This year’s lambing has been fairly straightforward. From nine ewes we have got twelve lambs: eight girls and four boys. Devon-Cornwall Longwools are not prolific breeds, and triplets in particular are not common. More commercial breeds would expect most mums to have twins if not triplets.
Well, we had one set of triplets, one set of twins and eight singles. The triplets are thriving now but their mother, Betsy, was not very maternal (this was her first experience of motherhood). She has nursed Wilma and Willow was adopted immediately by Bea, who had Winston the same day. Winifred was placed with Barbara, who lost her lamb at birth a couple of days later, and thankfully they bonded. Betsy had not allowed Winifred to suck from her easily, so the lamb is lucky to now have a kind ‘mum’.
We have had fairly simple births this year. A couple needed a little tug, which means finding the front feet and pulling as the mum pushes, and out they slide. First time mums often need a helping hand, especially if the lamb is big, which means the head can get a bit stuck. If the mum has to push for too long, the lamb can be starved of oxygen and is then born dead. This is what happened to Barbara’s lamb.
Once a lamb is born, it is good if we are present, to check the airways are clear. Sometimes you have to tickle the nostril with a piece of straw to stimulate the lamb to breathe. As soon as all is well and the lamb is on its feet, probably within a half hour, we dip the remains of the umbilical cord, the bit attached to the lamb, in a bottle of iodine. This will stop infection getting into the blood stream and also helps to dry up the cord.
Then the lamb has to find the milk. It never ceases to amaze me how instinctive it is for young animals to be up and sucking quickly, and the new mums take to it, showing interest in guiding the youngster to the teat. Occasionally a mum may be awkward, kicking at the lamb or moving away. It could be that she suffers some discomfort, but usually all settles down quite quickly. A hungry young lamb is very determined.
Our last arrivals caused the most concern. Bridget, a young ewe that we bought last September, gave birth to a little scrap, who we named Winnow. When I returned to the shed to check everything, Bridget was struggling to deliver another lamb. She needed some help as a leg was bent at the knee and needed straightening. Then, out came a much bigger lamb, Wynona. Initially all seemed well but then we noticed that Winnow was very subdued and after four hours was still cold and damp. We guessed that she hadn’t sucked enough milk and that her energy was low. I carried her for half an hour in a snug ‘pocket’ between my woollen jumper and t-shirt, and my body heat warmed her up. I also gave a bottle feed of warm colostrum, the essential milk that they first need after birth. Chris, meanwhile, fixed up a heat lamp in the corner of the pen making a little draught-free cosy bed, and by the morning she was so much better.
We kept them all indoors for five days as the weather was very cold and wet, but now they are out in the field with the flock and they are all thriving. We have to check them all three times a day now because the fleece on the mums is long and heavy and occasionally when they lie down they roll over onto their backs and then they are stuck, legs waving in the air! They are then very vulnerable to predators, especially birds, so we have to haul them over!
The next job will be shearing – when the weather warms up, in May…we hope!