2013 – Lamb Watch – First Arrivals!

Last week one of our Suffolks produced the first two lambs of the season!  A boy (the brown one) and a girl.  Both lambs are doing well, and definitely enjoying a frolic or two.

Several of the other ewes are looking heavy, but none has popped since.  I’d expect the rest of the Suffolks to produce in the next week or two, and then the Mules.  Still, it’s good news that Muga was clearly doing his job last September time.

Suffolk and two lambs Pretty ewe lamb at about 6 hours old!

Lambs on holiday

As we continue our planned animal reduction the time had come for some of our lambs to go on holiday.  The day arrived, and I had a clear plan.  The majority of the sheep had already been separated, and most of the lambs were in the field with the goats.  it was easy to persuade them into the smaller fenced area with some feed.  Though one of them was particularly uninterested in being caught, even when I took it extra feed.  I decided I had enough with seventeen of them caught, and didn’t want to lose the rest by being greedy, so I closed them in.  Having got them in there I knew that it wouldn’t take me long to close down the hurdles and get them where I wanted them.

Three of the lambs had somehow got back in with the ewes and Muga.  I knew catching these would be tricky, but I hoped I could persuade them into the channel between the pigs.  In the event I nearly managed to get them all in, but failed at the last minute, and just got the larger of the three.  If it had been a boy I’d have let him go, but it was a girl.  I had caught her, but I now needed to get her into the pen with all the others.  Normally I’d carry them, but she was just a little too big, so I had to persuade her along.  I discovered that if I held her just under her front legs it seemed to tickler her and she’d struggle forward.  It meant I had to make sure I held on, but in this way I managed to get her in with the others.

By this time I was already tired, and of course it started to rain!  I had two things to do now, first I needed to replace any missing tags, which isn’t too bad, but then I had to crutch them all.  Never a lot of fun, and made worse by the rain.  It’s amazing how unhappy lambs are to have me trimming the hair right next to their sensitive areas.  Fortunately most of them had pretty clean bottoms, and we’d crutched some of the older ones earlier in the year which made it quite a bit easier.  I didn’t want to take all of them, for freezer space reasons if nothing else, but wanted to make sure we took all of the girls.  This meant we took eleven in the end, leaving only one girl, the fox-coloured one, as Alex felt it was just cruel to take her, especially as she was so small.  We managed to load them fairly quickly, and off they went to their new temporary home.

I’m expecting to hear from the butcher next week and I can decided the cuts, which will be good!

We’re now down to around 32 sheep, which is the lowest I think it’s been in four years!

Update – Sheep

The sheep numbers have been particularly on the increase in the last year, peaking at around eighty this year.  For us to be successful in reducing our animal numbers we’d need to do two things:

1) Get last years lambs off on holiday.

2) Reduce the number of ewes we have.

The first was relatively challenging.  With the numbers as they were the sheep were far less biddable than in previous years.  A bucket or two of feed wasn’t getting to all of them, and the most flighty lambs were never getting addicted to the sweet sweet nectar of ruminant mix.  After some effort I did manage to catch ten of them, get them into the horse box and off to the holiday home.  (They were very tasty).  We still have some left which need to be dealt with, but that requires some maneuvering and acclimatisation.

Getting rid of the ewes was in some ways a little trickier, as we needed to find someone who wanted to buy them.  In the end however that bit wasn’t too bad.  The Soays are popular and a lot of people want to buy them, even if they aren’t registered.  I managed to sell two of the older Soay ewes fairly easily, and then found a buyer for the remaining ewes I wanted to sell, and also many of the lambs.  This was great, I was going to be able to offload twenty odd sheep in one go.

The plan was to round the sheep up in the channel between the pigs, and then load them up in the trailer and deliver them.  The morning came round, bright and cheerful, and Alex and Sue were ready to help me load them up.  I enticed all but five of the sheep into the channel.

And then I got greedy.

Instead of booking that as a win and closing the gate, I tried to persuade the others in.  Disastrous idea as the rest then decided it was fishy and ran out.  We then spent about an hour and a half running around trying to persuade them back in.  Eventually we managed to get eight into the channel, three ewes and their lambs.  And that’s what we took.  I was completely knackered.  But we agreed we’d aim to take the rest about a week later.

For round two I decided two things, a) I was not going to be greedy, b) I was going to acclimatise them a bit more.

Then something happened, the old Soay OAP ram died.  The last of the rams.  It was sad to see him go as he’d been a friendly old boy, and while he’d been looking a little doddery for a while, he was still going strong.  Then one day he didnt come for feed, and I went to find him and he was dead.  I think he’d woken up that morning, and decided it was a good day to go, and then just slipped away.

What this meant was we could now mix the flocks, as Muga wouldn’t have someone he’d have to fight.  This also meant I could use the proper sheep catching area by the animal restaurant.

The day of the second delivery cam, and I managed to entice all but the hard-core OAPs into the areas.  I then closed them down (not being greedy this time), and sorted out the sheep.  Some crutching was required, and a few replacement tags, but it wasn’t too much hassle.  A mere hour after starting I had fourteen or so ewes and lambs loaded up to take for the second delivery, and off we went.

We still have three ewes I want to sell (the OAPs progeny from last year), and quite a few which need to go on holiday, but we’re back below fifty sheep like creatures, which is definite progress!

OAPs (plus interloper):

Mules (White face on left):

Sheep Maintenance

This weekend we took the opportunity afforded us by the wonderful weather to do a load of sheep maintenance.  We also hired in a little extra help, for the first time, to help us in the task.  Over the course of four hours we maintained twenty adult ewes and half a dozen lambs.

