It is difficult to know where to begin because whilst lambing time officially begins when the first lamb is born alive, or dead, before, on or after the 22nd of March, the preparations have begun much sooner.
After scanning in the second week of January we sort the lambing ewes into groups of singles, twins and triplets. They are then fed according to the number of lambs they are expecting. Single are just on grass and twins and triplets on sheep rolls, silage, and crystalix tubs high energy molasses supplementary feed.
As well as the large scale preparations on the farmyard during February I begin preparing meals for the freezer for lambing time. High energy supplementary feed for the family. We can work up to 18 hours a day in our busiest period, sometimes 20 so I don’t always have time to make a meal but we need to be well fed. I make 6 weeks of meals in tin containers, some baking (because I still like to bake fresh during quieter lambing periods) and about a dozen puddings. So far I have 8 days of meals prepared, 4 lambing loaf cakes, 3 dozen scones and an apple and blackberry crumble.
We have one lambing shed where we birth the triplets, a barn I call the lamb cave it houses the pet lambs and the sheep adopters (plus 5 pens). We also have three more areas where we bring sheep in for observations -bottom calf pens (6 pens) old dairy (3 pens) When the weather is particularly bad we end up using the cattle trailer too.
Currently the one large lambing shed we have is housing the remainder of last year’s fat lambs. The shed the lambs will go into is currently housing 5 calves. So the calves will soon be moved and mucked out and then the fat lambs will move in so the lambing shed can be mucked out, power washed and *limed.
The smaller lambing/nursing pens are then set up made out of metal sheep hurdles to the front of the building. A row of 4 and one round by the feed bin. Although when we get busy we set up to four more temporary ones in the main sheep pen if the others are full and a new sheep is on with lambing.
At the end of February the sheep that are having triplets and another few twins that might need a little more feed (about 80 in total) are brought back to the farm and put in the shed for feeding twice a day, sheep rolls and silage.
Checking the shed then commences even though they are not yet due for a couple of weeks they need to be checked regularly. Ewes pregnant with triplets are more likely to prolapse so we have to keep an eye out for any ewes pushing their lamb beds out. Also sheep housed are more likely to get crushed and are less likely to be able to turn themselves back if they get *kessen.
The sheep in the building aren’t necessarily the ones due to lamb first but when one lambs it can set some of the others off too, so sometimes we can get off to a quick start.
*Limed ~ Hydrated lime is used as a disinfectant to produce a dry alkaline environment in which bacteria do not readily multiply.
*Kessen ~ stuck lying on their back and can’t get up
We do generally have a sheep go into early labour, sometimes the pre lambing booster can set her off and if the lambs aren’t ready they will be born dead on arrival or die soon after birth. So we then have a ewe with milk but no lambs and that isn’t productive therefore we need to try to get her a lamb to raise as soon as possible. We have no other lambs available at that time so we go to buy a pet lamb from a neighbouring farmer who has some, we usually pay a tenner, £10. We had one of those in early March last year and the ewe accepted her new lamb gladly and loved him instantly. This was particularly special because she had never lambed before so she was obviously a natural mother. Successful adoption is wonderful but not always possible if the sheep doesn’t want to accept it. But when it does it spares a lot of time, space and work. The sooner we get a sheep and it’s lamb or lambs back outside to the fields the better because we need the space.
We then kicked off lambing 2017 officially on the 20th March with three live healthy triplets being born.
When triplets are born we wait to see if they are strong and sucking before intervening. More often than not they are all given a feed of mixed powdered colostrum; if they suck they get it from a bottle if they don’t it is tube fed to them. Colostrum is crucial to the lamb in the first few hours in order for them to survive.
All lambs that are born inside are also given an antibiotic injection into the thigh muscle to prevent infection.
All lambs, wherever they are born, inside and outside have their cord dipped in iodine as soon after birth as possible to prevent infection through the navel.
We lamb 80 inside and another 450 outside here on the farm and another 280 on the fell farm. We begin lambing with 260 mules expecting texel lambs, the following week another 125 Swaledales start lambing expecting mule lambs so we are very very busy by then. Another 425 begin lambing on the 20th April 145 expecting mule lambs 280 put to the horned tup expecting Swaledales. In total 800+ ewes
Some farms remove a triplet straight away, sheep have two teats so are set up to raise two lambs successfully. We leave all our triplets on and only remove one if the ewe isn’t able to feed them properly, if one is weak and not feeding or if we have another sheep in need of a lamb. They stay inside in one of the smaller pens for at least 24 hours, but sometimes much longer because they will need ‘topping up’ with a bottle until the ewe’s milk comes in fully.
If we then find that one of the triplets is continually empty and sucking a lot of bottled milk, we take it off and it becomes a pet for the time being. It is then fed 4 times a day.
All the things described here I do. Feed, dip, inject, check, lamb etc One thing that surprises many people is that sheep don’t always give birth on their own and lambing a sheep means actually putting your hand or arm up inside the ewe to birth her lambs.
You have to feel with your hand as well as your mind to interpret what you are feeling is the correct leg, in the correct position, whether the sheep is opened up enough to be able to get the lamb out.
The good – two front feet and a head in position
The bad – a tail (breech) two lambs twisted together or a huge lamb that the ewe will struggle to have
The ugly – a dead half rotting stinking lamb that comes to pieces as you lamb it.
One of the best parts of lambing for me is physically bringing new life into the world, bringing live lambs out of a mother giving them help to get going and keeping check of them is incredibly rewarding, I can’t even describe it in words really.
It is one of life’s miracles and I don’t think there’s a farmer on Earth who doesn’t marvel every time a new birth occurs. At times during lambing time I feel the most incredible sense of peace. A beautiful stillness so powerful I feel like I am in the presence of God.