Ok so i havent posted in a while (again, sorry) and i have quite a lot to catch up with. I mostly spent my easter holidays lambing so that’s mostly what this post is going to be about but i have a few other things i’ll try and post about before the end of this week (hopefully). In total i did 10 days, i would have liked to have done more but with work and a hike to do with the scouts, i had a lot less time than i expected.
The farm where i have lambed for the last few years has texel cross ewes and pure Suffolk tups. Not really sure what that makes the lambs- a texel cross cross suffolk maybe? 😛 The lambing usually starts off around the last week of march which is great for me because it usually means that it ties in with my holidays. The sheep although they are outside for the winter, are brought in during lambing season so that the lambs can be marked and rung before going out to the field. The farmer operates a system where he has several small fields and the sheep and lambs are moved though to the next one each day so that he can keep a track of how old they are and make sure that they are strong enough before they are taken by trailer up to the larger pastures on the hill.
There are two sheds used for lambing- one large shed with a left and a right hand section that is completely sheltered and an ‘outdoor’ shed that is divided into 4 sections and is half open. Usually the sheep deliver their lambs on their own, in fact the main reason for interference is more to stop lambs getting mixed up rather than there being an actual problem. One problem with the sheep delivering their lambs by themselves can be that if two or more sheep give birth at the same time in the same section, the lambs can get muddled up and find the wrong mothers. Sometimes sheep even try to steal lambs that don’t belong to them! To prevent this from happening, we regularly check all the sections and if we see a sheep lambing, we put it into a pen so that it can deliver its lambs there instead.
The easiest way to spot a sheep that’s lambing is a water bag or discharge from the vagina. This happens in the later stages, usually right before a lamb is born. Earlier signs to look for are nesting, where the ewe might separate from the group and scrape and the straw with her hooves.
Usually there are no problems with the delivery and the lamb comes out with the head and two front legs first. Once the head is out, the rest of the lamb follows easily. Occasionally lambs can come in different positions, which can lead to a difficult birth- this is usually where we need to intervene. If the lamb comes out backwards, this is called a breach, which can be dangerous for the lamb if the umbilical cord breaks as the lamb may drown if it starts breathing inside the uterus. Hung lambs are where the lamb comes out head first and the front legs are back so the lamb gets stuck. If the head is stuck out of the vulva for too long it can start to swell up and the tongue might stick out. It needs to be pushed back so that the legs can be pulled out before the lamb suffocates.
After lambing, we follow a routine to make sure that every lamb is healthy before it goes out to the field. As soon as the lamb is born, it is given an oral antibiotic which helps to protect it against most bacteria that could be found in a lambing shed.. Understandably with a lot of sheep in a confined space, there is a lot of potential for infection, but luckily, sheep are quite resistant to infection. The ewes are also checked to ensure that they have enough milk to feed their newborn lambs. It is important for the lams to get a feed of colostrum (the first milk) in the first few hours- if they are unable to get colostrum they may need to be tubed with milk from the mother or with powdered colostrum. Lambs that don’t know how to suck at the teat are sometimes kept inside for an extra day so they can be given sucking lessons, which although can sometimes be fun, it can also be extremely frustrating.
one of three triplets in the trailer to go out to the field
Each lamb is marked with either a number if it is part of a twin, or a combination of dots if it’s a triplet. Single lambs are’t marked at all at the farm where i went because there is less chance of them getting mixed up. The lams then have their navels disinfected with an iodine solution because this is an easy entry point for bacteria. They are also docked and castrated using rubber rings, which cut off the blood supply causing the tail and testicles to fall off just over a week later.
The farmer operates a system where he has several small fields, and each day the mothers and lambs are moved through to the next field. This system means that he is easily able to keep a track of how old the lambs are and knows when they are be ready to be taken up to the bigger pastures on the hill. Usually when this happens they are four or five days old, although particularly small or skinny lambs might be kept back a few more days. Each lamb is counted into the trailer and then the sheep are pushed on after them, and by this point they are old enough to be able to find their mother again when they are unloaded off the trailer up on the hill.
I think that’s it for now but i’ll do another one on lambing with a bit more depth on what happens afterwards. And i have some really cute pictures of the pet lambs which i can’t wait to upload. Also, i havent posted about my small animal work experience down at the vets for a while but last night was quite busy so theres a few interesting cases i need to post about with that, and i should probably do an update on my job at the poultry farm as well. Now i’m going to go do some chemistry revision so i’ll try and post again tomorrow 😀