Kieran Aylward tells us all about Lambing in Bishopsteignton, Devon
It's late January and I'm fortunate enough to be working for Joe and Geoff Lang up on their picturesque sheep farm at Humber, Bishopsteignton.
It’s late January and I’m fortunate enough to be working for Joe and Geoff Lang up on their picturesque sheep farm at Humber, Bishopsteignton. Lambing started a fortnight ago so there is definitely no shortage of jobs but a quick check around the 450 pregnant ewes is a priority. The flock is separated into six pens in three buildings and a walk through each reveals any early morning deliveries and gives an idea of any animals in need of help. It’s a wonderful morning to be outside working, dry and fresh, though the rising sun has turned the sky a light red, and as they say “red sky in the morning, Shepard’s warning” I suppose I can’t count on the weather staying so kind! Still there’s no time to worry about rain, the orphaned lambs need feeding.
New born lambs benefit from colostrum, the first milk from their mother rich in antibodies that can be absorbed through a lambs stomach wall in the first hours of life. The colostrum must be received quickly or the lambs’ stomach wall changes in nature and can no longer absorb the antibodies, leaving the lamb vulnerable to disease. As so often however, a good stockman must use their ingenuity and Geoff keeps frozen cow colostrum borrowed from a local dairy farmer so he can top up any lamb whose mother is slow in dropping her milk and at risk of depriving the lamb during the critical period. Most of these topped up lambs will quickly begin to rely on mother for nutrition as she recovers, but there will always be members of the flock whose mothers have insufficient milk, or whose mothers die after lambing and it is these lambs which must be carefully and regularly fed from the bottle. Such lambs are costly in time and in money but can become an asset if they can be fostered to a healthy ewe with only one lamb, the idea is to trick the new mother into thinking the fostered lamb is hers and allow it to feed. It is in a new mothers nature to nurture any small lamb as long as all seems well, so if we rub the wet new lamb on the bottle fed lamb and allow the ewe to clean them both off then with luck she will bond with, and rear both.
With lambs satisfied for now, its time to turn our attentions to the ewes. For most of the year the sheep are out in the pasture eating grass and the occasional bit of supplementary haylage, but as its easier to manage lambing with the flock indoors all food and clean bedding must provided. Haylage
is available all day but twice a day they are given a mixed ration of rolled barley peas and specialised sheep nuts. People tell me that sheep are stupid, and you wouldn’t generally disagree but it doesn’t take long for the sheep to associate the sound of a rustling bag with breakfast and turn from being shy and fleetly to motivated and almost aggressive. I learned this to my embarrassment as I was stampeded by 30 greedy ewes ending up on my backside in a muddy puddle! The barley and pea portion of the diet is grown on the farm, and is part of the reason for lambing so early in the year. Lambing in March would allow the ewes and lambs to be put out to pasture with the grass already growing beneath them but it just wouldn’t allow time for arable side of the farm. By the time the ewes are fed and checked its time to see to the hungry and orphaned lambs, and then it’s a rush to check the stock still outside, move any electric fences, tend to the chickens have a quick tidy up and we’re back to feeding the lambs and ewes.
The suns almost down and has left the sky the same shade of red we were greeted with this morning, thankfully this mornings red sky never did deliver its bad weather, but I’m sure that “red sky at night Shepard’s delight” will hold true! It feels like the day should be coming to an end, the stock is quite and the ewes wont need feeding again until morning but for Geoff work goes on into the night. The orphaned lambs need to feed every four hours, and the ewes need to be closely watched for signs of labour, it is important not to loose any lambs unnecessarily and also important not to miss an opportunity to foster an orphan to a suitable ewe. The farm sends most of its lamb to market but has a small amount butchered for customers in the village who rave about its quality and value and for the work and time that goes into just their birth let alone the rest of their life I have to say it seems amazing value.
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