Well this blog has taken so long to get finished. It's hard to believe that lambing is nearly over (Well our main flock finished on the 15th March and I have Three Greyface Dartmoors, one has lambed and the other two don’t seem to be thinking that they will lamb any time soon!) When lambing is happening you feel like time is going so slowly but looking back its only been a month in your life of a complete routine change. Five weeks have passed now with these Greyface Dartmoors, even if you only have one to lamb you still have to check it at regular intervals as the time you dont, something will happen and you will probably end up loosing a lamb. Its taken me ages to get this blog written as I don’t like to disturb the sleeping farmer hubby as our office is in the bedroom and he is still getting up at 3.00am to check the two girls. Not sure if a tapping key pad and then the delete button is therapeutic?
It all went off when they were due to be collected from Kilsham to return to Park Farm in February. Luckily we had timed it right to coincide with school half term to get things underway. I was getting very anxious about lambing as I had not done any for ages (well I suppose its like riding a bike you never forget!) and I really hate the dark. I first went on to Amazon to get a head torch and then walkie talkies (so I could communicate with Farmer Hubby if things went wrong and also to say goodnight to the boys if I was in the shed of dread!) and then just to back up a big boomer of a torch. If I could have street lamps from my back door to the barn I would!
So Phil and I did eventually get into a routine when I would cover the evening as he was doing the 3.00am onwards shift. Phil would go to bed at about 9.00pm (and still is!). So this was it me going out and checking with all my illuminations and then having the music on to keep me company. My sister in law and father in law would be out there for a bit as the suck lambs needed feeding and silage needed to be topped up. It is surprisingly how the time would fly by. I did have a couple of evenings where I would finally go in after midnight and then Phil did come out at one time 2.00am to relieve me which I was so grateful for. You kind of switch off and watch the sheep, either the ones lambing or just the ewes and lambs resting peacefully together, or the lambs having a mad five minutes running around or on their mums back snoozing which always makes me chuckle. Other jobs include making sure that the single pens have enough silage/hay, their buckets have water in and if the pens are dirty that they are topped up with straw. It is a nightmare to keep coming in and out as I had so many layers on. One evening I did make a bed on a bale of straw and put a couple of wads for a pillow so I could watch the sheep lambing and just lay there opening and shutting my eyes.
I did have a few occasions in the barn of trying to catch ewes on my own. These ladies do weigh quite a bit and trying to hold on to them was not fun, luckily there are no cameras around as I am sure I could have earned my keep from You’ve Been Framed! being dragged around a pen swearing and cursing that I will hold on to you and then when you get them they just lie down like a sack of Sh1t and you then still have to get them into a pen. I would only need to catch them if they had been lambing for a while and you would just have to check to see if all was coming the right way (two front feet and a nose!) There was also on a few occasions of me talking to myself with my hand up the ewe saying “I can do this” while you are just feeling a tail and no feet (breech presentation). I would have to talk my way through the process of pushing it back in and then running my hand down to flip the back feet free and then talking my way through about getting the lamb out so that it does not get stuck! I did also have to ask for help as there was one with just a head and a leg but the lamb had been there a while (its tougne was swollen) luckily all came out well. So there are many presentations that you can find when lambing sheep.
Its fine just doing the lambing but this time having a family to look after was another sum in the equation. I could quite happily live of jacket potatoes or beans on toast for a while and not ironing clothes but this was not going to go down well with two boys and their school uniforms. So having to think and prepare meals, get pack lunches made, doing the ironing (my mum did help out a bit) hovering as most of the barn would end up in the house and then washing. The washing was the main one as if you have never lambed before OH my goodness the smell is not pleasant. The lambing goo just humms after it has dried out. I had to put up with Phil coming in stinking when he was lambing in January and eating lunch but now it was my turn. I lost count of the times I had to change and wash clothes, my poor washing machine. You then throw the school run into this equation and it gets a bit silly. We have an area downstairs in our house for boots and outdoor clothes and my goodness the smell in the mornings was not a welcoming one. Living in waterproof trousers to prevent the goo and the pooh did help but not on your arms.
So we were very lucky that we did have somewhere to lamb our sheep as Phil's Dad had finished his 270 odd and many had been let out. If not we would have been in a right pickle. At Park Farm Phil and his family have their lambing routine and all was set up so it was a case of just going with the flow. The process for lambing and also the after care is as follows.
So when the ewes come into the barn you would usually split them up into Singles, Twins and Triplets as this allows you to give more food to the ewes carrying more than one. The sheep are scanned like we are when pregnant and then they are marked with spray on the top of their heads, on the wool, blue representing a single, any twin would be left blank and then a triplet would be orange.
