In search of peanuts for the birds, I stumbled across an agricultural shop in a nearby village. From the outside it was unspectacular, but opening the door was like stepping into an episode of The Archers. They did indeed have peanuts, in sacks the size of whisky barrels. I wouldn’t have been able to drag one as far as the till, and I wondered if other weaklings had ever secretly slashed them open and let nuts pour into their pockets, gloves and wellie boots, before staggering out like overstuffed scarecrows.

Had anyone been so sneaky, it would have been a bad move. The place was an Aladdin’s cave of implements for cutting, sawing, pounding, impaling. If you owned a Texas ranch and had a yearning to renew the fences, everything you’d need is here. So too if you had to exterminate rats or mice, wasps, beetles, or any other pest that was getting in your way. There was a corner devoted to horses, with enough combs, brushes and hoof-picks to tart them up for Ascot. And there were elixirs and ointments and dips not only for horses but for sheep, pigs and cattle.

The store is well placed, beside an auction market. Hundreds of metal corrals encircle the trading hub of this historic mart, the first of its kind in Scotland. It was opened in 1860 by a butcher whose wife realised he could do better for himself, and persuaded him to go into the auctioning business.

Early in the morning, several times a week, farmers pass our cottage, heading for the mart with lorries and trailers packed with cattle and sheep. A short while later they rattle back home empty. In the present lock-down they are almost the only traffic going by, and I picture all us villagers lifting our heads from whatever we’re doing to watch. Tractors are even more exciting. One went past four times in each direction the other Sunday – just turning my head made me feel wiped out.

At this time of year, tractors are busy harrowing and fertilising, but the most important activity is lambing. I’ve never understood why, at Easter, we celebrate with chocolate rabbits when it is newly arrived lambs we should be thinking of. Everywhere you look there are picture-book hillsides of grazing ewes, eating as if at an all-day buffet, while their infants dance like popcorn all over the place.

By March, lambing season is in full swing, and gravelly bleating is, for me, the sound of spring. As daffodils splash verges and woods with colour, lambs cavort with no thought for tomorrow (thankfully). The other day, on my way home from a hardware store – we needed to repair our wood-burning stove – we passed a field whose corner had been fenced off to create a maternity ward. The midwife’s caravan was parked among them, presumably making the midnight shift a little less arduous. Two lambs, sitting as close as eggs in a box, stared at me with beady black eyes, so motionless they appeared not even to blink. At a few days old, they were brilliant white, as if straight out of the washing machine. Their mother, in contrast, was a mess. Her filthy fleece hung off her in shreds, like a catwalk model swaggering down the podium, her woolly cape worn so low off the shoulder it almost trips her up.

For any ewe about to go into labour, seeing a new mother in such a ragged state can do nothing for their nerves. Nature is meant to take its course easily in the sheep pen, with none of the coaxing, hand-holding or pain relief humans generally need. And when it comes to the farmyard, most of the time that’s how it works. But as anyone who read James Herriot as a youngster knows, things can quickly go wrong. When they do, it invariably requires middle-of-the-night trips to snow-bound barns, and armpit-length gloves.

Sheep, a vet once told me, are always finding new ways of dying. Whether during pregnancy and birth, or out on the summer hills, their capacity to self-destruct is impressive. I spare you the details over your quails’ eggs and kedgeree. I spent a lot of time, once, talking to hill sheep farmers, shepherds and vets for a book I was writing. Studying a veterinary textbook on ruminants and their ailments, and the photos in particular, was the most effective diet I ever went on.

It made me realise how stoical these creatures are, and how much we take them for granted. With our streets empty and silent, and the knowledge of a highly contagious disease on the loose, these eery times are reminiscent of the dreadful Foot and Mouth outbreak in 2001. Back then, throughout East Lothian where I lived, and in Dumfries and Galloway, where friends were farmers, there was a deathly hush in the countryside. The sight of empty green slopes, where there should be flocks and herds, was a definition of abnormal. As was driving through disinfectant at the gates of every farm. Worst of all were Hieronymus Bosch landscapes of smoking pyres. To blot out the sight and smell, farmers closed windows and curtains.

Until that calamity I had never fully appreciated how big a part farm animals play in my understanding and enjoyment of the country. Now that it is us who are under threat, the tables are turned. But for all the bucolic charm of seeing lambs’ tails whirling like windmills as they suckle, this season is becoming a headache for farmers. Until Covid-19, their main worry was the impact Brexit would have on trade deals and the price of home-reared meat. All that seems far off right now. With some abattoirs and most international borders closing, the farm calendar of breeding, rearing and slaughtering is at grave risk of disruption in the coming months. Among the lessons this crisis might teach us is the value of locally grown produce, and the necessity of being as self-sufficient a country as possible.

While we get through this unnerving situation, those of us who live within sight and sound of frolicking lambs, or who follow media-savvy shepherds online, are grateful. The natural order of things is carrying on all around, just waiting for our return.