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Spring - Farming for Townies

PUBLISHED: 10:19 19 January 2010 | UPDATED: 14:33 20 February 2013

newly born lamb

newly born lamb

It's time for the patter of tiny feet out in the countryside - four at a time (or even 12, for those mums expecting triplets). Life's a gambol for the lucky lambs born at Abbey Home Farm in Cirencester.




May is the month we lamb here at Abbey Home Farm. It is often a surprise to our visitors, but we feel we have good reasons for doing so. As with all our farming methods, we are trying to work with the seasons, looking for a low input, less intensive system. May lambing fits in with this aim well for us, as the days are getting longer, lighter and warmer.


Sheep are designed to eat grass, and grass is usually near its best in May. So for the last few weeks of pregnancy, and during early lactation, there is good grass in the fields for the ewes to enjoy. We usually find we only need to feed some extra concentrate to the mums expecting triplets.


The ewes go into their lambing fields in mid-April, so they have time to settle and become familiar with their surroundings. They too have a nesting instinct. On our farm, you'll find around 80 ewes to a 10-15 acre field.


As I write this, my daughter - who is expecting her baby in May - has just moved onto the farm and is settling into her new home; the ewes are doing the same.


So 'hands off and non-intensive' is the order of the day. This requires good-quality shepherding. Much less time is spent feeding, bedding out, moving stock, disinfecting pens and injecting the lambs, which takes up so much effort in a conventional late-winter, indoor lambing system. With outdoor lambing, the shepherd is watching and helping from the sidelines as, I imagine, the shepherds of old did. Doesn't the word shepherding conjure up caring and helping along?


When they are ready, the ewes usually go into a corner of the field and give birth without further ado. But there's still plenty the shepherd needs to know: Which sheep had which lamb? Which ewe is struggling to feed all three triplets with only two teats? Which experienced mum can take on another lamb? Whose own mother might have problems of one sort or another?


Because we don't feed much concentrate, the lambs are generally smaller. And that tends to avoid assisted births. Unlike indoor lambing systems, we don't have 24-hour cover, which involves a lot of staff and energy to light the lambing pens all day and all night. John reminds me that when he first came to Abbey Home Farm, every lamb was injected after birth in case of disease. Sheep and their lambs were often moved at least two or three times during the week of lambing indoors - just getting used to a place before moving on again. And even with 24-hour cover, it was sometime hard to keep track of all the births and who belonged to whom, with all the feeding, cleaning and bedding jobs to do.


Of course, as with everything, there is a down side to May lambing. This time of year can be very wet and windy, which is not conducive to pleasurable outdoor lambing for the ewes, the shepherd or the lambs. However, the benefits far outweigh the problems. And there are always those magical May days when the mums and the lambs look exactly as nature intended them to.



For more information about Abbey Home Farm, log onto www.theorganicfarmshop.co.uk; or visit the farm's Organic Farm Shop on the Burford Road, Cirencester, GL7 5HF. You can email on info@theorganicfarmshop.co.uk or ring 01285 640441.




May is the month we lamb here at Abbey Home Farm. It is often a surprise to our visitors, but we feel we have good reasons for doing so. As with all our farming methods, we are trying to work with the seasons, looking for a low input, less intensive system. May lambing fits in with this aim well for us, as the days are getting longer, lighter and warmer.


Sheep are designed to eat grass, and grass is usually near its best in May. So for the last few weeks of pregnancy, and during early lactation, there is good grass in the fields for the ewes to enjoy. We usually find we only need to feed some extra concentrate to the mums expecting triplets.


The ewes go into their lambing fields in mid-April, so they have time to settle and become familiar with their surroundings. They too have a nesting instinct. On our farm, you'll find around 80 ewes to a 10-15 acre field.


As I write this, my daughter - who is expecting her baby in May - has just moved onto the farm and is settling into her new home; the ewes are doing the same.


So 'hands off and non-intensive' is the order of the day. This requires good-quality shepherding. Much less time is spent feeding, bedding out, moving stock, disinfecting pens and injecting the lambs, which takes up so much effort in a conventional late-winter, indoor lambing system. With outdoor lambing, the shepherd is watching and helping from the sidelines as, I imagine, the shepherds of old did. Doesn't the word shepherding conjure up caring and helping along?


When they are ready, the ewes usually go into a corner of the field and give birth without further ado. But there's still plenty the shepherd needs to know: Which sheep had which lamb? Which ewe is struggling to feed all three triplets with only two teats? Which experienced mum can take on another lamb? Whose own mother might have problems of one sort or another?


Because we don't feed much concentrate, the lambs are generally smaller. And that tends to avoid assisted births. Unlike indoor lambing systems, we don't have 24-hour cover, which involves a lot of staff and energy to light the lambing pens all day and all night. John reminds me that when he first came to Abbey Home Farm, every lamb was injected after birth in case of disease. Sheep and their lambs were often moved at least two or three times during the week of lambing indoors - just getting used to a place before moving on again. And even with 24-hour cover, it was sometime hard to keep track of all the births and who belonged to whom, with all the feeding, cleaning and bedding jobs to do.


Of course, as with everything, there is a down side to May lambing. This time of year can be very wet and windy, which is not conducive to pleasurable outdoor lambing for the ewes, the shepherd or the lambs. However, the benefits far outweigh the problems. And there are always those magical May days when the mums and the lambs look exactly as nature intended them to.



For more information about Abbey Home Farm, log onto www.theorganicfarmshop.co.uk; or visit the farm's Organic Farm Shop on the Burford Road, Cirencester, GL7 5HF. You can email on info@theorganicfarmshop.co.uk or ring 01285 640441.

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