It’s been lambing time once again down on the Heart of England Forest farm, and we have been welcoming a bumper new crop of bouncing babies to the flock.
Under the watchful eye of our shepherd Claude, over 600 sheep graze the verdant pasturelands around Dorsington. April is Claude’s busiest time, when the first trickle of deliveries gradually gives way to a round-the-clock procession of new arrivals.
A busy month
As we enter May we have welcomed 600 new-born lambs to our flock with only a few more expected. Seventy of our ewes have produced triplets and two of our Jacob ewes produced quads so it has been all hands on deck during lambing time. Claude roped in as many of the team as possible to help when he was at his busiest.
Our flock of sheep include a mixture of different breeds: Suffolk ewes are most prevalent, but the keen-eyed will also spot North Country Mules (yes, it’s a sheep!). Surprisingly, given our location, Cotswolds sheep are a rarity these days, but they can be found on our fields, as can the equally rare Jacob sheep which, with their horns and piebald brown and white markings are sometimes mistaken for goats. The latter are even thought to have links to biblical times, often appearing in religious artworks.
Many of the ewes are now relatively elderly, aged between eight and ten years old, and they will gradually be replaced by some of the new-born ewe lambs. The younger sheep, at two or three years old, tend to be more productive and better mothers. The survival rate of new-born lambs can depend on the attentiveness of their mothers and younger ewes often nurse their offspring more efficiently, leading to their young having a greater chance of surviving the crucial early days and weeks.
Big brother is watching
Among the other animals on the Heart of England Forest farm are a small herd of stately alpacas. Originally natives of South America, where they are bred for their wolly coats, they appear to be a smaller version of the better-known llama. This lambing season, Claude is conducting an experiment by integrating some of the alpacas among the expectant Jacob ewes. The idea is that their presence will act as a deterrent to predators such as foxes or crows that may prey on the weakest new-born lambs. “It will be interesting to see whether the alpacas can keep the lambs safe”, says Claude “as they can be feisty fellows when they want to be!”
Fingers crossed the experiment works, and that the new arrivals can enjoy a happy and healthy life in and around the Heart of England Forest.