After nearly 20 years in Veterinary Practice, I still get a buzz from my job and, although I do not live on a farm, we do have a smallholding with sheep, pigs and hens.
At work, we deal with farmers who have 4-5000 sheep………this year I am lambing 14. Although on a smaller scale, this is a busy time of year for my flock of pedigree Southdown Sheep as it is for the large scale commercial farmers as we are in the midst of lambing.
In past years, we have lambed outside and our sheep, whose breed originate from the South of England, have had to deal with the worst weather that the Pennines could throw at them. This year, we are lambing indoors in a new shed.
The ewes have been indoors for the last 3 weeks and were scheduled to start lambing any time from last Saturday onwards.
They are bedded on straw and have constant access to hay and water. In addition, they are given a feed of concentrate mix. Feeding sheep in the later stages of pregnancy is a real balance. Underfeeding causes a metabolic energy crisis that can be fatal for lambs and ewe. Overfeeding leads to large lambs which can cause problems during the lambing process and increase the likelihood of a Caesarean Operation being required.
Sheep are flock animals so we pen them together until lambing but as they lamb, they are moved to individual pens so that they can bond with their lambs.
Right on time, our Ewes started lambing at the weekend and so far, 4 of our 14 Ewes have lambed, each having twins. Twins are the ideal number as Ewes have 2 teats so they are ideally adapted to rear 2 lambs.
Within a couple of minutes of being born, the lambs are making efforts to stand and move towards the Ewe to feed. It is essential that the lambs suckle quickly and take plenty colostrum (the Ewe’s first milk) as this gives them energy and primes the immune system. We dip their navel in iodine to make sure that no infection can track up the cord.
Most Ewes have a strong mothering instinct but, for some young Ewes, it can be quite a bewildering experience and so we need to be on hand to make sure that the lambs are dried off and feed quickly or they can quickly succumb to hypothermia.
Lambing time is probably the most intense time for a sheep farmer (even one who only has 14 ewes) but it is certainly the most rewarding. After a short while in the shed, it will be time to let the ewes out with their new lambs and so lambing time is a sure sign that winter is passing and we will soon be looking forward to spring.