This was my first time ever lambing! I had seen what goes into the job during my previous experience working at a city farm, but that mostly involved supervising kids and cuddling lambs - no getting my hands dirty! This year I joined Gareth and Madeline, the tenant farmers at Turnastone Court Farm, Herefordshire for their lambing season. 

At the end of January there was a period of early lambing. This was with a group of ewes that had been mothers before. You could consider this a practice run for the later lambing as it was a lot calmer. This was useful as it gave me time to be shown what to do and where everything goes. I learnt how to lead a ewe into a pen using its lamb, apply iodine to the umbilical cords of the lambs, muck out and bed down pens, make up milk and bottle feed orphan lambs, and feed and water ewes.

The more intense lambing started around the 20th of March. I could see how much more difficult this was as, on top of the usual everyday jobs, lambs were being born constantly! (When I say constantly, what I actually mean is that it seemed like the ewes were waiting for the most inconvenient time to give birth; often whilst simultaneously running around and trying to pinch the lambs off other ewes.)

On top of this more intense lambing, many of the ewes were shearlings, or first-time mothers, meaning there can be more complications and some of them don’t really have the mothering instinct you would hope for - bunting their own lambs or not allowing them to suckle. There were more lambs to take care of as well as the orphaned lambs born in January which needed feeding morning and afternoon. They were quite large by this point and very feisty when sucking from the bottle!

Another job that needed doing was docking the tails of all the lambs and castrating the males. This only involved putting a rubber band around the tail where you want to dock it, but it became a huge task when every pen had multiple lambs in, and they all needed to be done before they could go out into the field. It’s important to dock the tails of lambs as it helps keep their rears clean and reduces the risk of flystrike. This is when flies lay their eggs on the sheep and the maggots eat the flesh of the animal. This is very painful for the sheep and difficult to treat, sometimes becoming fatal.

By a few weeks in, I had got the hang of things and was able to get on with bottle feeding and mucking out. This freed up the farmers, so they were able to get some of the cows back out into the fields with their calves. You could tell by the way the cows ran around that they were happy to finally be out in the fields again after coming in for the winter!

In amidst the chaos of lambing ewes, bottle feeding orphans, and mucking out pens; next door the Hereford Cows were giving birth to their calves. This was a much calmer affair, with much fewer animals, and Moocalls (motion sensors placed on the tail to alert the farmers of contractions) updating the farmers when they began to calf. It was a nice break to watch the sleepy calves resting with their mothers.

To sum it up I’d say I had a great time lambing! I learnt loads and got to cuddle lots of lambs. It’s very hard work - I was worn out by the end of every day and I only worked from 9-5! The tenant farmers don’t get that luxury and take shifts to make sure that there’s someone there during the night. It was nice to see the process from start to finish- from putting the tups out in late October/early November, setting up the pens in December, helping in January with the early lambing, the main lambing in March/April, and finally packing away the pens at the end of April.

It’s an incredibly difficult time for farmers everywhere and you would really have no idea what goes into it unless you’ve done it! So, if you want to help our farmers during lambing, here are some things you can do! Firstly, when out and about please be careful when walking through fields with ewes and their lambs. As you can imagine it this can be stressful for the ewes, and they can feel especially threated if you have a dog with you. Please put your dog on a lead! Even if your dog is friendly and would never hurt a sheep, its presence can cause the ewes extreme stress and, in some cases, this can result in them abandoning their lambs.

If you’re interested in going into a career with animals or just keen to help, there’s plenty of farms that would appreciate volunteers during lambing. The National Sheep Association has regional adverts for farms looking for assistance, many with no previous experience required. Local Facebook groups can also be a good place to look if you live in a rural area.

And as always, back British farming! Buying local produce is not only a good way to support your local farmers but it is a more sustainable way to shop, and better for the environment.

By Katie Morgans, CRT Livestock Farming and Wildlife Monitoring Assistant