I just thought I’d sort of describe ‘lambing’ for people. I know there’s ‘Lambing Live’ on telly (or was, I haven’t a clue whether they’re doing it this year or not) but I thought people would like a peep behind the curtain.
Lambing ‘starts’ when you put the tups in. (Tups is the Cumbrian term for rams, male sheep). This year we were cunning, we split the ewes into two groups, each of two hundred. We put the tups into one group, so they’d start lambing in the middle of February, and then three weeks later we put the tups into the next group as well. The idea was that lambing would be spread out a little bit and wouldn’t get totally manic. By and large it worked.
Round about Christmas we had sheep scanned. This told us who was carrying a single, twins or triplets. They were split into groups because they’d all need different diets.
The middle of February arrived. Prior to that we’d been taking hay and silage out to the ewes in the fields, and those carrying triplets had been really pampered getting ewe rolls. All got molasses as well because they really need the energy.
Then as the first ewes started lambing we went through them, pulled out those who were nearest to lambing and brought them inside. We have three old cattle sheds and we just bed them with straw, but along the sides we have some individual pens made out of hurdles. When things were busy somebody would go through every hour or so and if a ewe was lambing or had just lambed you’d quietly escort her into one of the pens and let her lick her lambs down in peace and generally give her a chance to get to know them.
One problem you can have during lambing is when you find three ewes surrounded by anywhere from five to seven lambs, and nobody (including the mothers,) has the faintest idea who belongs to who! So whisking them off to their private maternity suite as soon as you spot them doing anything saves problems.
There are other issues, large lambs that need help out into the world, lambs coming backwards, lambs lying across the birth canal they’re supposed to be going down, but most ewes manage this sort of thing entirely on their own. After all why not, it’s a perfectly natural process; the species has been doing it for millennia.
Once the ewe has lambed she and her lambs are whisked into another building, again in individual pens, where she can bond properly with the lambs and we can check that she’s got the milk to feed them. If she’s the mother of triplets then she cannot really feed three properly so one is quietly removed. Ideally it goes straight onto a ewe who has only had one lamb. In the perfect world you catch your single actually lambing, and rub the ‘spare’ lamb down in afterbirth and fluid so the doting mum takes it as her own. (This is what we call round here Wet adoption.) Otherwise you can go through up to three stages. Some, a very few, will just accept the extra lamb. Some you put a halter on so that they cannot drive the lamb off, and so eventually, after a couple of days it smells of them and they accept it. Some have to go into a formal lamb adopter where the ewe’s head is held and she cannot see the lambs at all. So she forgets which is which and they both smell like her. But with this system, once she has accepted the lamb you’re best putting the new happy family into a single pen so that the lambs learn to recognise Mum’s face.
But across the board, once you know mum has accepted the lambs, and each lamb has a nice full tummy which shows that she’s feeding them properly; then they can go back outside.
And this is where the weather is crucial. We’ve got fertiliser on, grass should be growing but because it’s cold and wet we’re feeding them as much silage and hay as we were back in January. There just isn’t enough grass yet to allow the ewes to produce enough milk to support their lambs. Obviously they’re also still getting their ewe rolls to make sure they are getting enough quality food so they can feed their lambs.
Ideally, the sun comes out, the mixture of rain, sleet and snow stops, and the grass starts growing. As the grass grows we can slowly withdraw the extra feed until finally mum is feeding her lambs solely off the grass, and the lambs are also eating grass as well.
As you can imagine, things get hectic. You have anywhere between a month and six weeks flat out. Our busiest day saw fifteen lamb within twenty four hours. Actually that is quite civilised and a result of us spreading tupping. But ideally you don’t plan to do anything else much during lambing. Social events are just not booked for then and friends have to accept that you might just disappear for a month.
You certainly don’t plan a book launch for the middle of it!
But never mind.
Oh and a treat for you. Justice 4.1, my first Sci-Fi story is available as a free e-book for today and tomorrow. So treat yourself and go and download it now whilst you can.