When a ewe starts to lamb, the signs include scratching the floor, bleating, getting up and down, licking her lips, lying down and straining. You should then see the water bag. If all is going well it could take minutes or it could be hours (just like women we are all different) When she is nearly there and sometimes when the lamb is just about to come out she may make some horrific pushing noises which always brings back memories of child birth and also watching One Born Every Minute! I feel their pain! You will start to see the feet and the nose of the lamb if its a normal presentation. Like I said earlier you could get all sorts. You know from here mark how many she should have so if its a single after she has lambed you would then pick the lamb up (very gooey!) and then make mad pleating noises to ensure that the ewe will follow – another thing to keep to yourself for impersonations! You would then move it to the mothering up pens, these are just made of hurdles at the side of the pens to hold one ewe and her lambs.
Tom & Archies Ewe X Giving Birth to her second lamb (I was using my small compact camer as I didnt wish to cover my other one in lambing gooo!)
A Ewe straining while giving birth and also the two front feet showing a normal presentation.
The mothering up pens are so that the ewe and lamb can bond, if you have a mad young sheep you can keep her in here and wait for her to have her other lambs without her running off! Also if you have other eweslambing they will not get muddled up and try to pinch each others lambs. You will let the ewe and her lamb(s) get settled and let her lick the lambs. Once the lambs are getting to their feet and start the process of looking under her for the milk and she had delivered all of them you will then go in and start the process of ensuring that the lamb(s) all have a suckle and then iodine the lambs navels to ensure infection does not enter.
Mothering Up Pens for individual Ewes and lambs.
For every lamb you will make sure that they get under the ewe and have a suckle to ensure that they receive the colostrum. You are trying to give the lamb the best start, it will not pay off to walk away and let them get on with it as you will end up with more problems in the long run. So you have to get in the pen on your knees and hold the lamb up and encourage it to the teat to suckle (hence why you get covered in goo) so its easy with a single (most of the time they will find it themselves) but when you have twins or triplets you have to repeat this process for all of them. Lets add into the equation that the lamb does not wish to suckle, the ewe is going round and around or she may not have any milk to feed all these lambs. You pull your hair out and walk away and calm down! All in all you either get the lamb to suckle, you may have to make up some powered colostrum to feed through a bottle or end up stomach tubing it or milking the ewe out if she has milk to then bottle feed or stomach tube. It does take time and you will have to keep on going back to ensure that they can find it on their own for the next 24-48 hours.
Trying to get lambs to feed. Hence living in waterproof trousers as you get covered either by the lamb or from what is in the straw.
So once the lamb(s) are fit and well and also the ewe is doing well you can move on to the next stage. You hope that this will be within 48 hours. We never put out a ewe with three lambs as no matter how much milk she has she will never keep up with this demand and in the long run you will end up bringing one back in and also you will always want two good lambs rather than three not so good lambs. So the ringing pliers come out and if you are a male cross your legs as the ram lambs have their testicles rung (always making sure you have both plumbs!) and then the rams and ewe lambs will also have their tails rung, this is to prevent over the warmer months ahead them getting mucky backsides and the flies pestering them and laying eggs and this resulting in fly strike and maggots!
You give the rams a few hours to recover and then you will spray a number on the side of the ewe and then the lambs which will allow us to make sure that the lambs are always with their mum. You will move the ewe and her lambs into a large pen which will have other ewes and lambs in it. This is so that the ewes and lambs can get used to a larger area and also mixing with others before finally going out. Any triplets will have the smallest lamb removed and it will go into a pen for bottle feeding. These lambs will be fed every 4/5 hours until a month old when the feed will be reuced. The feeding times work out to be 7am. 12.00pm. 4.00pm. 9.00pm and when you are still lambing Phil was feeding them at 3.00am. In total we have got 25 suck lambs for our 85 ewes which have lambed. This is a bit too high and we have had to take a few of the lambs away from the fist time lambers as they have had not had enough milk to rear twins.
Spraying the ewe and her lambs if they are twins to ensrue that we know which lambs belong to which ewe. Ewes and lambs are then walked up to the larger pens. Ewes and lambs together in group pens.
Well it turned full circle as we got our fields electric fenced over at Kilsham (taking down the flexi net and having to put up posts and two strands of wire as the lambs can get their heads stuck in the flexi netting). We finally started to trailer our ewes with their lambs back to Kilsham the ones which were fit enough. The eweswere wormed before they left and the lambs were spilt off from them in the trailer. I do have enough of that road to Petworth with the school run but I really did get fed up with the amount of loads we had to do. So after several journeys over and our twins and singles split up in different fields we have finally got all of our sheep back to Kilsham. I am just waiting now for my remaining two Greyface Dartmoor ewes to lamb and they will be moved over.
Phil drenching the ewes, lambs running on to the trailer, arriving at Kilsham and being unloaded, X the Ewe and one of her lambs
So year one of lambing (nearly) complete and no divorce! So we can manage to work together and organise ourselves. Fingers crossed for many more years.