Browse through our blog posts to find out what life is like at Hoe Grange Holidays along with some great ideas for days out in the Peak District.
It’s April, Spring is in the air and the signs of new life on the farm are everywhere. It's such a joy for guests to stay on a farm during lambing time.
I need a blog about lambing says Felicity!!
No peace for the wicked - so here I sit at 11 am in the morning, half asleep with my sixth mug of strong coffee on my desk letting you all know what occurs on the farm during lambing!
As our hill farm is over 1,000ft above sea level we plan the date of our new lambs to hopefully coincide with the better spring weather, new grass growth and lighter nights. To achieve this we keep the rams away from the ewes during the summer and let them together in early November.
Did you know the gestation period of a sheep is 152 days ?
Keeping things simple - if we remember, remember the 5th of November and let the rams out the first little lambs arrive on April Fool's Day!
It's a pretty reliable system! However this year we had two sets of triplets appear a couple of days before the due date (being triplets was probably the reason for being early).
You will often see sheep with different coloured rear ends. Why is that I hear you ask?
At mating time the rams wear a harness with a coloured crayon strapped on their underside. When they mount the sheep to mate the crayon leaves a mark. The crayon colours are changed over a period of weeks which helps us work out which sheep will give birth first. Later in pregnancy the sheep are scanned to see how many lambs they are carrying. This helps us manage the flock and keep an extra eye on those with triplets.
Some farmers lamb out in the field, but I prefer to lamb indoors, so that everything is to hand and the sheep are easy to catch if they need assistance. But this in its self brings a new danger of two giving birth near each other at the same time. This can result in the lambs being miss mothered, which can lead to rejection. To avoid this we pen the sheep individually as they lamb to keep them safe and separated
Hopefully a sheep will give birth on its own to two strong healthy lambs. Twins is the perfect number as sheep have just two teats.
However sometimes help is needed. A lamb is normally born in the “diving position” front feet and nose first, but sometimes the front legs just need straightening out to assist the birth. That’s a quick and easy job.
Occasionally one leg will get tucked back and left behind. In this case you need to hook the leg forward by getting your finger around the back of the leg and easing it out so that it can be born normally. If this leg back position is not corrected soon enough the ewe will try to push the lamb out and it will get stuck. Then its quite difficult to correct, the head and leg need to be eased back inside the ewe so that access can be made to the troublesome leg. (that's just made every mother's eyes water!)
More of a tricky problem is when both legs are tucked back. If not discovered in the early stages the lambs head comes out first, which is very hard to push back inside, especially when the ewe is pushing against you with frequent contractions. It's not easy and you also need to act quickly or the lamb may die.
Sometimes a lamb may come backwards and be born back legs first. Although these can be born without assistance, sometimes they need a gentle pull. The important thing with a backwards lamb is to make sure its airways are clear of fluid and membrane, as the direction of birth does not naturally clear the nose.
As soon as the lamb is born we check it is breathing properly. If not there are a couple of little tricks we use to clear the airways. Placing your finger and thumb around the snout just below the eyes, squeezing quite hard while sliding them down off the nose helps. If this doesn't work you can poke a small piece of hay or straw up the nostril. This makes the lamb sneeze, clearing the airways and encouraging a deep breath. Also rubbing the lamb and moving the front leg in a circular motion help to get it going.
Once born the ewe starts licking the lamb to clear the placenta and dry the new-born baby. Survival instincts kick in and within minutes the lambs are moving and trying to stand up; its incredible to watch.
It's extremely important that the lambs get the first milk as soon as possible as it is full of creamy colostrum. We keep a careful eye on the newborn lambs and if necessary can hand feed them with colostrum. Once we are happy they are feeding and strong we number the mother and lambs with the same number so we can identify them as a family in case any should get separated.
Sadly even with all the care and attention, not all lambs survive the birth, and we can be left with a new mum with an udder full of milk and no baby to feed. Also some sheep have 3 or even 4 lambs which is too many as sheep have just two teats, and often the weakest lamb gets pushed out. So if possible we will foster a triplet on to the new lambless mother. This needs to be done as soon after birth as possible.
To encourage a mum to adopt another’s lamb, we rub the afterbirth from the new mum all over the spare lamb to make it smell like her own lamb. Another trick is to spray the nose of the mum and the body of the lamb with a strong scented spray such as deodorant or a special musk spray. It's not always successful so we sometime end up bottle feeding the "kade" lambs.
So with all this going on 24 hrs a day, normal life with the farm and family is thrown into turmoil with everything fitting in around sheep.
The day starts at about 6am with a quick look to see if anything is lambing or needs assistance, only then can I have a mug of coffee! If all is well, other jobs and breakfast can happen as normal but obviously any sheep that need help gets it straight away.
During the morning, sheep in pens will be fed and watered, all newer lambs are checked to see they have a belly full of milk and are strong and healthy. The rest of the sheep in the shed will be fed and it’s a good time while they eat to get a good look at them all to see if any show the early signs of lambing.
Every hour or two throughout the day some one will check the sheep and assist where necessary and bottle feed any kade lambs. This goes on all day with other jobs, office work and attention to guests fitting in around sheep work.
This two hour cycle continues until about midnight and if all is quiet I will go to bed setting the alarm for 3am. Bleary eyed and reluctantly I get up, dressed, and go out to check. Sometime (hopefully) all is quiet, and I can be back in bed in 5 minutes warming my feet on Felicity , but sometime there can be sheep in need of attention and I can be outside for an hour or two.
Then at 6am it starts again. This goes on at least 3 weeks which reflects the reproductive cycle of sheep, then it slows down to a trickle of late lambers, which not having the pressure of lots lambing at the same time are not so difficult to manage, after about 4 weeks we can stop the 3am spot and get some decent sleep. I am fortunate that just occasionally Felicity or Elliot will take the midnight or even the 3 am slot and I can get a bit more shut eye.
The reward for all this is seeing a field full of gambolling lambs growing well and running around in groups like unruly teenagers.
You will have seen on our posts, that not all spare lambs from triplets get fostered, and these end up being fed by bottle and become very tame, these are the ones that as our guests you have the chance to feed and stroke as they love nothing more than being with humans. You can come and stay on our farm during lambing live and enjoy watching the little lambs gambolling in the paddock.
So if you happen to catch me having a quick nap during the day in April, sheep are the reason!!
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