It’s that time of year again – the cold snap arrives and so little bundles start to drop! Lambing season is in full swing, there are bleating little specks of white (and black!) dotted all over our rolling hills, skittling along beside their mums and frolicking up and down dale in their funny erratic ‘gangs’. I obviously grew up with lambs everywhere in Winter, on this very farm, but they still never cease to be oh so cute, even to an experienced sheep farmer’s daughter and wife like me.
We have a large mob of mama ewes and lambs around our house at the moment – good news for Eleanor who likes to wave goodnight to the baa-baa’s before her naps, but bad news for Bella who is confined to life on the chain at the moment. Sorry Bella.
Here in soggy wet cold Thorpdale we breed ‘prime lambs’ (otherwise known as ‘fat lambs’) – basically we use first cross ewes with Poll Dorset rams to produce a great meat lamb. First cross ewes are the product of a Merino ewe usually mated with a shorter wool breed like a Border Leicester ram, to produce a ‘first cross’. We breed for meat, not wool, the whole shearing process is more often than not a maintenance exercise if nothing else. It can often cost us more to shear than the wool cheque we will receive, although currently wool prices are going gangbusters which is always welcome! Our rams go in with the ewes for joining on New Years Day every year, with a 150 day gestation and all things going to plan (which is often never the case in farming!) we should start to see lambs dropping from first week of June onwards.
These little lambies, as cute as they seem now, will end up quite delicious! Sorry, it had to be said. We sell the majority of our lambs at our local sale yards, in December and January, and let me tell you these lambs grow. A lamb isn’t a ‘lamb’ giving it six months to grow into a boisterous heavy and strong brute of a thing.
A reality of lambing, and calving, is that sometimes you need to help a Mama out. A few weekends ago driving through the paddocks from our house to Grandi’s house Matt spied a ewe down, labouring, nothing unusually there, but she seemed to be in a spot of bother. Now, if you’re not into photos of real life, natural, farm stuff then I suggest you look away, but well…this is real life, natural, farm stuff!
With some assistance Matt delivered the lamb, alive and well despite appearances, and the ewe was doing all the right things in licking and nuzzling the lamb. We thought that was it, but Matt felt that the ewe was still ‘not quite right’ so with some more investigating discovered that there was a second lamb to be delivered. A lot more assistance needed here, quite simply the lamb was stuck, not coming out in the right way and Matt could feel that the ewe’s pelvis was simply too narrow. I’m hearing you Mama! Sheesh. Mainly farming cattle together in the past Matt and I have actually not done much lambing together, a lot of calving though, often with highly valuable ET (embyro transfer) calves, so I’ve done my fair share of ‘helping’ birth a difficult calf. The problem with helping with lambing though is the sheer physics – there’s often simply not enough room for human hands plus a lamb in there! With a cow and calf Matt might often need a third (or fourth) hand in there to decipher what is what, or try and turn the calf, but with a ewe it’s just not possible. So assisting birthing ewes can be a little trickier than cows in some ways, although they’re easier to handle in the paddock obviously.
Eventually the second lamb was born, unfortunately already dead. Part and parcel with lambing I’m afraid, although we try and avoid it and help where and when needed, you literally can not save every lamb. The good news here though was that the first lamb was delivered safely, and the ewe recovered and was doing a great job mothering her living baby. And Eleanor watched on from Uncle Tyler’s arms the whole time, learning early about all this lambing, life, death and farming business.
I’m so glad our children will be raised like this – waving goodnight to the baa-baa’s from the cosy confines of our farmhouse, helping Daddy check the ewes and lambs on Sunday mornings, knowing exactly where their lamb chops are coming from, life, death, food and fibre. Just the way it should be.