reasonably-priced then at £90 each and they had a lamb with them. Everyone is wanting Wensleydales now and tups are fetching about £350 to £500, and some even more.”

Carol now has a flock of around 25, which run alongside Alistair’s flock of 540 of Dorsets, Texels and Mules.

There is something definitely very appealing about Black Wensleydales. Their long curling forelocks and clean black faces give them a Rastafarian look which always attracts much attention. There are records of a totally black flock being kept in the early 20th Century to decorate the front field of the owners country estate!

Traditionally though, Black Wensleydales were considered unacceptable by farmers, as a black fleece was of little value.

But, recently, with the increase in demand for naturally coloured wools, their black fleece is listed in the wool board schedule as one of the highest priced.

“Carol was selling locks (fleece) during lockdown to people who were living in blocks of flats in London who were making dolls. One lady said she had 20 kids in her flat working with Wensleydale wool,” said Alistair.

“The wool is so fine. It is really, really soft,” said Carol. “I sold a fleece for £87 recently on ebay, and have sold locks at Woolfest. The wool is much sought after and that is why people will pay more.”