The sight of lambs in the fields at War Horse Valley is a welcome sign of spring, but we are working all year round to get to this stage.
Lambs are born around 145 days (or about 4.5months) after the ewe falls pregnant. Lambing can start as early as December and go on to as late as June and a ewe can have up to four lambs at a time but mostly have one or two.
There are two different breeds of sheep that we keep on the farm. Devon Long Wool & Charollais.
Lets kick off with some terminology: female sheep are known as ewes, while their male counterparts are called rams or tups.
Ewes and rams mate in a process called tupping which takes places in the autumn time. Farmers will use several rams to cover their flock - usually a ratio of 1 ram: 40-60 ewes. Using multiple rams increases the chance of ewes being covered by the rams within their fertile period and falling pregnant.
Ewes are only in season once per year – so unlike other animals that become fertile multiple times a year, there is a short time period for them to fall pregnant. They will normally be 2 years old before they become a breeding sheep.
Once the lamb is born, it’s important its gets up on its feet quickly and latches to the ewes teat to get the colostrum (first milk) which is packed with nutrients and antibodies. If this doesn’t happen within the first few hours, the farmer will collect the colostrum from the mother and feed it directly to the lamb using a tube.
Unfortunately lambing is a difficult time and not all ewes and lambs will survive, even in the best system. Farmers will pair up orphan lambs with other ewes for adoption.
This happens in cases where the mother is unable to look after one of its lambs due to a multiple birth (triplets or quads), or if the ewe or lamb dies.
Going out into the fields
Once the farmer is happy that the lamb is feeding well they’ll go out into the field which can be like a crèche with lots of other ewes and lambs running around. The ewes can graze on the fresh spring grass which helps them produce lots of milk for their hungry and growing lamb(s), and can be supplemented with a sheep feed to make sure the milk is plentiful.
With so many lambs being born on farm, how do we keep track of who belongs to who? With a can of spray paint believe it or not! The ewe and her offspring will be sprayed with a number for identification purposes. However they don't get lost as the mother recognises her own lamb's smell and bleating cry.
Lambs are fitted with identification ear tags which will stay on for the rest of their life. The lambs are normally weaned from their mothers between 2-4months old when they will either go on to be breeding sheep (ewes or rams), or they’ll be reared for meat. The ewes then have a few months to get into top condition, ready for Autumn tupping when the process starts all over again.
More about the breeds we keep at War Horse Valley
The Devon Long Wool sheep are a hardy breed, raised for meat and long wool.. They are easy to care for, being quiet, a good grazer and easy to gather when needed. These sheep are content and tend to stay within the boundaries of fields.
They produce a very heavy fleece of good quality wool. From ewes the average clip can weigh 7-8kgs and from rams it can weigh in excess of 15kgs.
This wool is attractive to spinners for weaving rugs. It can also be used for dolls hair, needle felting and to create a variety of home furnishings.
The Charollais is a breed originating in east central France. It has a reputation as an easy lamber and is used as a terminal sire to increase muscling and growth rate of the lambs.
We have a lot of baby lambs skipping around at War Horse Valley, best time to see them is when we open from 15th April, Easter weekend until the middle of May.