Video feature: New lambs add to joys of spring
WITH lambing season well under way at Jimmy’s Farm, reporter SARA MCCORQUODALE spent a beautiful sunny morning with the newborns to experience first hand one of the real joys of spring.
She takes a long, hard look at the bale of hay. It’s bigger than her and would be challenge for any four-day-old lamb to leap over.
But regardless of her Bambi-like gait and inexperience in tackling large obstacles, the baby sheep canters unsteadily and jumps at it.
She lands on the other side on four knees and lets out a triumphant yell. The rest of the nursery launches into a chorus of “baa” to herald her achievement.
It’s lambing season at Jimmy’s Farm and overcoming these initial milestones must be celebrated.
So far, about a dozen lambs have been born in the Wherstead fields and many more are on the way. Like any baby, they can decide to emerge at any time, so farm manager Dave Finkle is on red alert.
A regular face on Country File and The Fern Show for his farming expertise, Dave has been rearing sheep since he bought his first flock of 250 at the age of 16.
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He describes being a farmer as the “best job in the world” but having never worked in the great outdoors I’m somewhat sceptical.
In the name of journalism, I’ve come to help him tend to the pregnant ewes and newborns and hopefully see at least one lamb take its first steps.
And this means arriving at the farm at 8.30am ready to work. The last time I was up this early on a weekend Philip Schofield still had a puppet gopher for a sidekick.
However, thoughts of tiredness and Saturday morning television must be relegated to focus on the job at hand. The pregnant ewes need to be checked, new bedding laid and newborn lambs fed.
Over a strong coffee, Dave takes me through his busy morning routine during lambing season.
“The first thing I do is check in for new lambs because sometimes the ewes give birth overnight,” he says. “Then, I make sure everything is healthy and normal with the ewe and lamb.
“Sheep put humans to shame when it comes to labour. They make no fuss and just get on with things.”
While they don’t make a song and dance about it, Dave says there are behavioural signs which indicate a ewe is getting ready to give birth.
He says: “You can tell because she suddenly becomes much narrower round the middle.
“The majority of ewes have twins and they lie side by side in the womb during the pregnancy. But, just before they are born, they lie on top of each other.
“The ewe will then pull away from the other sheep and make herself a small nest. She’ll want a bit of peace and quiet.
“You can also tell when the contractions start because ewes do what I call ‘star gazing’ – they look towards the sky.”
Despite their lack of fuss, many ewes require assistance during labour.
At Jimmy’s Farm, Dave steps in to ease approximately one in ten births if a lamb is breach or upside down. But even if there are complications, labour lasts just two hours on average. With all of this in mind, I get to work.
We collect hay to make sure the expectant mothers have cushioned bedding.
The animals are pre-breakfast and keen to make their hunger known. The noise is deafening and relentless. It turns out pregnant ewes get vocal when they’re peckish.
As I fill up their feeding trough, the ewes barge in to get their share of the grain. At last, the constant chorus of “baa” quietens down.
With this task done, Dave and I turn our attention to the “nursery” – a neighbouring pen of mothers and newborn lambs just days old. Prancing around on shaky legs, each one is full of energy and extremely pleased with itself.
And it’s easy to see why. The lambs are Black Welsh Mountain breed: an adorable combination of pretty features and fleeces of curled ebony.
“These ones are very cute,” says Dave. “And they are good-natured and friendly. Within the first few days of being born, lambs are in at everything – they are so curious.
“They can stand up and walk within ten minutes of being born and they become bouncy and springy creatures within about three days.”
Next stop, bottle feeding the orphan lambs. When Dave announces this, I grab his arm in horror – baby sheep without mums? It’s just too sad.
However, the term “orphan” is somewhat misleading.
Dave explains: “If a ewe is having triplets it can cause complications because there might not be enough milk for all three lambs.
“In that situation, you have to pull away one and make them an ‘orphan’ – usually the weakest or the strongest.
“I think it’s better to pull away the strongest because they are the most demanding and will be able to survive without their mother.”
Like babies, the orphan lambs have to be cradled and fed with a bottle. However, unlike babies, they wriggle around on their front knees and stick their faces in the air to receive the milk.
Dave says: “It’s second nature to them to feed like that – it’s as though the milk is coming from their mother’s teat.” With the lambs tended to and happily attempting to walk, leap and baa, Dave and I check on the newborn chicks and piglets.
After more checking, feeding, comforting and cushioning, my day as a lambing assistant comes to a close.
Sadly, there were no births on my watch, but this didn’t stop me enjoying spring awakening on Jimmy’s Farm. It seems everything is coming to life at once and painting colour over the bleak, grey winter just passed.
So it’s no wonder the lambs want to take their first step, leap and explore every nook and cranny of the farm. If my day job wasn’t calling, I’d be tempted to do the same.