Spring is finally here, bringing with it fresh grass, bursting buds and lots and lots of new lambs. We have several flocks of sheep to look after here on Coombe Farm, and at lambing time, the team certainly has its hands full…
Putting in the Hours
Our head shepherd is Phoebe. She’s in overall charge of the sheep and takes care of them with help from others in the farming team. There aren’t really any times of the year when shepherding is easy, but during the lambing season things really kick up a gear. Phoebe puts in long days and nights ensuring that every ewe and all the new lambs are well cared for.
Ewes generally give birth without assistance, but someone always needs to be on hand to help out if things get complicated. Very young lambs are extremely vulnerable to infection, so as soon as they’re born Phoebe covers their navels with antibacterial spray to stop any bugs getting in. She then ensures that they’re suckling properly from their mothers. Colostrum – the first milk produced by the ewe – is richly nutritious and contains vital antibodies that help protect the lambs from diseases. Once she’s checked that the ewe is healthy, Phoebe can let the new family get on with the important business of bonding.
As well as the hands-on work, Phoebe also has plenty of admin to keep on top of during lambing. She logs every birth in a diary so she can keep track of how many lambs have been born, if there have been any losses and what each ewe has produced. Record keeping is very important on the farm – it flags up any issues, helps with forward planning and means all of our animals (and their meat) is fully traceable.
Our mixed-breed flock is a Lleyn-Texel cross. These ewes can produce big babies so they’re brought indoors to lamb as it’s easier for Phoebe to keep a close eye on them. When they show signs of labour, they’re brought to an individual pen to make sure everything progresses properly. Once the lambs are born, they stay in the pen with their mum until everyone’s given a clean bill of health. They’re then transferred to a larger pen with other ewes and lambs before finally heading out into the fields.
Ewes with triplets get special attention – it’s vital the team is sure she has enough milk to feed all of her babies and that they’re strong enough to compete for it. If the ewe has insufficient milk, Phoebe will bottle feed one of the lambs or try to get a ewe with a single lamb to adopt it. She also does this when a lamb is orphaned
The second flock we have on the farm is pure Lleyn. This is a breed known for easy lambing so the ewes are kept out in the fields to give birth. Though they’re outdoors, they still have to be checked regularly. As they make good mothers and are very hardy we hope to eventually replace our mixed flock with Lleyns.
All in all, there were 232 healthy lambs born this spring at Coombe Farm.
Sheep, Sheep and More Sheep
As well as our home flocks, some additional ewes graze away from the farm. We have 62 pure Dorsets, which, at nearly two years old, will soon go to meet a pure Dorset Ram. Like the Lleyn, the Dorset is a hardy native that lambs outdoors. Uniquely, it’s a breed that can give birth in the autumn, which lets us stretch out our breeding season and have lamb available throughout the year.
We plan to keep the best of our female Lleyn and Dorset lambs to increase the size of our breeding flocks. The ram lambs and mixed-breed lambs will be used to supply us with meat. And once our ewes have finished their reproductive lives, they spend a few months grazing and building up condition before being culled for mutton. As we currently only have nine retired ewes, it’s tricky keeping the mutton supply steady.
If we need extra meat, we buy in organic ‘store’ lambs. They come onto the farm at six months or older and we let them graze until they’re in top condition and heavy enough for slaughter.
As well as all of our ewes and lambs, we currently have four rams grazing under the solar panels on the farm: one Dorset, one Texel and two Lleyns. It’s important for us to regularly replace our rams to prevent any inbreeding and ensure the flock stays healthy and productive.
Phoebe and the rest of the farming team work hard and do a fantastic job keeping all of our animals happy, healthy and well cared for. It’s a joy to see the lambs running, jumping and playing in the field as we drive to and from work every morning and evening.