The maintenance consisted of:

1)      Check tags – have they got two, and is at least one electronic.  The few which weren’t tagged we re-tagged.

2)      Dag their bottoms – trim away any pooey fleece, and make sure their bottoms are nice and clean.

3)      Clip their hooves – get the worst of the growth down, and check for footrot/scald – fortunately none found.

4)      For the Soays only, help their moulting along by pulling off as much of the free fleece as possible.  With some of them this was nearly their whole coat, with others it was only the barest of handfuls.

5)      Clik them.  This involves spraying Clik along their backs and in an arc over their front legs and then across their bottoms.  Clik helps to prevent flystrike by stopping any fly eggs laid on the sheep from maturing.  I like it because it lasts 16 weeks, though with the Mules and Suffolks at least we’re going to need to get them sheared in the very near future, as soon as we can line someone up.

The lambs were easy, we just cliked them.

It was back breaking work, but very satisfying when we finished, and we released them back into the fields, knowing that they should be much less likely to be hit by flies, and that they were generally in tip top condition.

Who’s the Daddy?

Our OAP field was not supposed to produce any lambs this year.  So far we’ve had six.  I’ve been blaming them all on the one ram lamb who I failed to fully castrate last year.  However, I think I may have assumed a little too much.

One of the lambs born last week was this one:

The lamb looks awfully similar to this old character:

Lambs – are we done now?

I was expecting just one more ewe to lamb this year, the last of the Soays in the field with Muga.  This she duly did a couple of days ago, giving us another boy lamb.  Aha, thought I, our lambing season is at a close, with twenty four lambs all told.  A pretty good result all told, though we’ve had higher losses than ever before.

But it was not all over.  I went into the OAP field, and spotted that one of the Soay ewes seemed to have a singleton lamb.  Having just spotted one, I thought maybe she was on the other side of the fence, or that there was a hole?  No.  She was in fact a different ewe.  With our twenty-fifth lamb.  This of course makes me a little worried.  If she as pregnant, then perhaps there are others in that field?  Perhaps my not-quite-a-full-ram had been more successful than I thought.

This morning I caught both lambs to check them.  The one in with the OAPs was fast.  Very very fast, and it took my five minutes and a lot of running to catch him.  At least I dont have to do any other exercise today!

So (so far) we have twenty five lambs, fourteen boys, and eleven girls.

Catching a lamb!

Catching lambs is not easy.  Well, catching lambs which are more than a few days old is more than not easy, it’s almost impossible.  They’re fast, they’re nimble, and they really aren’t interested in being caught.  Usually after I’ve checked them in their first day or so, and done any docking or castrating required, I’m unlikely to handle them more than once until a week or two before they go on holiday.  That single time is to get them in to spray them to protect them from flystrike.  I try and handle them as little as possible as it’s really rather stressful for all involved.

I do however always catch them within a day or two of birth.  Over the years I’ve developed a bit of a technique for this.  At first I just used to try and grab them, which could work, but was variable.  In fact it would often take me more than a few minutes to catch a lamb, and involve me chasing after lamb and ewe as they took me on a tour of the field. If it was twins or triplets, then the remaining one or two would be off, and much more difficult to catch.  Sorting out half a dozen lambs might take me an hour or so and leave me knackered.

Now I think I’ve got it just about right.  The main trick is to separate the ewe from the lamb, usually by cutting between them.  As soon as that happens the lamb, or lambs, become confused, and while they might initially run away from me, they’ll then start running back towards their mother, and as long as I’ve kept between them, that means towards me.  If it’s a singleton, then it’s as easy as scooping it up.  Twins I now try and get both of them together, as it saves a lot of effort.  For triplets I’ll try and get two, and then accept a little more of a chase for the third.

More lambs!

Today was a good day for lambs.  We had another three!  Twins from one of the Soay ewes in with Muga, and another singleton Boreray.  Both mothers were very protective, so I’ll give them a day or so before checking them, and castrating as necessary.

Soay twins:

Boreray (with mum standing protectively over her!):

So our stats for the year are:  20 living lambs, 8 girls, 9 boys, 3 to be determined.

P.S. While I was out taking photos, Luke’s sister’s lamb sat and watched me placidly:

First Boreray Pure Bred Lamb

Yesterday evening one of our two Boreray ewes gave birth to a lamb.  I managed to get a couple of pictures of her with the newborn, but didn’t want to get too close as it was only minutes after the little one had popped out.  I’ll be checking it tomorrow morning, and then sorting out registering it as soon as possible!

Docking Soays – Not Needed

Since we had our first set of lambs we’ve endeavoured to castrate the males and dock tails.  The castration is to reduce aggression in the flock, and allow us to keep the flock together longer without the risk of unplanned pregnancies.  If we didn’t castrate we’d be taking the boys at about eight months, which certainly for our Soays would be far too young.

We’ve also always docked, which is to reduce the risk of fly strike.  We’ve lost a few sheep to fly strike over the year nonetheless, and it’s horrible.  reducing the likelihood of a fly strike is a definite priority (and to that end I’ll be spraying the flock shortly).

When we got the Soays we just added them into the same routine.  I wait for a day before catching them, docking the girls and docking and castrating the boys.  Their tales tend to be shorter, so I’ve only ever been taking off a centimeter or two, but thought it was probably helping.  I’ve recently been told this isn’t necessary, and some investigation on the internet seems to confirm that they are considered short-tailed and don’t need to be docked.  So I will stop docking them!