As you know, here at Penbugle Organic Farm, we are so proud of our livestock.
We’ve blogged previously about our cheerful chucks. Now it’s time we shouted about our sensational sheep!
If you love seeing our ovine friends nibbling fresh grass in the fields, particularly when lambs giddily jump about, it’s interesting to learn about our lambing calendar, which actually begins in the autumn …
Read on …
So, as the leaves change colour, usually in October and November, our native breeds – Poll Dorset (a short wool sheep) and Lleyn (from North Wales) – are visited by some romantic rams!
The rams, or tups, are usually a mix of these two breeds.
To ensure we get a good lambing season underway, we also invite other tups that are a mix of other breeds, called a Sufftex. These handsome lads are a mix of Suffolk and the sturdy Texel breeds, with the latter hailing from New Zealand.
So when the tups arrive, they mix with the ewes, or the female sheep, and they rub shoulders for six weeks and six weeks only.
The rams have a colour marker called a raddle – this means we can tell which ewes have been visited by the amorous rams (and with a bit of luck she’s in lamb as a result!) and those that haven’t.
The lucky tups are then taken away, to build up their strength. What a life!
This is followed by Christmas and early January, which in our part of Cornwall is grazing time. The ewes start to fatten up and of course their fleeces by this time are great for keeping the winter chill at bay.
Much like a human mum, we want to know whether our lithesome ladies are expecting and if so, how many.
So January is a busy month for scanning.
This is done in exactly the same way as humans (remember the full bladder, ladies?).
The ewes have it a bit easier as their abdomen is scanned while they are standing and the gadget is moved around their tummies.
We can then hopefully tell how many lambs she’s expecting.
This can vary a great deal, from singles, twins, triplets … or empty, which is what we call ewes that aren’t pregnant.
For our ladies to be in great condition when lambing season begins, they begin a special pre-lambing diet, which is altered according to how many lambs they are expecting. This stretches in February and is the calm before the storm.
So, as March and April roll up, this is when our sheep make their way indoors from surrounding pastures, past the golden daffodils, and it’s the only time our ladies have a roof over their heads.
Our expectant ewes ‘flock’ into our lambing sheds for about six to eight weeks and the reason we keep them indoors is to monitor their feeding, which has been increased ahead of the birth of their lamb or lambs. Having our ladies indoors also means our grass and grazing can recover ready for late
spring, ready for the lactating ewes with growing lambs and for making winter
forage otherwise known as silage, haylage or hay.
Also this is one of our busiest times of the year and we can keep an eye on all our lovely ladies and give them a hand if needed once lambing time begins. We can also keep track of new-borns getting that all-important first feed of milk that includes colostrum, an important nutritional and natural ingredient produced by the mums.
As it can be very hands on time for farmers, having our ewes in a safe place means we can also assess lambs and detect any problems.
Lambing season can mean long hours, day and night … however, seeing ewes and lambs safe and healthy makes it all worth it.
In our next blog, we will explain what happens after lambing season, heading towards summer. Keep checking the blog for the next ‘chapter!’