Firstly, the tups would be put in a little earlier than normal, the aim being to (at least theoretically) complete lambing by a target date of the 21 March. And secondly, quite bravely, to only leave the tups in for 21 days, quite happy to accept a couple of empties. With a little bit of luck things have worked out even better than expected. The first lambs, a lovely set of triplets, hit the ground on the afternoon of the 26 February, a couple of days before they were expected. But there were no real surprises there and the last pair arrived into the world at about 11pm on the night of the 16 March, all safely on the ground within 19 days.
I have for a long time thought that leaving the tups in for two full cycles is rather too long, particularly at lambing time when it is relatively easy to loose focus in the last week or so of lambing when there are just a few stragglers left. Where sheep are heavily shepherded during lambing, the cost of the labour involved in supervising a few later arrivals often outweighs the value of the lambs. This applies particularly when ewes have been teased prior to tupping.
I don’t use teasers but I do always run my ewes in a paddock next door to the ram lambs for a couple of weeks before they are split into three tupping groups and the rams introduced. That certainly worked well to tighten up lambing this year. For the past few years I have managed to lamb everything in about three weeks, generally with one or two empty ewes. But this year the girls have surpassed themselves: all lambed in 19 days with no empties.
My ewes lambed remarkably quickly this year and they have almost all lambed without any help. My ideal lambing is one where I don’t have to touch a ewe during lambing (I have always felt that any interference during lambing simply serves to weaken that vitally important maternal bond between a ewe and her lambs). I came very close to that this year with only a couple of ewes requiring any significant level of assistance.
Lamb weights have also been remarkably good – possibly some of them a little too good: 6.5 and 6.25 kilograms for a pair of twins out of a Lleyn ewe certainly took a bit of delivering but she managed all on her own. And now the lambs are starting to grow away quite nicely. At three weeks old, there are already a few ram lambs in particular that are starting to stand out from the rest of their cohort – the sort of lambs that catch your eye as soon as you walk into the field, the sort that look good and they know it and will almost certainly look good in a show ring and will stand proud and show themselves. It is now after lambing that the lambs become a real thief of time, particularly when they start to mob up and play. It is all too easy to get caught up watching their antics and simply allow time to slip away.
The weather has, fortunately been rather kind to us – particularly important when lambing outside. It does say something about the perverse character of sheep that one of the very few ewes that required any help this year chose to lamb on one of the few evenings, during lambing, when it did decide to pour with rain. Even tucked up in the lee of a hedge it was not a particularly pleasant experience, with the rain running down the back of my neck and having to lamb the first of a very strong pair of twins with its legs back. Although the rain didn’t seem to bother the ewe as much as it did me, all she wanted was to have her lambs in front of her.
This may sound rather too good to be true, and I do feel particularly fortunate this year. Nature and fate do seem to have dealt me a better than average hand, but we all need a bit of luck occasionally. The only down side is that I am a bit down on lambing percentage this year, with just short of 190% lambs tailed, tagged and out with their mums, although I did negative flush this year having started lambing last year with several sets of quads. But even that has its positive side: my lamb mortality is probably the lowest it has ever been (although I am reluctant to do the sums too soon) and looks as if it is almost certainly going to be well down in single figures.
I hope that lambing goes as well for everyone else.