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.

lamb adopter

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. Did you know that the Tsarina Sector series of SF novels is finished and all published?

The first one is available here


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20 thoughts on “Lambing

  1. The Story Reading Ape April 1, 2015 at 11:52 am Reply

    Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog and commented:
    It’s after 12 Noon in UK now, so the rest of the posts are NOT April Fool spoofs – This one is very educational and has a surprise ending I’m SURE you will all like 😀

    • jwebster2 April 1, 2015 at 1:05 pm Reply

      If was an April fool I’d have started it by saying I was a hard working and conscientious type 🙂
      And of course the surprise ending isn’t an April fool either

      • The Story Reading Ape April 1, 2015 at 1:47 pm

        It’s a great lead up to a book promo Jim, as well as enlightening 😀

      • jwebster2 April 1, 2015 at 1:59 pm

        I’d prefer to think of it as offering those people who’ve supported the blog a little something as a way of saying thank-you. But yes, there may be an element of promotion in there 😉

  2. noelleg44 April 1, 2015 at 12:04 pm Reply

    Fascinating and I learned a lot. Some I already knew from All Creatures Great and Small, believe it or not, and visiting the Yorkshire Dales. Thanks for the gift at the end!

    • jwebster2 April 1, 2015 at 1:03 pm Reply

      Glad you enjoyed it. My life has centred around lambing for the last six weeks and I felt I ought to explain to people what we’ve been up to. Hope you enjoy the book 🙂

  3. noelleg44 April 1, 2015 at 1:11 pm Reply

    Thanks, and I’m sure I will. Would love to be there to help with the lambing. Goo and gore do not bother me!

    • jwebster2 April 1, 2015 at 1:35 pm Reply

      We try and keep the gore down to a minimum, but obviously we get it 🙂

  4. Patrick Jones April 1, 2015 at 1:47 pm Reply

    Great story about lambing, Jim…I had no idea!! Thanks!

    • jwebster2 April 1, 2015 at 1:58 pm Reply

      Hi Patrick. When you think about it, most people don’t have a clue how other people live their lives or do their jobs. There’s so many different lives out there and we’re all desperately busy trying to live out own! So I thought I’d just share a bit 🙂

  5. Angie April 1, 2015 at 3:33 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on Love, Laughter, and Life and commented:
    Everything you wanted to know about lambing. Spring info about the busy season on a farm.

  6. Sammy April 1, 2015 at 7:52 pm Reply

    We’ve enjoyed our visits to see the lambs! how are those triplet mums doing?

    • jwebster2 April 1, 2015 at 9:37 pm Reply

      There’s still one of them hanging on in there, waiting for better weather. The other five have lambed 🙂 Glad the two little ones enjoyed them

  7. M T McGuire April 1, 2015 at 9:07 pm Reply

    LovelY post. Hope your mums and lambs are doing well.



    • jwebster2 April 1, 2015 at 9:38 pm Reply

      We’re now hoping for better weather, which is supposed to be coming now. But it’s nice to see the lambs playing when you get a bit of sun 🙂

  8. mgill0627 April 2, 2015 at 1:06 am Reply

    Wow, that was so interesting. Of course it could all be April Fools because I’ll believe anything. But I’d love to hear more about your operation. Like do you have those super smart sheep dogs?

  9. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt April 2, 2015 at 2:57 am Reply

    You have just provided me with every single thing I know about lambing. As one of the main characters in the story I just finished writing is an Irish actor who grew up in County Galway, and is about to go home for a visit (alas, in June and July, not February), this was handy.

    Much of it sound like obvious stuff – done in horrid weather – hope most of your little lambs and ewes survive.

    • jwebster2 April 2, 2015 at 6:12 am Reply

      When lambing, the thing to remember is that you cannot really control the weather. You haven’t got the accommodation to keep them all inside if the weather stays bad, (and it would be unwise to try because then you’d risk an epidemic of pneumonia which would be far worse.) but if you can keep the ewes milking, the lambs stay full of milk and can keep warm ‘from the inside’. But I’m glad it’s been useful 🙂

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt April 2, 2015 at 6:36 pm

        I got the same advice re cows from a Montana blogger: THINK. PLAN. And you’ll have half a chance of saving most of them.

        She wrote about it in the context of the year’s crop of calves, but the principles are the same – do it for the economics, even if you don’t care about the animals (which you should, or you’re sort of in the wrong business).

        And enough indoor space was the key.

        If you don’t do the right things, you’re also going to have a much bigger mess to clean up, so it’s self-interest, as well. Not that easy to dispose of bodies.

      • jwebster2 April 2, 2015 at 9:35 pm

        Yes, a sheep flock and a herd of suckler cows have a lot in common when it comes to management. You’ve got to get the nutrition right because that determines fertility, and then when they’re pregnant they’ve got to be fed in a way that keeps the calf growing, but not too well (because the cow deposits fat around the birth canal and the calf gets bigger as the canal it is going to leave by gets more constricted! You can tell I’ve worked with suckler cows can’t you 🙂 ) Then with calving, that’s timed to that the calf is big enough to cope with the milk the cow will produce when the grass comes, which means it’s born in bad weather……. Yes, there’s a lot of things in common 🙂

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