I’ve never been so pleased to see some sunshine as I have been this week, for many farmers the winter of 2017/18 has been the worst in memory, without a dry week since last July.
At Borough farm, our lambing season started at the beginning of March and it’s been the sheep that have taken the brunt of the weather. The key to a successful lambing season is to supplement the ewes with silage over the winter months to maintain condition. In the final few weeks before the lambs are born they require high quality pellets to ensure good strong lambs are born, with the ewes producing plenty of quality milk. After lambing quality feed or lush spring grass is just as important, as the lambs are completely dependant on the ewes milk for the first 6 weeks of life.
As a sheep farmer you are sometimes battling the Darwinian way of things, and the snow in the middle of March caused havoc with our flock, and was a reminder that for all of our efforts, mother nature is actually always in charge.
With several hundred ewes and lambs outside, and despite all of the feeding, the ewes reacted to the cold and the snow by preserving themselves, and began to limit the precious reserves used to make milk for the lambs. The result was flocks of lambs short of milk that at best failed to thrive, or at worst had to be bought in for bottle-feeding. My poor wife, Debbie had to cope with an endless stream of hungry cold lambs, reluctant or refusing to take a bottle. Inevitably not all survived. The lambs outside were stressed and susceptible to diseases like joint ill and a nasty viral skin lesion around the mouth, called Orf, problems we’d rarely see in normal years. People often ask why we can’t just bring the young lambs back inside in such weather, but the reality is that a ewe with lambs needs 4 times as much room to the ewe without lambs. We kept as many lambs in as possible for as long as we could, but in normal circumstances a ewe with a well-fed lamb is far healthier in the field.
A month later the grass is growing at last, and slowly the problems are lessening. I’ve been pleased to turn lambs out onto Morte Point where these lambs born after the snow are are beginning to thrive. My morning rounds there are good for the soul, and thoughts are beginning to turn to the next phase of spring jobs, a worm dose for the lambs to kill off a nasty spring worm call nematodirus, and a treatment to keep the flies and ticks away.
And always at the back of my mind is the start of the Sheepdog and Falconry shows at the end of May. This will be our 21st year of the shows, and are an important part of our farming life. Preparations seem to be endless, especially now, as one of the lambing barns has to be cleaned out to be used for undercover seating for those occasional inclement evenings. But like everyone else I’m hoping that it won’t be needed as we all look forward to a summer of endless hot days!