Shepherds all across the country will make sure that they’ve got their lambing kit completely stocked up and ready to go before lambing starts.
It’s ideal to have all the essentials at hand. A roll of paper towel, so you’ve got a bit of something to wipe your hands on. If you need to go and help a ewe give birth we have some gloves to put on, so you don’t introduce any infection to the ewe, it also keeps you clean.
If the lambs become stuck we’ve got lambing ropes to put around their feet, or around the back of the head and through the mouth, so you can pull the lamb forward to help the ewe give birth if you need to. The last thing you want is to have a problem with a ewe giving birth and you’re running around trying to find your bits and pieces to help you with that ewe. We need it all ready and to hand.
We’ll also have some lubricant available in case she’s been lambing for a while and is quite dry. We have iodine to dip the lambs’ navels and that’s kept fresh. We keep a little tub that we refresh so it doesn’t get dirty. Purple spray if you need it, which is an antibiotic.
If the lambs get an upset stomach, we have some probiotics.
We’ll also keep a marker pen to communicate the contents of each individual pen between shepherds. The breed of ewe, how many lambs she’s got, when they were born, if you’ve had to assist in any way, have you made sure she’s got plenty of colostrum?
When we bring the lamb in, one of the other jobs we do is dip its navel cord.
This was the connection to its mother, it’s where the lamb got all its oxygen and all of its food – through her blood supply. Once it’s been born, the cord breaks naturally, the lamb can breathe through its mouth and its nose, into its lungs and of course drink milk into its stomach. The navel cord is now redundant, but it’s an open wound which could become infected, so we dip it in iodine. It does sting a little bit and you’ll hear a little bleat, but that will stop any infection. The cord will then dry into a little twig and break off, leaving behind the lamb’s belly button.
The rotation of shepherds want to be able to walk down and read on the boards exactly what should be in each pen. That information is then transferred into our lambing book. So we know where the ewes have come from and what they’ve given birth to. All of that at hand on your table, ready for lambing.
Once the ewes have given birth in the larger pens, we move them into individual pens or ‘mothering pens’.
Once the ewe and her lamb/s are in the pen, we write down details for the rotation of shepherds coming through the shed. For example, this one is a commercial ewe and she’s had one lamb born at 4 p.m. Later on tonight, when the shepherd comes along, he knows there should only be one lamb in there, when it was born and what sort of state it should be in…a bit like having hospital notes at the end of your bed.
When the lambs are with their mothers, one of the things you can do as a shepherd is pick them up and check they’ve got nice full tummies. Are you satisfied that the belly is nice and round? We want to make sure it’s got plenty of milk inside it.
We’ll also check around and underneath its jaw. They can get a thing called wet mouth, or watery mouth, and that’s an E-coli infection in their stomach.
It comes up their throat, pours out of their mouth and they get these wet jaws. It can be incredibly infectious to other lambs, but it can also kill the lamb itself. So you have to treat them very, very quickly. One of the reasons they can become ill and contagious is because they haven’t had enough colostrum. That’s why it’s so important. Cleanliness throughout the lambing shed is equally important to help stop the spread of E-coli and other illnesses or diseases.
Wearing clean clothes and regularly washing your hands and equipment helps to reduce the chance of spreading it between pens. If you’re using equipment, you make sure it’s cleaned properly before moving on to the next sheep. We also wear gloves when we’re lambing, but very importantly, we clean the pens out between each family.
In a day or two, when this pair go out into the field, we’ll muck out the straw and put down powdered disinfectant. So when the next ewe comes in with her lambs it’s nice and clean, just like changing the sheets in a hospital bed.
Here, the ewe bonds with its lamb and it doesn’t get lost in the crowd. They say the lamb already knows the mother’s voice from its time within her womb. However, it’s at this important time where the ewe can learn her lamb’s voice, and every one is individual. Amongst a flock of hundreds when they’re turned out into the fields, they’ll be able to recognise each other’s voice.
Another important bonding moment here is the ewe smelling her lamb.
When it’s born she’ll learn its smell as she licks it dry, and that smell is unique to every lamb. Each time a lamb goes to suckle from its mother, she’ll sniff it. If it smells like her own, she’ll let it feed. If it doesn’t, she’ll butt it away as if to say, ‘go and find your own mum’. So this period of bonding and the individual pens are absolutely essential.
Visitors have the opportunity to come in, sit on the bales and wait quietly for the ewes to give birth.
Charlie, one of the team here, was recently giving a lambing talk as a ewe gave birth to triplets.
The first lamb was born happily on its own, but then the second and third lambs were mis-presented. They should present with their two front feet and nose first. But the second lamb was in a sort of penguin position with both its legs back and its shoulders poking out. Thankfully, Luke, the assistant shepherd, came in and helped Charlie. They managed to deliver all three lambs, fit, healthy and well.