Sun 10 April 2016
Hillary writes ...
At Sheldon we have two flocks of rare breed sheep, the Manx Loaghtans which are small, brown, have horns and originate on the Isle of Man, and the Greyface Dartmoors, one of the native Devon breeds with long curly fleeces used for making carpets.
Eight of each breed of ewe were put to the ram (Mr Figbiscuit for the Manx and Parkie for the Dartmoors) in October, and lambing was due to start 147 days later on 21st March. The ladies kept us waiting a few days, to the frustration of Sue Kendall who kindly responded to our request for a live-in lambing assistant. Sue covered the late night “shift” from her caravan HQ, checking them at midnight, and Hillary did the early check at 5 a.m. Then one of us looked at the ewes every few hours during the day, to spot the early signs of lambing about to happen. Sue was joined by Robin Wilkinson for the long Easter weekend, which was a treat for Hillary as Robin did the early checks for her.
Because of predation by foxes, the in-lamb ewes come in from the field to the security of an enclosure at the Barn each night. Most of the ewes lamb as nature intended, although each year there are a few who need a bit of help or occasionally have major complications requiring intervention by the vet (never at a civilised hour, always on a bank holiday or the middle of the night!). As each ewe lambs, she is given a few days R and R in a pen with her lambs, where the ewe has some extra feed, we can be sure that the lambs are sucking well and general husbandry tasks are easier to do (iodine on the lamb’s navel, worm drench and pedicure for the ewe).
After a few days they are turned out into the orchard which becomes the nursery field. All ewes are naturally protective of their lambs, though the Manx are much more diligent than the rather laid back Dartmoor mums. As the lambs get older, they indulge in evening playtime, racing each other around the field.
The last ewe gave birth on Wednesday 6 March so, after a slow start, lambing was completed in record time. This year we have 26 live lambs from 11 sets of twins and 5 singles (unfortunately one half of one set of twins didn't survive). There are 14 Manx lambs: 7 rams and 7 ewes, and 12 Dartmoor lambs: 7 rams and 5 ewes. We're still working on the names (this year's theme is gemstones and minerals), but so far we have Garnet, Pearl & Ivory, Opal & Onyx, Jet & Jasper, and Ruby & Beryl (delivered at 1.30am by Rudi the vet!).