Lambs are usually born in the Spring. Ewes naturally become fertile in the Autumn and lambs arrive five months later in the Spring, when the grass begins to grow. Dorset sheep, including Portland, Poll and Horned Dorset, and Dorset Down all have the ability to lamb year-round. Farmers can produce lambs off season, and command higher prices. ‘Spring lamb’ that is often marketed at Easter is not actually born in the Spring. That lamb is born in late autumn or early winter and is probably from a Dorset sheep.
My Portland sheep are born in the Spring. But the Poll Dorset ewes we bought last April were put with the ram on the first of May. So October was a very busy month!
We brought them all back from Stoke Knapp farm and put them in the field right by the house. There were too many to keep in the open shed down in the farm yard, so we had to lamb outdoors this time. Many farmers lamb outdoors. The first set of twins arrived and Archie and I soon settled into the routine. We assisted where necessary and once born, sprayed the cord with iodine to stop any infection, then let the ewes take over. It never ceases to amaze me. After the ewe licks her lamb, mewing and bonding, the little thing is soon standing and trying to find the teat. These Dorset lambs were quite strong, some up and sucking within about 10 minutes. I cannot leave them until I hear that sucking noise and see the lamb wag its tail as it gets that first suck, so am very grateful when it happens quickly.
I was not as comfortable with outdoor lambing. If a problem appeared or if something seemed not quite right it was more difficult to catch the ewe to examine. Archie was brilliant and quickly became quite skilled at catching the ewe. We had gloves, lubricant, etc. with us in the Polaris Ranger as we zipped around the field. I acted as midwife, Archie assisted.
Of course, we had some difficult births. We had a few lambs that were stillborn - they were born dead and we could not revive them. Luckily there was usually a twin so the ewe still had a lamb to care for. All the Dorset ewes were shearlings, they had not given birth before. A few were quite confused about what was happening and the instinct to lick and bond didn’t kick in right away. We did set up bonding pens down in the shed. If the weather was turning nasty or the lambing process started in the late evening Archie caught them and moved them to the shed where we had light and they had a nice straw bed.
The vet came to help with a breech birth. These are often quite tricky. The lamb is backward, bum first, so the back legs must be carefully pulled around. This can be difficult and the poor ewe is very uncomfortable. The lamb must be very quickly pulled out so it doesn’t take a breath inside as the cord breaks. This poor ewe has a terrible time and the lamb was dead. Unfortunately there was no twin. But the vet went on to help me with another successful birth (see photo above) and gave me good tips on Poll Dorset twins. Lambing is still a learning process for me. I did feel challenged and upset sometimes but really satisfied as healthy new lambs bonded with their mums.
The weather was fairly good throughout October. We did have one cold wet weekend and a couple very young lambs became chilled. So down to the shed, under a heat lamp, and within 24 hours they were much better. I didn’t lose a lamb born alive, even a tiny ram with pneumonia. After treatment with antibiotics, the heat lamp, and an attentive mother he is up and thriving!
One poor ewe, with a single lamb, got fly strike. We treated her, but she became quite poorly and was unable to feed her week old lamb. She had no milk. So, I have become his second mum, a bottle of milk four times a day. The ewe has some milk now but not enough for him to really thrive. It is now three times a day and he is fat and happy!
Meanwhile…my new Portland ram, Snape, has been introduced to 30 ewes and is having a good time on Waddon Hill. There are plenty of blue bottoms. So we will be lambing again in about 5 months. The Highlands have been up on Crabb Hill doing a fantastic job with their conservation grazing. We brought them back down to Holes Ground about 10 days ago. They are used to moving up and down the bridleway and are settled in with enough grass for a few more weeks. We won’t have to start feeding haylage hopefully until sometime in mid-December. Stoke Knapp House is under scaffolding and getting the roof repaired. The builders couldn’t believe it had not already collapsed as much of the wood structure was rotten. But it was a very old roof!
A special Remembrance Sunday 11 November 1918....
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.