A guest blog post here from Hooters Hall about their lambing experiences:
We moved to our smallholding Hooters Hall in August 2011 and started off with some pigs but sheep had always featured in our plans so a year later in August 2012 we decided to get a few lambs to raise on for meat. Originally the plan had been to get some Soay or Wiltshire Horn sheep because they don’t need shearing but there weren’t any available locally and we ended up with three Jacob lambs instead. Jacob sheep originated in the Mediterranean and have been in Britain since the 1750’s. They are a small, multi horned breed with a piebald fleece.
In the past their attractive looks led to the breed gaining popularity as a decorative park land sheep. However, the Jacob isn’t just pretty to look at. The wool is popular with spinners and weavers, it can be spun into a variety of colours by blending the natural variations rather than having to dye the wool. The meat from Jacobs is full flavoured and lean and tanned sheepskins make very desirable rugs each one being unique because of the the variations in the colouring of the fleece. A few months after getting our Jacob lambs we discovered a starter flock of Jacobs for sale locally. One ram and five ewes of varying ages. It seemed like too good an opportunity to miss so, we filled up the hay barn, bought a copy of Tim Tyne’s The Sheep Book for Smallholders and got ready to start shepherding. We decided to keep our original three lambs so we had a flock of eight sheep, three of which were experienced lambers, and one experienced and proven ram called Jim.
The previous owners of our flock worked full time, like us and so chose to lamb in April, when the days are a bit longer and the weather usually a bit milder. We decided to do the same and so kept Jim the ram separate from the ewes until the end of October. On Halloween we let Jim join his ladies and he quickly got down to business. We didn’t raddle Jim the ram so only had a rough idea of dates for lambing, Based on the date Jim had access to the ewes we expected lambs around the 27th March but could have had new arrivals from 18th March to 8th April. Raddling involves putting a coloured paste or marker in a harness on the ram and then changing the colour at regular intervals. When the ram mounts a ewe the colour is transferred to the ewe. By noting the dates when you change colour and noting what colours are on the ewes you get a better idea of when the ewe fell pregnant and therefore a more accurate date for lambing.
One of the first decisions we had to make as we started to prepare for lambing was whether we were going to lamb inside or outside. Both have pros and cons. Inside is a more controlled environment and more comfortable for the shepherd than a rain lashed hillside but you need good ventilation, space and there’s more work keeping the area mucked out and clean. Outside there are no problems with ventilation, sheep can just do their own thing in a more natural way but you can’t control the weather. We opted for outside lambing because that’s what our flock have been used to and, according to the previous owners they had successful lambing with little intervention required. We did however, prepare an inside space in our lean to barn, ready to use as a nursery or even to switch to indoor lambing if the weather was very bad.
After making a decision about where lambing would be happening we had a look at what kit we needed. We settled on a lambing starter kit which included: iodine spray, elasticator rings, ring applicator, lamb tonic, feeder bottle and teats, colostrum tube and syringe, gloves, marker spray, synthetic colostrum, umbilical cord clips and obstetric lubricant. A few weeks after getting our lambing kit, having read all the tales of other smallholders lambing experiences on the forums, I had a slight panic and we now have a large supply of syringes and needles in varying sizes, several drenches and injectable treatments for a variety of metabolic complaints and a selection of stomach feeding tubes. I did decide that a prolapse spoon and harness was beyond my experience and requirements though. Having got over my panic I suspect we won’t have need for anything other than what is in the starter kit. As well as the specific lambing kit we already had fourteen hurdles, straw, hay and several outside field shelters.
Over the week before 27th March several of the ewes developed prominent udders and their body shape changed, all signs that they were close to giving birth. Finally on 2nd April one of the ewes seemed keen to be off on her own a lot, she joined the flock for their evening feed but otherwise stayed in a different paddock or in the field shelter. She was indeed preparing for birth and the following morning,when we went out to feed the pigs, there were two healthy lambs waiting for us. Our ewe lambed in the field shelter giving birth to twins, one ram one ewe lamb, both fit and healthy and feeding well. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that the rest of the flock lamb just as easily. It’s been quite frosty at night so we moved the ewe and her lambs into the barn for the first day or so. We’ve got a heat lamp for the lambs if they need it and plenty of food and water for the ewe. We’re lucky to have several paddocks that haven’t been grazed over the winter so we’ll move the ewe and lambs into a new paddock, separate from the rest of the flock, when they leave the nursery pen hopefully over the next week they’ll be joined by the rest of the ewes with their own lambs.
We’ll be posting updates on lambing and pictures on our website www.hootershall.co.uk