Hill Farming, Lambing



SONY DSCOur hardy Welsh Mountain Sheep aren’t really made for triplets — in ten years we’ve only had three sets.  The first three were all born dead and the mother sadly also succumbed — our biggest ever lambing disaster!

We aren’t technological — we don’t scan, with less than thirty ewes it’s difficult and we don’t have the economy of scale.  We know them all and if they are losing condition we just feed them more. It’s quite exciting seeing what we get — like Christmas!

The second set of triplets were born last year — I watched the first two, large, healthy lambs cavorting around in my torchlight and so retired to bed with a self-satisfied glow only to learn an important lesson in the morning —  the third triplet, equally large and cleaned to a dazzling white was cold and dead on the grass.

This year we noticed the huge, strangely translucent, pink udder but this year we knew what it meant.  It meant we had to watch out for a third lamb.

This year ‘Number 32’ has produced three healthy lambs, though the third didn’t breath immediately and had completely escaped his mother’s attention and would have perished like last year’s — remember sheep can usually only count up to two!

Fortunately, learning from my mistakes, I  sat and watched all afternoon while the first two were meticulously cleaned and properly fed, then Bingo!  Number three arrived, not breathing and with very soggy sounding lungs but nothing a traditional swing or two and some frantic chest compressions would not sort out — amazing!  The swinging really does seem to shift the fluid — I had never really believed it.

Then of course I had to wait till he’d been cleaned and slowly fed, and then some more — we don’t intend to be caught out by our first quads!


Hill Farming, Lambing

Pink Balloon but No Celebration.

Lamb Friday -- all white and fluffy now.

Lamb Friday — all white and fluffy now.

Even in the Welsh Hills fewer and fewer farmers lamb out in the fields — most do it in the shelter and warmth of large sheds with pens and good lighting and enough sheep to make it worth while and to have someone there day and night.

We are an anachronism — I stumble around our fields with torch or hurricane lamp listening to the sounds of the night — for the soft bubbly baa of a ewe calling to her new-born lamb or the hysterical rhythmic baaing of a frightened young ewe, lambing for the first time.  By and large our sheep do not lamb in the hours of darkness — one of the advantages of not having the lights on all the time — their circadian rhythms are undisturbed, even if ours are not.  Our lambs usually arrive at first light.

P1050289 (3)

Last night, though, was an exception.  It was clear and frosty and there was a huge bright full-moon casting weird shadows over a black and white world.  I was woken by a bleat at half past one in the morning and went to investigate.

Up in the corner of our steep field was one of our first-time ewes running after two lively new-born lambs.  I’d been worried about her as she had been large and uncomfortable and had had a large swollen udder — it was bare of wool and oedematous so that it looked  translucent, like a large pink balloon.  This should have made more of an impression on me.

Anyway I was very relieved to find that she had delivered without any trouble and that the lambs were so lively and went back to bed…  Mistake!

At dawn Alan counted the sheep and called me — only one lamb at foot and something white on the ground.

Sure enough there was a dead lamb on the ground but the young ewe still had her two lambs, one was tucked up behind her.

After failed attempts to resuscitate the perfect, cold, dead ram-lamb, we had a roll call and tail inspection of the other ewes in the field — no one had any signs of having delivered a lamb.

The two lambs born in the night were exploring their leafy environment and I was pondering on missed opportunities and lessons to be learned:

1.  Be particularly vigilant on bright moonlit nights when the light level is high and when all night can seem like just before dawn.

2.  An udder like a pink balloon may herald triplets (quite rare in our breed).

3.  Remember to wait a while after delivery as it’s the last, often smallest, lamb that slips out unnoticed or sometimes just rolls off down the hill and gets overlooked when the ewe has so much new to deal with.