Spring has finally arrived! But what wet miserable weather for lambing, cold and very muddy ground. Lambs began arriving right on schedule on the 20th of March. The ewes were all under cover, although with the number lambing this year we expanded the lambing pen out from under the shed roof using hurdles. When the rains came the ewes were all quick to move to the dry section!
In the first week twenty three lambs arrived including one set of twins. It was a busy time. Dan and I took turns staying overnight in the barn. Dan has an office room inside, with a sink and small wood stove. With the addition of an air mattress on the floor and a big warm duvet, it was very comfortable. Being close to the ewes makes so much sense…getting up every couple of hours for a check then back to bed if quiet.
Most lambs arrived without any assistance. We always quickly bring the lamb around to the head of the ewe so she can begin licking and bonding, and wipe away any mucus around the lambs mouth making sure it is breathing well. We then move them to the bonding pens, iodine the navels, check the ewe's teats and then quietly watch to see the lamb get the first suck of colostrum. A couple of new mums were a bit confused, a few lambs were weak and a few needed a bit more attention. I was very lucky to have the space to keep them indoors as the wet cold weather continued, with soggy fields and little new grass.
The most ‘exciting’ birth was a breech. The ewe had not lambed before, she is small and was struggling. I reached in and found a tail, rather than the two front legs and nose. 7pm on a Friday night, Dan had arrived from a few days in London and he became my cheerleader and coach, not about to actually put his hand up the ewe! I had to very carefully get the back legs pulled around and out of the birth canal, without damaging the ewe’s womb. Once legs were out I pulled very quickly as in a breech the lamb may breathe in the fluids and die. Poor ewe, she was obviously in some pain as I manoeuvred the lamb. It was such a relief to see the lamb out and breathing. The ewe was completely unresponsive, with her eyes closed, and completely ignoring her mewing lamb. That is when I really panicked. A quick call to our brilliant vets and by the time I was in conversation the ewe had started to recover from the trauma and began licking her very lively lamb. A shot of pain relief also helped and she is a brilliant new mum.
The last Portland lambs were born on the 21st of April, the third set of twins to arrive. (Portlands usually have singles). The weather has finally cooperated, lambs and ewes are out on the growing grass. The lambs love to gang up and race up and down the field! Now to the Hebrideans. Dan’s seven Hebridean ewes were removed from his precious woodlands last autumn when they began stripping bark from his chestnut trees. He moved them into a field of Portland ewes and when the ram arrived they stayed. The ram was not at all interested and didn’t bother with them until he had taken care of the Portlands. So all the Hebridean lambs arrived at the tail end of lambing time.
They are gorgeous little mixed up colourful lambs, three solid black and the rest a mix of cream, grey, taupe, black and a bit of ginger. The ewes lambed out in the field, then Archie and I chased them down, grabbed lambs and brought them down to the bonding pens. We could then iodine the navels, castrate the ram lambs and make sure all was well. The Hebs were not thrilled with being penned up but we kept them in only a couple of days. They are brilliant mothers with fierce little lambs.
With all the lambing going on, I have also been very busy with the holiday cottages. They have been fully booked over the last couple of months. The children staying during the Easter holidays were totally entertained with the lambs. And Old Sawyers cottage in Stoke Abbott had a wonderful write-up on a popular travel blog, suitcasesandsandcastles.com, a top five English family holiday cottage!
And last weekend we collected forty two Poll Dorset ewes, a proper flock! They are grazing the fresh grass at Stoke Knapp Farm, especially enjoying lying under the trees in an overgrown old hedgerow. More about these lovely Native breed sheep next time.
Jo Stover has daily adventures on her small farm, together with her Highland cattle and Portland sheep, bees, a few hens, dogs, and some two-legged family and friends.