One of my favourite things about Spring is seeing all the new life, especially adorable Lambs running around fields. When I was offered the opportunity to take part in lambing (with my course) I jumped at the chance even if I was a little nervous about the whole thing. Lambing can be unpredictable and after hearing a few stories from class mates some pretty horrific with lambs dying or no ewes lambing and then the wonderful side of it I had no idea what my day would hold.
I signed up to lamb on the 25th March at the time being unaware it was good Friday but it felt like the perfect 'activity' to participate in over the Easter break, thankfully it was also a warm, sunny day. A quite scary fact that people may be unaware of is that women who are pregnant should not go near pregnant ewes, although the risk are low it can cause the fetus to abort, this is because of a disease cause toxoplasmosis which cats can also be a carrier off.
On arrival we (there was about seven people in total on varying shifts) was shown over to the lambing area, at this point in time there was 27 ewes left to lamb, there was three pens depending on how many lambs the ewes were expecting, one for singles, another for twins and one for triplets, on the side are the bonding pens where the ewes are moved to after giving birth to their first young and remain their for the first 24 hours before being moved to a small outside enclosure then onto the field.
Within being there for ten minutes a ewe had begun to lamb, you can tell when this about to happen due to an motion called moon gazing, the ewes heads turns towards the sky and since it is more common for sheep to give birth at night that is how it earned its name. At this point a tiny hoof was peaking out, lambs come out in different presentations and a person should only intervene if the two hoofs aren't forward. This lamb had one leg back, so we was shown how to help the ewe give birth. It was over very quickly, the farmer reached his hand inside to find the other leg pulled it out and gently pushed down on the lambs head so it would come out. The ewe was restrained the whole time this was happening, the lamb was placed in front of the ewe so she could begin to lick the lamb to form a bond. Since this ewe was first timer it had to be restrained to ensure she wouldn't wander off and could form this bond with the lamb, it took a while with this ewe but eventually she began to lick the lamb, we then guided her over to a bonding pen.
It wasn't long before another ewe had begun to lamb this time I was the one to restrain the ewe whilst it had help giving birth and time to bond with the lamb. When a lamb is born after around 15-20 minutes they need to have their navels dipped in iodine, this is part of the body that is exposed to risk of infection and the iodine fights any bacteria/germs.
At this point we had two lambs and we was also about to see a cow give birth to a calf, for obvious reasons we wasn't inside the pen with the cow but stood on framework overhead, it was such an amazing thing to see and I felt like I picked a pretty good day to go lambing to not only see lambs but a calf being born too.
Back at lambing the farmer had mentioned that two of the lambs looked hollow in appearance due to their mother having a ulcer on her foot and spending most of the time sat down, at this point she was being treated but one of the lambs was really struggling to latch on and have a drink of milk so me and another girl climbed into the pen with the ewe and two lambs to show the lamb where to latch onto. It was obvious the lamb was dying for a drink and it took us awhile to finally get this particular lamb to latch on and he gulped down so much! It was my favourite moment of the day because after this I think the lamb did learn where to go, it was one of those things that I thought was natural instinct but in some cases it isn't.
The two lambs that had given birth earlier on in the day at this point had given birth to their second lambs due to the fact a person had to intervene they were given a jab to help fight any possible risks of infection.
It was now time to move some ewes/lambs in an outside bonding pen into a field, lambs are commonly picked up with their two front legs (although it is possible to cradle them like a baby) I was quite worried about doing this quite simply because I thought it might hurt the lambs because they are so tiny and delicate! We placed the lambs and ewes in the van and drove them to a field placing the lambs in first then releasing the ewes. The bonding process is pretty amazing at this point seeing lambs and ewes instantly recognise each other. What was great was seeing a bunch of lambs running around the field playing with each other, the sweetest thing I swear! Since these were now in the field we then moved those who been in singular bonding pens for 24 hours into the outside ones, you do this by having a fence that goes around the ewe and dangling the lamb in front of the mother (sounds cruel but it isn't) they instantly follow their young.
Since the weather was warm we observed some farming activity, tractor driving, refilling of hay in the calving section. Then we decided to feed some cows by hand, honestly cows look quite scary since they are pretty big but these cows were the friendliest and didn't seem too phased my human contact at all. Again the baby calves are the craziest/cutest running around their paddock playing with each other. Whoever says animals don't have personalities?
Back at the lambing pen we got to witness a natural birth was no intervention, however there was quite a scary moment. It took the ewe ages to bond and at first she wouldn't' follow the lamb (which was being held) the ewe panicked ran into her own lamb which was then dragged across the floor, my heart dropped. I honestly thought at this point the lamb had died or been seriously injured but thankfully it was okay and after forming a wall of people we managed to get the ewe into a bonding pen with her lamb. Later on her second lamb was born which was a lot more difficult, one of the lambs legs was right back and it was quite a struggle for the person involved moving that leg to the front but of course it worked out in the end.
At the end my shift we had three sets of healthy twins and a baby calf, it was such an amazing experience getting to witness and be a part of these amazing little lives coming in to the world.
On a sadder note though I do have to point at these lambs are reared for meat, which makes me incredibly sad. I do know that farms/farmers can get a lot of bad press from vegetarians/vegans, I mean I am vegetarian myself but having helped out and having had a few farming practicals the welfare of sheep, cattle and pigs are to the highest of standards, although I do wish that they got to spend their lives running around fields forever.