Monday, March 22, 2010

Lambing Live

Across the way, in the big shed over at Fir House, lambing is in full swing - lambs are popping out all over. About half the flock have lambed so far - only about 700 more to go.

As the weather was so beautiful, Sam and I decided we would walk rather than drive to go and see Trelystan's own version of 'Lambing Live'*. We strode out with the sun warm on our backs down the lane which leads from Lower House to the farm at Fir House. We trod daintily at first through inches of mud - regretting we had not taken the easy option of a ride in the car. Soon though we left the damp dingle and climbing up higher, found the track firm underfoot. Pausing for breathe gave us the chance to take in the view. Behind us, and in the centre of my photograph is 'home', at the heart of the small mountain kingdom of Trelystan. How different things look when viewed from another angle, a fresh perspective is always refreshing. We're looking in a south-westerly direction here. To my left the land falls away to meet the Rea Valley's gently undulating pasture and arable land before rising again to Stapely Common, Corndon, the Stiperstones, Long Mynd and lands beyond (where there may indeed 'be dragons' - the hic sunt dracones beloved of old map-makers).

It's certainly busy at Fir house; pregnant ewes mill around by the dozen; ewes with newborns are penned tightly together in family units, fresh straw is being scattered and water troughs replenished. Each ewe has been given, alongside her ration of sheep nuts, a beet to gnaw on. This looks like a real treat - I'm reminded in no small way of how, not so long ago, nursing mothers were given a bottle of stout on the maternity ward to 'build their strength'.

It is ever so slightly frantic in this shed - the ewes due to lamb are constantly on the move (and noisy too) though this may be to do with the imminent arrival of food. But what's going on over in the corner? And there? And over there too? Looks like heavy breathing and Things Happening at the Business End. I think if we hang around long enough we may witness the miracle of birth.
A couple of ewes have gone quietly to the edge of the pen and, ignoring the rest of the flock, are about to produce lambs. From the marks painted on their fleeces we know that shortly a set of triplets and some twins will soon enter the world. Indeed, after what seems like a long wait on our part, the first of the triplets is born - here it is above in the first minutes of life. It's steaming wet, coughing and spluttering and determined to stand. Its siblings are a bit mixed up inside the ewe and it needs the shepherd's intervention to untangle and line them up for delivery. Soon they too are lying, wet and sticky beside their mother. Three big healthy lambs. Well done that sheep.

We see the twins born too, slippery little things welcomed to the world by their mother with a sniff and a thorough licking. Pretty soon they'll be penned up and given a squirt of this and a spray of that to guard against infections. Within minutes they'll be standing and in search of milk - that precious first colostrum without which they never seem to thrive.
Sam and I move on past more ewes and lambs, these are ready to leave the shelter of the shed and go out into the world; firstly to a small field and then, when fit and strong in a couple of weeks to rejoin the larger flock. Lastly we come to the 'caid' (or should that be 'cayed'?) lambs - a pen of about 50 waifs and strays. That seems a lot but given the numbers involved overall probably isn't a bad percentage. Here we have the lambs whose mothers have died, the triplet which couldn't be 'adopted' and others which for whatever reason need rearing by hand. Normally this is a a time-consuming task, preparing and giving bottles several times a day to all these hungry souls but this year these lambs have an automatic feeder - which takes milk powder and mixes it with heated water and dispenses it via a teat-ended tube to the lambs which can feed on demand. I'm told it is a great success.

Then it's out into the sunshine again - with thanks to the Thomas family for putting up with us and our stream of questions. We've had a great morning; seeing those new lives begin was the icing on the cake. For me, no matter how many times one sees it, the wonder does not diminish.

*Perhaps I'm going slightly batty in my old age but I enjoyed this BBC programme more than anything I've seen for ages. Sheep in strawy sheds, sheep giving birth, the miracle of life (see above), rare breeds and lots of information about life in a rural community and erm....more about sheep. Perfect - provided one likes sheep of course. Felt quite bereft when the schedule reverted back to the same old-same old University Challenge and Masterchef. Sigh.


Preseli Mags said...

I have to admit I avoided Lambing Live as I find our own version is quite enough and we've only got 20 ewes! I love the sound of the automatic feeder though. We try not to get any 'mollies' as they're called round these parts, but there always seems to be two or three to bottle feed.

rachel said...

What a delightful post - as a reluctant city dweller, these rural/farming/mud-and-wellies stories are always welcome, and often moving.

And what a beautiful place to call home!

SmitoniusAndSonata said...

Another 700 to go ? Heavens ! The baa-ing must be audible for miles .
Lovely photos !

eleanor's byre said...

The walk sounds fabulous, but the thought of a lambing shed turns my stomach. I find the smell of sheep odious. Three years since we sold our 500 ewes and not one moment of regret.

Diary Farmer said...

Thank goodness Lambing Live has finished - welcome back Universally Challenged!!!

Peg @ Bloomfield Farm said...

This is my first visit to your delightful blog. I found it through a link at Pondside. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about lambing. We have friends who used to raise lambs and I know birthing season is such an effort. Thankfully, cows do better alone although they do need watching over.

snailbeachshepherdess said...

I well remember looking forward to our first cade lamb - it didn't happen for a few years - then when it did - it happened in triplicate - dear gawd what a mess! They may look endearing but they really are hard work then when they are bigger they will happily knock you flat!
Right - now you are qualified I've got a little job for you - April 12 th onwards - I'll find you a boiler suit - blue or green?

Friko said...

yea sure, very pretty and sweet and aahhhhh inducing.
I notice you went off without getting stuck in.

I like to watch too, and take photos of the little darlings. What a pity they soon grow to become very stupid sheep.

The fields round here are full of them, bleating away in their new, tinny, little voices and the ewe's deep baa
reassuringly soon after.

Pondside said...

Well I thoroughly enjoyed this post. It might be old hat to some, but I've never been near a lambing. You described things in such a way that I really got the feel of the whole thing.
What a beautiful kingdom you inhabit!

Frances said...

Like Pondside, I have never seen lambing for myself (and am unlikely to ever do so) so...what a delight to have you pass along such a view.

Thank you!

Lindsay said...

I loved Lambing Live, I found the origin of the mules particularly interesting. The family were delightful.

Calico Kate said...

Sheeplets already, heavens! Mum and dad's aren't due until the end of next month but that is a deliberate ploy due to the weather being so darned wet here and after all they only have a dozen in their wee flock. Still I'm excited already. There is nothing, no nothing prettier than a new lamby, except maybe a new highland coo, now That is a poppet on four legs!
Lovely to catch up with Shropshire folks. Off now to see what Wipso and Twiglet have been up to whilst I haven't been about.