About a week before moving the ewes into the shed Archie spotted an unwell ewe first thing in the morning. She had prolapsed. This means her vagina and bladder were pushed out, a deep red ball was exposed at her backside. It rarely happens with Portlands. She was an older ewe and we quickly attended to her, carefully pushing things back in, and applying a gadget like a harness that prevents it all coming back out again. We put her in a pen but she was very unsettled. Very quickly I could see she was ill and called the vet. The ewe was given penicillin but deteriorated with a high temperature. And we lost her even before lambing began.
On April 4th the first lamb was born - a nice normal delivery, meaning two little feet and a nose make an appearance. The ewe sometimes pushes the lambs out quite quickly. Others struggle for quite a while, but as long as progress is made I don’t interfere. So lambs began to arrive, the routine began. Lambs are born in the open shed. The pair are moved into a bonding pen for a couple of days. They then go out into a small paddock just behind the barn where mum can enjoy eating fresh grass again, After another day or two they join the others in the bigger field. The lambs grow in confidence, racing around the field like naughty children, ignoring their mothers' calls!
This year I stayed overnight in the barn right next to the shed. This was not a hardship! Dan has a lovely office room in the building with a small wood stove, sink, fridge, etc. WiFi, too. There is a rug on the floor and a couple of chairs. He calls it ‘the bothy’ and it is quite cosy. So I made myself up a comfy bed on the floor and spent my evenings and nights there. When Dan arrived from London for the weekends he took over. Much easier to pop out for checks through the night and get right back to sleep if all was quiet. And nice to make a cup of tea at 3 am while waiting for a ewe to give birth!
About a week into lambing I lost four lambs, right in a row. The ewes were all first timers, lambs were very small and all the ewes had problems with their udders. Sometimes the first bit of colostrum can be quite thick. But this colostrum was thicker than vaseline and completely sticky. At first we thought the ewe had mastitis, an infected udder. I could not even strip any out to feed the lamb myself. (Tubing the lamb - inserting a small rubber tube down the lamb’s throat and slowly feed the lamb directly into the stomach).The vet was called and had never seen such a thing. The mothers lost complete interest in their lambs, mostly ignoring them. They obviously felt very unwell. Oxytocin was applied, a drug which brings on milk. I tried like crazy to save the lambs, tubing through the night and the next day but they never thrived. It was all quite heartbreaking.
I have my theory, although some disagree and the vets had never seen such a thing, and consulted many colleagues. I think these four young ewes went into the shed, ate the hay but never had a drink of water over the next 7-9 days. There was a trough and buckets of water available, but I think they became intensely dehydrated. I did carefully pour water down their throats as one of the treatments. All did come into normal milk about 4-5 days after lambing by by then it was too late.
To our great relief this condition was not repeated. In fact I had to intervene only once with a lamb stuck with only the nose appearing. I was able to get the legs positioned and out came the lamb. All the other births were straightforward. Ewes happy, Jo happy. I watch the first time mums quite carefully as they can be a bit unsure about this new little life mewing and trying to poke around looking for the teats. It is always the nicest feeling to see and hear the sucking and lambs getting their fill of colostrum. Then it’s back to bed!
I did have a real scare with one little ram lamb who was strong and healthy and went as normal from the bonding pen to the little paddock to the field over four days. We noticed the lamb on day five was very lethargic so I brought the pair back inside. The lamb was weak and not sucking. I was determined not to lose him. He had watery mouth disease, an infection in his gut. Usually lambs get this in the first day or two, from a dirty lambing area. My pens are clean and disinfected and I am quite sure he picked up something outside. I spent the next 2 days and nights milking a very confused mother and tubing the baby. I also collected some tiny antibiotic pills from the vet which I put down his throat. It was a good moment when Dan finally saw him up and sucking again. He lives!!
I have twenty one lambs running around the field now, two ewes still to lamb. The weather has been wonderful, the grass is growing and ewes are full of milk. This has been a difficult lambing season, losing four lambs. Now I need to pay a bit of attention to five highland cattle ready to calve!
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.