A Shepherds diary: March

Less than a week of lambing and already we have been absorbed into the shepherding world enjoying the peaks and troughs that are part and parcel of lambing. An all consuming job, that is both exhausting and exhilarating, it excludes ‘goings on’ outside the farm gate.

Lambing started three weeks earlier than planned. We know that our rams were not responsible as they were kept on a separate farm, and to our knowledge our ewes had no contact with any other males. However within 24 hours six ewes produced full term, healthy lambs, in less than ideal conditions on the marshes. It was a complete surprise to me, which says little for my powers of observation. I don’t think that it was ‘immaculate conception’ but it remains a mystery.

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Despite the fact that the first one was a large healthy single, I decided to bring them home and put them in the shed next to the hoggets. This proved to be a huge mistake, as in the morning we found the lamb with its head towed through the bars of the hurdle. The assailant had eaten the lamb’s face and ears. It was a truly gruesome sight. The mother was very distressed and I felt that I had failed her. I have my suspicions that this was the work of badgers, recently their numbers have increased alarmingly. There surely is a need for some badger control to be put in place. Needless to say the other ewes and lambs were left running with the flock to take their chance with the elements.

Because we have limited grass close to our buildings, we delay bringing the flock home for as long as possible. The ewes are then dagged out, and housed during night time, running out in the field during daylight hours. They have access to hay and feed blocks, with a little concentrate fed to encourage them to come into the yard at night. They soon pick up on this routine, and during the afternoon start queueing at the gate. Some ewes have their special ‘place’ that they like to lay at night time, and can get quite possessive about their patch. All newborns are penned for 24hour, before being moved to a multiple yard, and then out on grass ASAP.

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Soon after the flock arrived home one or two ewes have had prolapses, these are now waddling around with paddles insitu. Of course there is one determined character who is not happy and we are battling it out. I’m finding it rather boring putting her prolapse back, but at least we both know the drill now. Today I’m winning, but I’m sure that she will get up to mischief when in the field. Touch wood, no ‘twin lamb’ problems this year which is surprising, as so far they are cropping rather too well for my liking. I prefer good strong twins and a milky ewe every time, alas this is not always the case.

We try to check our antenatal ewes every 3-4 hours day and night. It is hard to climb out of a nice cosy bed in the early hours, going out in the dark heading for the lambing sheds. At night whilst working with sheep it is easy to loose track of time. I actually enjoy the tranquil atmosphere, and hearing the ewes munching on their hay, with the occasional nicker and answering bleat of the lambs. We find it better to visit frequently, problems dealt with early are easier to sort out and it cuts down on mismothering, in the long run it reduces the work load. Walking back down to the house as dawn is breaking is strangely satisfying. Randomly my son likened it to leaving a night club, I wouldn’t know!

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We were caught out by a serial killer. She now has a ticket to Hailsham market. Looks can be deceiving and we were impressed when this ewe innocently produced four good sized lambs with plenty of vigour. They all had a good drink of colostrum, and were left in the pen. However she systematically killed one lamb off each night. Even when placed in a large multiple yard I noticed that she seemed to want to almost sit on her lamb, like a hen trying to hatch out her eggs. I’ve advised her surviving lamb to sleep with one eye open, tonight they are out in a 20 acre field. I’m hoping that her lamb is alive in the morning.