Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Guest blog from our amazing 'Night Manager'

My name is Jenni and I have been so incredibly fortunate to be let loose on Camilla and Roly’s farm as a helping hand. If memory serves me right, I first started helping on the farm in late 2014. So this is my second experience at lambing time.

We are all looking forward to the farm opening up to the public again this weekend to share lambing time with you all. It really is a beautiful farm with a rich history and an opportunity to see lambing up close and maybe even see a birth!

This year, I have taken on the role of night duty and as guest blogger thought I could share my experience with you so far! So in a nutshell, lambing time is all about conducting a routine and repeating it over and over. Once you get the basics you find yourself wandering off all over the place knowing what needs doing and time just disappears!

The first few nights I worked alone when things were fairly quiet on the lambing front. I wasn’t sure how I was going to do much in the dark fields but after a couple of nights I found myself tuning in to the subtle signs that a mother may be ready to give birth. Torch in one hand and the other on the quad bike throttle, I slowly patrol the fields checking each one, often shining the torch at endless bottoms going a little cross eyes and just get stared at by their glowing eyes! I then see one looking upwards as if she is pushing, a mild panic occurs, to then realise she is just having a long yawn! I had realised, up until this point I had never seen a sheep asleep as I had only worked with them in the daytime. I often drive past a few completely flat on their side snoring away, having a giggle to myself but also with a slight feeling of relief that it isn’t giving birth just yet and my hands are not full!

But then…. you spot in the distance a few tiny legs and a birth has occurred! They key with any new born lamb and it's survival is warmth and then food. So I get the lambs onto the trailer first and mum either comes easily or she doesn’t. When she doesn’t, you can spend a lot of time running around and falling down rabbit holes but generally if they are experienced mothers, they walk straight into the trailer. The plan is to then whizz them back to one of the barns where we have plenty of lovely pens waiting for them but if it’s a busy night you will generally spot another giving birth. I would make sure they all are birthed and okay before I head off with the ones in the trailer, to come back as soon as possible to collect the next lot.

Once I get lambs back to the barn, I check they have iodine on their belly to prevent infection and check for any signs of hypothermia. If they seem very cold and struggling, the key is to warm them up and later on make sure they have some milk in their tummies. Sometimes you have to tube feed a lamb with milk and when you have quite a few to feed, including any orphans that need bottle feeding, as well as finding the time to check everyone in the barn and do hourly field checks, I find I end the shift with milk in my hair, birthing fluid all over me and with a few more grey hairs on my head!

So going back briefly to checks, I check the fields every hour, that way no lambs are left out in the colder nights for too long and risk of hypothermia is lower. I then do the rounds in the barns, what I like to call the the maternity wards, checking everyone is happy, lambs are milking from mum and everyone has food and water. This is repeated and repeated until I go to bed or the music on the radio becomes a little too eclectic for my ears which it can do in the early hours! I can often be found singing or having a chat to a few of them when I pass midnight and I am working on my own!

A few things I have learnt with lambing, one being not to wear bracelets… these can come off when you are assisting a birth and have your hand up a ewe’s backside! Birthing fluid…. this just goes everywhere, I have had every item of clothing just covered including my face but there comes a point where you just don’t care! Hands…. they are scrubbed clean so frequently they feel like sandpaper! If you speak to shepherd Emma she can recommend fabulous hand creams as per her blog!

Lastly, straw. Emma has touched on this about finding straw everywhere. It really is an essential part of lambing but when I wake up in my bed at home after a busy night shift to find some straw in my bed (oh and some baler twine a few days ago!)… I realise that I have fully embraced lambing time and have almost become one of them!

I feel so privileged to work on the farm and to learn so much about sheep and lambing in particular. I will be at one of the lambing open days this weekend on the 9th/10th of April, so please come along.


Thank you also to Roly, Camilla, Molly, Freddie and Belle.

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