Lambing Ups and Downs

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I think last year I wondered why I had chosen to lamb over a bank holiday when the site was busy. I am pretty sure I resolved not to do it again.

Obviously by the time the autumn came around I had forgotten about the stress of lambing and gleefully rejoiced in the fact that the ewes would lamb over Easter when I could be working at home.

I am delusional. Lambing is a tiring, stressful time. Lambing with a campsite full of people is even more tiring.

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Luckily I had a lambing buddy: Kerry and family were here as usual over the Easter and helped out with the lambing.

A high point was sitting drinking tea and eating cake in the lambing shed on Thursday afternoon watching as the third ewe (no. 37) lambed two ewe lambs.

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This is Fraggle being born, River was bigger (and first) and took a while longer

A low was finding her dead on Saturday morning leaving two orphans: River and Fraggle.

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But I am getting ahead of myself ……

So, as I mentioned in my last post, on Thursday morning Bobtail lambed triplets (Zorro, Curtains and Gertie) and then in the afternoon no.37 lambed twins (Fraggle and River), just in time for Kerry and the kids to watch. All was well with everyone.

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On Friday morning I got up at 5.30 and found that no. 11 had lambed twins (ewe and a ram – Hobbit and Bobicus – marked no. 4) so I popped them in the shed to see how they got on.

I noticed that Bobtail wasn’t getting up. I suspected twin lamb disease and gave her some twin lamb drench and a couple of hours later a shot of antibiotics (just in case).

Bobtail and triplets.jpg

Meanwhile we rushed around doing busy things on the campsite and re-arranging the maternity quarters to accommodate everyone. We also had some friends over for lunch as you do and took them to see the lambs. As luck would have it as we approached, the last ewe was in the middle of lambing (she was almost a week early, but obviously didn’t want to be left out of the party). She lambed two tiny ewe lambs (Fell and Freckle – no.5).

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Bobtail still didn’t look right so I called our lovely vet. She said that I had done the correct thing in treating with twin-lamb drench and antibiotics, but it could also be hypocalcaemia (aka milk fever) – a blood calcium deficiency – luckily I had some calicjet on hand, but I had to rush off and collect some more glycerol (for the twin-lamb disease) as I was all out of ewe energy/twin lamb drinks. I always have these to hand but often give one or two to ewes who have had a difficult labour and/or have poor condition. I also put glucose in their water after lambing for extra energy.

Andrew came over and showed me how to inject 50ml of this subcutaneously – I am getting better at injections. I continued to give Bobtail glucose (which treats twin-lamb). I also gave Bobtail a shot of metacam as her temperature was 41 – I have now used my sheep thermometer – although I did have to ask the vet which end it went in! Bobtail got up – things were looking good.

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We then went to let no.37 out with her lambs. She had been fine all day, up and about, feeding her lambs. As she got up and walked out she staggered a little – what was wrong? We treated her with glycerol x3 for twin-lamb and calcijet. The plan was to monitor her and treat her for hypomagnesaemia (magnijet) in the morning if she wasn’t better – I think you can’t give both treatments together, but maybe I am wrong here. She seemed a little better and pottered about with her lambs, but a few hours later by Saturday morning she was dead.

I have no idea what killed her. Any ideas would be welcome. Maybe I should have given her a shot of antibiotics, but I don’t like to do it willy-nilly.  Could it have been Hypomagnesaemia (Grass Staggers)? She wasn’t aggressive, but both her and Bobtail looked as if they had a coughing convulsion and both had the scours. We have licks including magnesium available all the time. I will get our soil tested so I know if our grazing is deficient in anything. We don’t have much grazing (and it is over-grazed) so supplement with hay and with ewe nuts in the last two months of lambing.

We did open a new bag of food and three ewes refused to eat it (unheard of round here) – Bobtail and no.37 did eat it – I wonder if there was something wrong with it and in their weakened post-lambing state it had catastrophic results. Of course, it is entirely possible that Bobtail had twin-lamb and hypocalcaemia especially as she had had triplets.

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Everyone is out in the field now

So I found myself in the position of looking after two orphan lambs and giving supplemental feeds to Bobtail’s lambs. Luckily Kerry and the kids were here to help. Trying to teach 5 lambs how to bottle feed is not easy, but it (and the whole lambing kerfuffle) was made much more fun by having a friend helping. Big thank you to Kerry and to Andrew for their help. Again I have learnt so much about lambing and being a shepherd by doing it and trying to get it right.

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Lamb total is at 11 and we are done for the season – apart, of course, for bottle feeding 5 lambs. If you fancy helping, give me a shout as I am on the look out for people wanting to help feeding some cute, dinky lambs.

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N.B. Our vet is great – she talks you through things without the expense of coming out and encourages you to treat the animals.

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N.B. the orphans play outside with the others during the day but at night they are sleeping in our dining room as the nights are very cold at the moment.

5 responses to “Lambing Ups and Downs

    • Oh, that would be lovely, but you are right it is a little bit far to come just to feed some lambs – although they are cute 🙂

  1. J & D > We’re very sorry about the loss of the ewe. Even your vet would have difficulty identifying with any certainty what went wrong there, partly because there seems to be ‘a lot going on’ in the way of supplements, treatments etc. Your photo of a lovely level/even field shows grass that is something we in the islands (other than those with machair crofts – on the west coast) can only dream of. [We do suffer occasionally from bouts of field envy. ;~) ]. Our rocky crofts are on Lewisian Gneiss, which takes a million years to erode and release soil-making minerals where softer deposits might take ten years to do the same. So, other than possible bacterial problem from soiling, or worms, it’s unlikely that your soil is the problem. Is it possible that there had been some damp in the feed, and it might have turned slightly mouldy? We frequently check feed by smelling and tasting it. And not just once for each bag. Mould is likeliest occur around the edges of the bag, where damp gets through the pores in the plastic. Hay is particularly susceptible to bacteria and other nasties. We do think you should try and avoid routine and speculative use of treatments. They cost a great deal, could well be completely un-necessary, can create problems, and fundamentally weaken the animals’ natural potential for creating its own health solutions.

    • Thank you for your really thoughtful and helpful reply. I think it may have been the feed – we will check it more thoroughly in the future. I completely agree with you about routine treatments – we try and be as hands off as possible – the only routine treatments we do is vaccination and worming a few weeks before lambing and we use an anti-flystrike treatment too – this is because we had a few attacks last year. Ideally as I learn more I would like to avoid or limit this treatment though. We only use antibiotics as a last resort and only give the twin-lamb or ewe drinks if the labour has been hard after lambing. The ewe that died had, had no treatment until she couldn’t walk properly. I think everyone has field envy – I look at the fields of people in the west that are lush and growing – we haven’t had rain here for quite some time – and I also look enviously at smallholdings where people have a little more land so they can rotate their livestock more effectively 🙂

  2. Pingback: Fraggle | smallholding dreams·

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