Friday was a very busy day indeed in the farm. Quite a lot happened. In the morning, we did some lamb-napping from the lambing pen to the tractor shed, and then we prepared to lamb nap some sheep from the tractor shed to the main barn. As I have explained, sheep generally remain in the lambing pen for about a day, until their lambs are fully licked, the after-birth has passed, and we are quite certain that the lamb is suckling well. In the days of Artificial Insemination, when there were more sheep, and the lambs used to all come on the due date, we sometimes used to have to move the sheep on a bit quicker.
From the lambing shed, the sheep are transferred to individual pens in the tractor shed. These are bonding pens, to allow the sheep to develop a strong relationship with their lambs. While in there, they will have their tails castrated (which is done between one and seven days old) and be sprayed with their numbers for identification purposes.
Once they have been in the tractor shed for about a week, and there is room in the main barn, sheep and their lambs can be transferred across. The middle pen of the barn is prepared with fresh straw, and gates are closed and blocked so little lambs cannot escape. Then two sheep and their lambs are lamb-napped over to the barn. The freedom to run around, and the confusion of other lambs present is a new experience for the lambs. It normally takes a few minutes for them to settle down, decide that their mother is not the ewe who pushes them away, but the nice once who lets them suckle. Within a day or so, although they never like to be too far away from their mothers, the lambs enjoy running around with each other, and begin jumping about.
This means there are empty pens in the tractor shed, as well as the lambing shed. These need clearing out. When clearing out the lambing shed, the straw is normally put into feed bags and stored up for when there is next a bonfire. However, the tractor shed, with a week’s worth of straw and manure, takes a bit more work. The straw is about six inches deep, and quite impacted. It needs to be dug out with a fork, put in the barrow, and put on a smouldering bonfire to burn. This can be quite hard work, and sometimes there is a strong smell of ammonia which can make one rather breathless when bending over to clear out the pens. I always stop at the bonfire to admire the pillars of smoke and enjoy a brief respite while I am cleaning the pens.
The sheep that had lambed the day before was quite insistent on rejecting her lamb. She had clearly never licked it, and whenever it tried to suckle, she twirled around and refused it, or, worse still, butted it away, sometimes quite forcefully. However, when Sir went and stood over her, she did allow the lamb to suckle, albeit reluctantly. She clearly needed a careful eye, and we prepared the stocks, so they could be used if necessary. Stocks are a special gate with vertical bars that can be used to hold a sheep’s head in place, so that her lamb can suckle without being moved away. It is used reluctantly, for the mother protests vociferously, but it is very effective after about 24 hours of use.
Later on in the afternoon, the sheep who had previously prolapsed went into labour, and was brought into a pen, only to be followed in fairly quick succession by another sheep. We now had two in labour. The pessary was cut away from the prolapsing sheep, and she progressed slowly. We needed to give her a little more attention than normal, just in case she pushed very hard, and prolapsed again – which is much more disastrous at childbirth. Things progressed well in each pen, and the sheep in pen 2 delivered a fine lamb, and showed every sign of going on to have another lamb. Five minutes later, the prolapsed sheep delivered a lamb too.
Although I have been at the farm at some very busy lambing times, included a marathon night when Mrs Farmer and I assisted ten sheep to give birth to sixteen lambs between 6pm and 6am, I had never been present when two mothers had given birth almost simultaneously. Lambs are assigned numbers as soon as they are born, but, for the prolapsed sheep, we held off. This is because if the sheep in Pen 2 gave birth to another lamb (she had just delivered lamb 12), this second lamb would be assigned the following number 13, even though another lamb had been born to another mother before it. Eventually, we did check the sheep in Pen 2, and there was no further lamb coming, and No. 13 lamb could get its number in the regular fashion.
Duly exhausted, we all retired to the house for dinner.