If you have been following my stories on Instagram, you will no doubt have realised that there is a lot of work involved when caring for three hundred plus animals, especially when it comes to lambing time. I have a list in my head of all the things that we need, and generally I am picking them up as the year goes on, regardless of how close or far away we are from Lambing Time.
An example of this is buying gloves. I am very particular about the gloves I like to use while lambing is going on and I wear them nearly the whole time I am in the shed. I like powdered latex, size medium and one source that keeps up with my demands quite nicely is Lidl. When they brought the gloves in as a seasonal buy (think those dreaded middle aisles!), I would stock up on them. As the cashier eyeballed the multiple boxes of gloves (I may have eight or ten boxes if they were available!) I always found myself saying: “I’m not a clean freak… I’m a farmer and these are for lambing time!” Of course this year, with the extra demand on cleaning supplies, there have been fewer raised eyebrows!
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As their pregnancies progress, ewes can fall ill as easily as any of the rest of us can. To remedy any problems that arise, we keep a well-stocked supply of treatments.
With sheep, the joke is that they are always hatching a plan for some new way to die. While this is regrettably true, there ae also instances where their untimely demise is preventable, but swift action is the key. This is why we hold a supply of medicines so that we can act immediately to fix a problem early.
I know that there is much discussion about animals and medication. There seems to be the widespread opinion that farmers medicate their animals willy-nilly, to the detriment of the consumer. I can of course only speak for my own farm, where we are cognizant of overuse and we treat animals only as absolutely necessary.
Oxytocin (this can help with the physical task of labour if the ewe is having difficulty), antibiotics so that we can be proactive if the Ewes look like they may need) and care for mastitis should it arise. Magnesium and calcium are on hand. We have a fridge where we can keep all of these supplies, locked away and safe, but ready for use.
First Aid Kit
There is always a first aid kit in the shed. I check it at about this time of year to make sure that it has everything that we might need. My policy is to always keep the packaging for whatever I use from it – I pop it into my handbag and the next time that I am in the pharmacy, I replenish what has been used. A kit that is not well maintained is an absolute waste of time, so this is something that I am a bit of a stickler for!
You’d probably be surprised if I showed you around our shed, how much a hybrid it seems to be of care of animals and care of the farmer too! I always have a stash of simple things like baby wipes, talcum powder (great for getting gloves on when you have just washed your hands… again!), tooth paste and toothbrushes (one each, no sharing), a mirror (“Ouch! There’s something in my eye!”), hair ties (the boys tend not to struggle with long hair but Covid brought funky new hairstyles to the fore!) and a medicine box full of stuff we might need.
I keep some spare fleeces sweaters, hats and gaiters for when it’s chilly and there are always waterproof trousers to hand. Most of the time during lambing, I wear these over my trousers because when you are spending a lot of time kneeling on the floor of a shed and checking in the individual lambing pens, it is not long before you are wet and nasty.
We also have a couple of chairs so that we can sit down when we have a few minutes. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it is so worth it!
Teas, Coffees and Snacks
The care of the farmer continues! When the sheep are housed, we obviously spend more time in the sheds than when they are out. At this point, my visits to the sheds are for feeding and checking – I really am not lingering about, except to make preparation for the season ahead. However I know that the time is coming for long hours spent doing chores.
Because we have a kettle and a fridge in the shed, it means that basic supplies like hot drinks, cup soups, noodle pots and granola bars can be a time saver: instead of going home, you can grab and keep going. When busy, this is a lifesaver.
A few years back I made a request for a water heater in the shed. It has been a wonderful addition because it means that whether you are cleaning hands, rinsing cups or washing out bottles for lambs, there is an element of comfort to it and the job is more effective.
A couple of years later, I got a paper towel dispenser too, so that we can dry our hands and I love it.
Rope or baling twine are always around the shed… there are one million uses for either! At this stage though, as those bellies really start to swell, the ewes can be prone to prolapse, so we always have rope around ready to tie them up in our own version of a prolapse harness.
No, not the citrus fruit. Lime is a white powder that we use for disinfecting. It is spread before bedding in the shed and I use it on the walk ways too. We used to buy it by the bag, as you would at a builder’s merchants or at a farm store, but now, we buy it by the tonne. It saves money, time and it means that we always have lots of it on hand.
Iodine & Surgical Spirts
We spray the navel of each lamb born with an iodine/surgical spirits spray. It prevents infection from travelling up through the navel and causing them to contract E-Coli or later on, joint ill. Good hygiene around lambing time is vitally important.
We keep old mineral buckets for doling out the meal at feeding times. When the ewes are in their individual pens at lambing time, they also are given a bucket of water to drink from as we do not have plumbed in drinkers. They are changed twice a day (unless badly soiled) and are sometimes spilled in the pens by overzealous mums, so the size of the bucket is important. I like a bucket of about 10 litres.
I recycle old buckets from local delicatessen counters. Everywhere I go, if there are buckets looking for a home, I’ll take them! This year, we are low on our supply of buckets, so I will have to buy some more - they get broken and need replacing and if I am unable to find freebies, I have no choice!
Catgut, Surgical Needles and Scalpel Blades
Whoa, whoa, whoa… surgery? I hope not! But we have instances where they are needed. Best to have them on hand and ready just in case!
Colostrum and Milk Powders
Ah yes, getting down to it now! As with all mammals, sheep feed their young through mammary glands – udders, tits, teats, milk bags, call ‘em what you like. The first milk that the mothers produce after giving birth is called Colostrum: it is thick, yellow and creamy. It has a rich supply of what the baby needs to get started in life. It is filled with calories, nutrients and the antibodies needed to boost the babies system and ensure healthy growth.
Sometimes as farmers, we need to step in and give Mother Nature a helping hand: rejection of the lamb, mums with no milk, mums with a large number of lambs: lots of different things can happen that mean that colostrum is not available to the lamb, and if it does not get it in the first twelve hours after birth, it will surely perish. We keep powdered colostrum on hand ready for use. It is not as good as the mother’s, but much better than the lamb not getting those vital first feeds.
Later on after that first twenty-four hours, we give a different powdered formula. Lambs grow fast and need to be fed at least four times a day to thrive, so when we have surplus lambs or sick mums, we need this stuff to keep them all going.
Lamb First Aid
We have had all sorts of problems over the years with young lambs, but the most common seems to be where the mum walks on the lamb, breaking its leg. Splints and conforming bandage will fix this if the break is not too bad.
Finally, we clean out and sort our lambing pens. Usually, there are buckets, gates and other lambing paraphernalia stored in them in the run up to lambing time. Now though, we are making them ready to house the mums and lambs. Each will be sprayed with disinfectant and limed. A gate will be put on each and a number assigned to it. We will not bed them until the last minute.
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These are just some of the ways that we are preparing for lambing time… I know there are some other preparations that I have not mentioned. For now though, you can see what is keeping us busy! Being ready means that we have the time necessary to ensure the good health of the animals, rather than wasting time on some minor issue, like looking for a bucket to put water in. Lambing time can be seriously gruelling and often when it starts, it's all hands on deck.