Spring, and along with it British Summer Time has arrived, which can only mean one thing, our ewes are entering ‘lambing season’. This brings about mixed feelings - obviously everyone loves lambs; they’re fluffy and cute and make people smile, and I am always suckered by the lambs that present an extra spark of life or display some sort of cheeky character. Apparently, and I don’t always believe everything I read, but it is said that sheep love company and researchers (with far too much time on their hands…in my opinion) have found that sheep can recognise the faces of 50 other sheep for at least two years. REALLY?! The same researchers also found that sheep can recognise emotions in facial expression, not only in their own species, but also in humans…wow. However whilst it does perk up a day to see lambs born, mothered and gain independence all on the same day, lambing can be a soul destroying exercise at times.
Unfortunately, here at Buckmoorend Farm, the layout does not lend itself well to lambing indoors. Sometimes as early as January you may see lambs out in the field with their mothers, growing at a rate of knots. These will almost certainly be lambed indoors, under cover, where they can be routinely checked upon and given assistance at a moments notice. The lambs get the best of starts and go on to be strong fit and healthy quite quickly. With a main road dissecting our farm, and with no grass fields neighbouring our farm buildings, our only feasible option with the sheep is to lamb outdoors. This is why we wait until April, increasing the chance of warmer climes and longer daylight hours. Now this sits with our philosophy of natural farming methods, however it also makes for some demoralising days and nights. The English Beef and Lamb Executive (EBLEX) collect data for benchmarking figures, and on average for 2013, 153 lambs were born alive from 100 ewes put to the ram, and 6 were born dead. From the 153 born alive, 5 died in the first 48 hours and 3 died after 48 hours. We would hope our figures would be somewhere near the average, however for that to happen involves long days which roll into short nights. You absolutely MUST love the job to do it.
Some of these lambs (I'm talking generally here...not about the ones in the pictures. They're all happy, healthy and causing all sorts of headaches for their mothers!) will have died from disease, some from neglect by the ewe, and some from predator attacks. There may also be the odd one that will have been killed by a domesticated pet dog.
A neighbouring farmer recently wrote an article in a local magazine pleading with the public to err on the side of caution when it comes to pet dogs being in a field with livestock, for no matter how well you know your dog and how well trained it is, it should be an instinct in every dog owners mind to put a lead on their pet when approaching any field with livestock in, and certainly when it comes to fields with young stock. Not dissimilar to the instinct to put a seatbelt on when you get in a car. Personally, I will never be in a position where I could bring myself to use full force on a pet animal to protect my livestock, however for some farmers faced with an out of control dog on their land, shooting it may seem a reasonable and appropriate act of protection. The law would accept a particular set of circumstances where it may be deemed an appropriate cause of action, but it is a murky area. The simplest and easiest step for prevention of such a serious situation would be if dogs are kept on leads in fields with livestock. Why risk it? Because whilst it's sometimes easy for us to 'forgive and forget', the sheep won't. They'll remember...for 2 years...apparently...