Monday, 26 February 2007

Down to the Nitty Gritty.

Before starting this post I want to answer a question by Liz Fenwick I had no farming experience before moving to France neither did the OH, we were both complete novices and have learnt as we have gone along.

I want to describe lambing 2002/3, it was the most ewes we ever lambed and shows clearly the highs and lows of being a shepherd. The ewes were due to start lambing at the beginning of March so preparation starts 6 weeks before.

First task is to split the 100 ewes into three groups, the first group will start lambing first, the second group approx. 4 weeks after the first group and the final group are the late lambers and the ewes that probably won't lamb. We have to split them up because we don't have enough buildings to bring all the ewes in at once. Anyway lets go back to the beginning, we start feeding group 1 in mid Feb. week 1: 100gms of sheep pellets per ewe, by week 6 just before they are due to lamb they are on 600 gms each, split into two feeds. So for 30 ewes that is 16 kgs per day,plus the other 2 groups are also being fed. By the time we are well into lambing we are getting through in excess of 50 kgs of pellets per day. And it all has to be carried in buckets to the fields where the sheep are.

We found out early on that sheep will kill for pellets so we had devised a system of feeding areas that kept the sheep out until we had put the feed in the troughs. It was the only way to avoid being trampled to death!!!! Many times I would be filling a trough only to find myself with a large ewe pushing through my legs to get at the pellets, not a pleasant experience, and really quite dangerous. We also came up with systems for feeding the ewes in the buildings, we had to be inventive as none of our buildings were purpose built for lambing so we got very good at improvising.

Okay back to the preparations, three weeks before they are due to lamb all the ewes have to be vaccinated, this is basically to protect the lambs from a variety of serious diseases. For this we have to bring them into a building, the OH has to catch each ewe and I give her an injection under the skin of the front leg. This has to be done for all the ewes and its pretty tiring and tough on the back.

One week to go and I check out my lambing kit. See picture.
Five days to go and we start bringing the first group of ewes in at night. They are out in the fields during the day but come in each night. Three days to go and the 3a.m. checks on the ewes starts. From now on we will be checking the ewes every 2/3 hours during the day and every 3/4 hours during the night.We were once told by a French sheepfarmer that there was no need to check the ewes at night because they didn't lamb then, unfortunately no-one told our ewes, so we continued to check and saved many lambs by doing so!!!

One of the problems you have to be on the lookout for as the ewes get bigger are vaginal prolapses, because the lambs are taking up so much room in the uterus sometimes a part of the vagina is forced out, it looks like a pinkish lump about the size of a grapefruit. If it's not dealt with the ewe cannot wee and she may rub it and damage the vagina it is therefore dangerous if left too long. The procedure is, first catch your ewe[not always easy!] then the OH upends the ewe so that her back legs are up in the air, he hangs on to her[not always easy!] while I clean the protuding vagina with an antiseptic wash, lubricate it with the lubricating gel then gently push it back into place. A vaginal support commonly known as a "spoon" is then inserted [the red object in the photo] and the flat tongue goes into the ewes vagina with a gentle twisting movement. This spoon stays in until the ewe lambs and although they can lamb through the spoon it is better to remove it just before the lamb is born if possible, so we keep a special eye on the ewes with spoons. We usually have two or three prolapses each lambing and have always delivered the lambs without trouble. The ewes don't seem to suffer any adverse reaction either.

Next post : we start lambing with a disaster!!!!!!


liz fenwick said...

I don't think ever I could do what you do......but you must love it and the life you have in France:) Thanks for answering my question btw.

Caroline said...

I bow to you with respect.