The other day someone asked how things on the farm were going and I said it was really busy because we are lambing. They asked me what that meant. I didn't know either, until a few years ago, so I thought I would write about what it means to me to say we are lambing now, keeping in mind I only have two seasons of experience and there are four of us here to spread the work out!
On one hand, "lambing" sounds like it doesn't have much to do with the farmer. The ewe is the one giving birth after all! But even though sheep are one of the oldest domesticated livestock and have been bred to do this easily, the farmer still plays a role. How big of a role depends on a number of decisions, with the result being that sheep operations can really vary; so, my version of lambing is specific to our situation and management decisions we have made.
When we know the lambing period is about to start, we increase the number of pen checks. A pen check is exactly what it sounds like – we are looking to see if an ewe is in labour or has given birth. Ideally, they don’t need our assistance but in a few cases they do. After birth, we then move the ewe and her babies into our enclosed barn. This setup means we can monitor the mom and her babies much more easily, provide a more consistent environment, and keep them safe from predators for the first few months of life.
The enclosed barn is where we will be spending a lot of our time during the lambing period. These nursing ewes now get a different feed ration. Some lambs may require bottles of milk replacer. This is also where all lamb care is given (for example the T.I.N.T. process that Brody talked about in his most recent blog). A creep feeder area for the lambs will supply a pelleted lamb ration to support optimal growth. These tasks are added to chores which now increase from 2x/day to 4x/day. This can mean is it hard to get other things done on the farm, because chores are both more time-consuming (up to an hour), and frequent! And if a lamb needs colostrum in that first 24-hour period, we may be doing a middle of the night bottle-feeding as well.
We also spend a lot of time just observing the ewes and their lambs. This means chores are not mindless- we are actively looking at the animals and evaluating their condition and behaviour to make sure we do everything we can to make sure everyone is healthy and thriving. I am sure this is true for the typical farmer, no matter how different their operation looks from ours. We all look forward to lambing and the rewards it brings – but are also happy when it is done and we can get back to the many other jobs on the farm!
This is Georgie, our only lamb with black fibre - rare for our flock! Chores don't normally involve picking them up as the lambs do not enjoy it. Georgie required a bottle as she is one of a triplet, so is a little more "tame" than the rest and therefore more willing to tolerate a pick-up for a picture.