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Moving the lambs out to pasture

So with lambing calming down, the focus is switching to moving the first lambs and their ewes further away to the larger fields. This sounds simple! When sheep are involved, few tasks are as simple as they sound and always take at least twice as long as expected.

Why do we move them? Lots of reasons….

Firstly, we start the young ones off in small paddocks no larger than an acre. This means that the lambs can never get too far away from their mums, so no one gets lost and distressed looking for each other. They move on to a 3-acre paddock, then a 6-acre one. By this age, the lambs gather in playgroups and hare around, and the mums get some peace grazing quietly. The lambs find the right mums pretty easily and you rarely hear a “distress” call of a young lamb struggling to find its mum.

Secondly, when they are in a “home” paddock you are simply there more to keep a closer eye on them. Most problems occur in the first couple of weeks of life, and for the new mums too, they can take some adjusting to caring for a lamb or two.

Being close by means we read the mood of the group quickly and pick-up individuals that need help. A couple of times my mini-shepherd has wandered back from the field carrying a lamb in his arms, or come and reported a ewe going down with mastitis.

Thirdly, it’s important to keep moving them on to fresh grass. Obviously, they eat it down, and it’s much better for the grass and the sheep if they can be moved off when there are still a couple of inches of “bite” on the grass. We have struggled with this year as, with no rain in the last 9 weeks, there has been almost no grass growth. Usually a normal mild spring with some rain helps the new growth to keep up with the grazing.

Fourthly (and finally for now!), parasites. Sheep are host to a number of varieties of worms and other such parasites. Sounds disgusting I know, but every animal, agricultural or pet, has to be treated at some stage for parasites to stay healthy. The life-cycle of some of the more prevalent ones is around 3 weeks. This means that there is a constant focus and juggle on when to worm sheep, how long they stay on a particular field, how long that field is rested (no sheep on it), and which group of sheep to move onto it next. With such a long lambing period this year, this too has been a bit of a juggle! This is one reason that we have also chosen to treat the young lambs with Baycox as they are more vulnerable to the coccidiosis protozoa building up and becoming a problem.

Sorry - didn’t mean for this to turn into War and Peace!!

So, today we are moving the next “batch” across to the field we call Greenfield. Phil named it. Because its a field, and it’s always green. We have saved this pasture throughout winter for these early lambs, and the first group or two are already enjoying this gorgeous pasture in the two 3-acre blocks.

The first challenge today was getting everything into the pen. It was very hot, and the ewes were reluctant enough. The lambs must have had a decent post-lunch sleep as they were very much up for a big bounce around, and none of it in the direction of the pen we constructed. Anyway, we finally got them all in and separated those that weren’t quite ready to go across, popping them back into the field. We then had a whole other challenge that I haven’t come across before. In my sleep-deprived and very addled state, I had labelled two separate family groups as “H”. Don’t ask how that happened, I genuinely have no idea, other than one of the H ewes had been really ill and I’d kept her in a pen for 10 days until she recovered. So we had to work out which H lamb went with which H ewe. I know that both were ear-tagged, but having made one blunder already, I wanted to be sure. So there we are, in the heat, waiting to see which ewe will accept which lamb for a feed as the surest way to guarantee which lamb goes with which. And to further complicate matters, the H that had always been perfectly well and dandy had just laid down and was refusing to get up. Indeed, we subsequently took her back into the barn for treatment as she had mastitis.

Having sorted out the muddle of the H’s, and confident that we had all the correct lambs in one pen and the correct ewes in the other, we set about treating this group of lambs before bringing the trailer up, loading them all, and setting off to Greenfield.

The rest of the process went without a hitch and everyone was released into the field with no further fanfare. A job well done, problems untangled, time to get back in for a long cool drink.

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Moving the lambs out to pasture