Lambing is all but over now and feels like one that should be noted as a success, with a few hiccups along the way the commons around our little safe-hold are green and lush with spring grass and ewes with lambs at foot finding their way around their new bright world.
Lambing started again sadly with Sophie giving birth to another dead lamb on the 4th of March. This is the third year she has had a stillborn lamb and the last that we will put her through. No more ‘one off’s’ or ‘terrible lambing year’ after three times we think it is fair to say that there is something that is causing her to be unable to deliver a healthy lamb and it is not fair to keep putting her through the heart ache. After over a day of searching both by us and a grieving ewe we found a farmer with a set of triplets and bought the extra lamb home for Sophie who, in spite of the many words of warning that it had been too long and she was unlikely to take to her new charge, adores her bundle of joy and took to her straight away.
The next part of lambing past by more or less uneventfully and happily enough with three sets of twins and three singles arriving, mostly on days when I was at work!
My main lambing day was the 19th of March when I was ‘it’ whilst mother was on a course and sister was busy with my niece for the day, thankfully I had help from a friend as the day was busy; it started before I arrived back from work after a sleep-in with a text to say that Pixies’ water bag had appeared but there was still no sign of any lambs and could I get home as quickly as possible*. When I arrived back and checked her over there were no real signs that she was lambing or that something was wrong as there should have been that long after producing a water bag. So after checking the pen over to see that she hadn’t given birth to a stillborn lamb and walked off and left it we took her to the vets who diagnosed ring womb. After a short time our vet delivered a limp and bright yellow ewe lamb, lambs come out yellow when they have become stressed during labour. For a minute or so it was unclear if the lamb was dead or alive but a heartbeat was found and the lamb coaxed into life and then another, seemingly unstressed at all ewe lamb was delivered by the vet. Pixie was very good and did what she could to clean the lambs up in the space she had before we took her home and put her in a shed. The first lamb to be born was notably weaker than the first and Pixie was tired, sore and didn’t have any milk.
I was on the phone sorting out what would be the best feed to give them when I spotted Nesta, one of our older and experienced ewes, lay down in the hedge line and begin pushing. The problem of Pixies’ lambs first feed was sorted and so we stopped and watched whilst Nesta delivered a white ewe lamb. Nesta began the job of cleaning up her new change but was quickly interrupted by a yearling (known as ‘maizies white faced lamb’) whose water bag bust as she ran up to inspect the new-born. It was clear she thought that taking on this lamb would be a much better idea than going through the ordeal of giving birth to her own and I can understand why as when we stepped in to deliver her own lamb I thought its head would never come out it was that big! My friend managed to deliver a very large ram lamb whilst I went off to fetch a more experienced shepherd neighbour.
During this time Nesta delivered another ewe lamb, this time the first and to date the only coloured lamb of the year, with little fuss or strain. We moved both ewes as far apart along the green as we dared as the yearling was still very interested in the first ewe lamb to be born and allowed them both to clean up and feed their charges before moving them to the lambing sheds and pen. Once their I used Nesta to give Pixies’ lambs a first feed, much to her disgust but then she knows her humans have funny ideas sometimes. I later topped them up with a feed of powdered colostrum and Pixie took over feeding them after a day or so of topping them up with bottles until her milk came through.
Days totals: 4 ewe lambs, 1 very large ram lamb, 2 happy ewes and 1 tired and sore ewe.
All went quiet for a week or so until Lucy gave birth to a ram lamb on the 9th of April. Lucy is always a ewe we watch closely especially at ‘stressful’ times of the year. Lucy was born within our flock and when she was around six months old was run over and broke her leg which we nursed her through and put her back out with the flock again only to be hit by a car and break another leg!! I can’t remember if it was a front leg that was broken first or the back but she recovered well and most of the time you would never tell she has ever had anything wrong with her but sometimes when she is heavily pregnant or shearing is due she will limp and become unsteady on her back end.
Later that day a yearling also lambed; a very large ewe lamb that had to be helped out. The size of the lambs we have had for the last few years has made us question replacing our ram with a smaller breed. Bailey is a lovely boy and stunning as far as a sheep can be but Cotswolds are a large breed which doesn’t seem to make such a difference when a ewe has twins but the single lambs are very large and this seems to effect the first time mothers most of all.
When a ewe has problems lambing it can cause problems with them bonding with their off-spring which is not a trait we want to encourage. With this last ewe she walked off as soon as the lamb had been pulled out and didn’t take any notice of her lamb until it was placed in front of her much further down the green. With the yearling on the 19th of March we also had to intervene to ensure her lamb got the attention it needed after it was delivered.
It is also harder to spot problems with first time lambers. We know our flock both as a whole and individually; we know each ewes family history, where they are likely to lamb (normally as close to where they were born as they can get), in roughly what order they lamb in (Sophie has been first to lamb for the last three years, the year before that it was her half sister Charlotte. We know ewes in that line normally lamb early in the year) and what problems they have and what to watch for (Lucy becomes unsteady on her feet when she is close to lambing, Lily had a funny shaped pelvis which meant the left leg of her lambs had to be pulled first when she was giving birth).
An educated guess can be made for some of these things but others are completely unknown and so problems that effect yearlings are more pressing. Changing to a smaller ram may tweak this problem and mean less intervention on our part.
We have found Sophie and her lamb, named Saddy by her new keeper, a new home with a pet flock belonging to a friend who keeps them for their fleece and to manage the land she has. Her flock are not bred from and so there is no worry that Sophie will keep having still borns year after year and will still have a useful and productive life a head of her.
Saddy bought in an eye infection with her that we have had to treat and has meant some ewes have had to stay in off the grass longer than normal until their sight has returned to being 100%. Thankfully this doesn’t seem to have had to much of an impact on the condition of the ewes or the growth of the lambs although we have had to keep Lupin in for over a week now as she still doesn’t seem able to see clearly. Lupin is still one of the few ewes we are still waiting on to lamb and then it will be another phase of the year complete.
*This is why wise sheppardess name the sheep in their flock, so as it is easier to communicate what is going on. Oh how we are laughed at and seen as ‘soft woman’ by many for this but I would never give up the knowledge of knowing each sheep personally even if they are destined for the dinner table