Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Pre-lambing Countdown

Our ewes are due to start lambing in 10 days' time. April Fool's Day. Make of that what you will.

I had the ewes scanned back in February, and I know who is expecting singles and who is expecting twins. Expectation and reality are two different things. Some ewes absorb multiple offspring, some slip their babies too early, some even have a extra one that the scanner missed. Then of course the lambs have to survive the birthing process, which is a tricky and tiring ordeal for mother, babies, and shepherdess. There's plenty of room for mishaps is what I'm saying.

Don't count your lambs before they're up and suckling.

Two of my wonderful old ewes - 2841 and 2836 - were scanned with twins. I was hesitant to put them to the ram one last time. They breed good lambs and they are good mothers, but they both have worn down teeth so it's harder for them to keep their own weight let alone feed growing lambs. Their udders nearly drag the ground after so many lambing seasons.

I did let them go to the ram, and like good breeders, they both got in lamb. With twins. Like good mothers, they have put everything into their babies and both ewes are far too thin for my liking. I marked their rumps with a big purple dot each, as a reminder to check their weight and health every day.

This week I will move those two old ladies into the garden for extra feeds and, if they do produce two live lambs, I will take one lamb away each and bottle feed those. The old girls can enjoy one lamb without the pressure of making milk for two,

All the ewes are vaccinated 4-6 weeks before lambing. This way important antibodies can be passed onto the lambs. I condition-checked all the mums at the same time, an easy process that just requires a good feel of the loins and the top of the tail. If there's fat and muscle in those places, all's well.

Gathering the ewes. I'll process them in pairs.

Taking names and marking butts!

Digging deep under the wool to feel that loin. This one's in great shape!

Any that felt thin (like 2841 and 2836) had a dose of liquid vitamins and micro-nutrients. I have injectable calcium and liquid glucose on hand too, the emergency treatment for hypocalcaemia and twin lamb disease respectively. Both can affect thinner, older ewes.

My pre-lambing box of goodies

It's so easy to get attached to the old ewes who I've cared for every day for many years, through their bouts of lameness and my bouts of sickness, through wet winters and dry summers with little grazing, through breach births and flystrike, The flock even moved house with me from Dorset to Hereford, a four hour trip in a sheep trailer (Pumpkin only just survived that trip.) I'm happy to let them graze away their old age unless illness takes over.

Ewe L845 and ewe 0001 both went to market yesterday. They had bouts of mastitis previously and teeth so worn they couldn't eat winter hay. Neither got in lamb again, even after two attempts. So before they lost condition I took them to market to sell as cull ewes.

It's the first time I've ever sent some of my own breeding flock to market. It was upsetting. They are "my girls".  They were relaxed about the process and set about making friends with the sheep in the neighbouring pens either side while the bidding went on around them. They are so used to people, they sought out a scratch behind the ear or middle of the forehead. I still feel like crap about it, but the reality is cull ewes are making £100 a piece in the run up to Easter, and letting them die of starvation in a green field because they couldn't chew grass would be cruelty.

Winter pasture - beautiful views, dry weather and a copse of trees for shelter in cold snaps

These are the realities of being a farmer. Heart and head rarely agree. L845 was one of my original ewes and the Queen Sheep of my flock. Ewe 0001 was the first ewe lamb I ever bred myself.

But new replaces old, and the lambs born from my new horned ewes are thriving. I have chosen Heed to keep as a future breeding ram on the farm. He's a little cutie -

For now anyway. In a year's time he will be a hulking, testosterone-fuelled beast with great curling horns. Handling him will take three people and a rope harness.

They grow up so fast.


Virginia said...

"letting them die of starvation in a green field because they couldn't chew grass would be cruelty"

I think that's such an important reminder for us non-farm folk, that sometimes being dinner is the kinder choice.

Janice Bendixen said...

Oh Jen, good on ewe. :-) Your thoughts about relinquishing "your girls" and tending your flock sounded like wedding vows, happy sad. Intentional or not, I think it's spot on.

Christine said...

I agree with Virginia! You summed that up nicely. Although I'm sorry that you're losing the physical ties with the very beginnings of your flock. That's hard, whether it's sheep or humans.