It’s been a little while since I’ve had the chance to write – the weeks seem to fly by with the busiest months on the smallholding being March and April. The pregnant ewes and goats needing close supervision and the garden needing preparation for the coming season, before I know it we are into June!
We’ve been very lucky this winter – it’s been relatively dry and the ewes have continued to graze out on the common land – 30 acres of wet meadowlands that provide an important habitat to numerous species of birds and plant life becoming increasingly scarce in the UK. The ewes went into the winter in good condition and held it through the winter with nothing in the way of supplementary feeding. I had a very bad lambing season last year and put it largely down to getting the feeding regime wrong, with the ewes being given too much additional food too early. This year they just had hay and a high protein bucket to help themselves to what they needed. Four weeks before lambing I started giving them ewe nuts, more to get them used to being around me again and I could get a good look to see if anyone was ‘bagging up’ (milk coming in ready for birth). Portland sheep very rarely have twins, and with just a handful to lamb I don’t get them scanned, and as a primitively breed they thrive on rough grazing with little additional concentrate feed.
We lamb outside, which I think is a lot less stressful for the ewes, and have a small shed with three lambing pens for any problems. I definitely have a hands off approach but keep a close eye. With just a few sheep I can usually tell when someone is thinking about lambing before the ewe knows, and this gives an insight to just how long it can take for a natural, problem free delivery – patience is key. Over the last few years I have waded in before time unnecessarily, often with poor consequences.
This year all eight ewes lambed with little interference from me. A couple required a little assistance with some bigger tup lambs, but otherwise without bother. The weather was good, and they all lambed in the day over a two week period – this makes what can be an extremely stressful time, actually quite enjoyable! Navals are sprayed with Bactakil to prevent any infection after the mother has licked them dry, and I leave her to bond for a few hours and for the lamb to get to its feet and get that all important colostrum. They are then moved onto the garden patch where they are out of harms way and on fresh grass.
One reoccurring problem that I have still yet to solve is that of the appearance of Joint Ill in the lambs from about 10 days of age. This is a bacterial infection that causes lameness and swelling of the joints that can eventually lead to fatalities. It is generally considered more prevalent in dirty, indoor lambing sheds, and where the navels are not treated soon enough, or colostrum not taken within an hour of birth. It can be resolved using a single shot of antibiotics if caught early enough, and I’ve found this to be extremely effective – however I am not at all happy to be using antibiotics a routine treatment and need to find the root cause of the problem. I suspect the bacteria responsible are found in the soil so can’t be eliminated, so next year I am going to use a much stronger iodine solution for treating their navals and try and do it sooner to see if that helps.
All eight lambs (6 tubs and 2 ewes) are now strong and healthy and out with the ewes on the common land until the seasons move on and the next round of shepherding – they will be brought in for vaccinations, tagging, worming and fly prevention treatments. But more in that in a future post!