I started lambing at the very end of January, somewhat earlier than normal simply because of our new stud ram.
To say he was keen to get going last autumn is a bit of an understatement: testosterone really took control. Having spent a couple of weeks in quarantine after he arrived from the Exeter Lleyn Society ram sale, I was a bit stuck as to where to put him.
I certainly didn’t want to risk putting him in the ram paddock, with a bunch of equally testosterone driven ram tegs. I couldn’t put him anywhere near the ewe lambs, so put him in with the ram lambs: no problems. At least initially, he really is a very gentle ram.
So after the inevitable bit of pushing and shoving they all soon settled, the ram lambs accepting him as the boss. That was until he decided that he wanted to join the ewes, two paddocks away. He was duly returned to his correct paddock several times. He even had the cheek to fetch himself back each morning when the ram lambs had their morning feed, just a handful to keep them sweet and a good opportunity to monitor their progress.
After a couple of days of this, I really had no option but to put a harness on him and turn him loose with the girls. Having him hop over several fences backwards and forwards each day was a risk that I really didn’t want to take with a well bred and quite valuable new ram. Not ideal, and I do like to be in control, or at least be in a position where I can reasonably think that I’m in control, and it did mean lambing outside in February about six weeks earlier than I would normally do so.
So, not unreasonably, I approached lambing this season with a little more trepidation than normal. The last few weeks before lambing starts are always a little concerning, just the waiting to get the first few lambs on the ground. It is only then that you really know, with any degree of certainty, that you have got the feeding and management about right.
So come 31 January, the first pair of lambs arrived, lovely strong lambs and mum absolutely full of milk, so much so that the first born ram lamb, who hit the ground at 5.5 kilograms, was just over 9kg by a week old. This is an average daily live weight gain in excess of 500 grams, with his sister not far behind: if only they could keep going like that.
Time to relax a little, but only a little. I knew that things would start fairly slowly and kept waiting for the rush to start, a rush that never really arrived – more of a trickle. I even checked my tupping records to see if I had got my dates correct, which I had. It does seem however that a number of people are experiencing the same this year, with ewes hanging on to their lambs well beyond 147 days. But that’s sheep, they will do what they will do, when they are ready to do so.
As a result lambing has been quite a protracted affair: no more relaxed, just taking longer than expected. I was finished 16 days into lambing last year, no chance this year as I’m 17 days in already and still some to go. But the lambs have continued to be a good size and mums have an abundance of colostrum and milk, so they should all grow away nicely.
Fortunately I had a nice bit of quite good grass in front of the ewes and there is nothing like grass to put milk under ewes. Weather wise it has been interesting, and I don’t really mean good interesting. I have seen the full gambit of weather including snow, but I have lambed in the snow in March before; rain, which can happen at any time; icy cold, gale force winds and the occasional bit of sunshine.
Today is a lovely cold but bright day and both the ewes and lambs are enjoying a bit of sun on their backs. On the down side, I really could do with a bit less mud, but I have seen much worse and I have a few more singles than would normally be expected. But we did anticipate a bit of a hit on prolificacy, with a combination of pulling the ewes back six weeks plus and the ram going to work so soon (three weeks) after arriving.
Rams, in spite of their outward, testosterone driven bluster are really quite delicate creatures, a bit like us really. Ewes are far tougher: the upset of travelling from the Lleyn Peninsular to Exeter and then Exeter to Kent was bound to generate a bit of stress and have an impact on his performance, but it was after all his decision, albeit driven by his hormones, to go to work when he did.
And for those that haven’t yet started lambing, good luck and may the sun shine on you.