Herdwick Lambing Tips
Guest blog text and photos courtesy of Lincolnshire Wolds farmer James Read
Lambing time is a very special time, with loads of new life coming into the world. The whole of the country is starting to get its lush green appearance, bluebells are in the woods, and everywhere you look there is an explosion of positive new beginnings.
As a farmer I’ve seen thousands of lambs being born throughout my career but never will I tire from seeing them take their first steps in this world. The first lambs of the year are always a special moment, however many years you’ve been farming.
This year has been very special for my wife and I as we’ve had a new little helper in the form of our son, Tom, who is five. In this last year Tom has really started showing more interest in the sheep, and this lambing time—while he was on his Easter holidays—he was a great little helper. From helping his Mum bottle spare lambs to holding sheep down for me while I assist in lambing them, or even catching quick lambs. He has even had a go at pulling a lamb out, covering himself in after birth I hasten to add!
Tom probably hasn’t done much school homework this Easter but what a great life lesson he’s had; he’s learnt all the joy of new life and bringing lambs into the world, but also the downs when/if one of our Herdwick lambs doesn’t make it. Tom has seen the roller coaster ride that lambing is, and seen first hand that farming is very rewarding but also very hard work.
If you want to know what lambing is like, especially with Herdwicks, here’s some tips below.
10 tips & tricks for Herdwick lambing
1. A Herdwick is a very independent creature and does not take kindly to a lot of human contact, especially when it is about to have a lamb.
2. Herdwick ewes are made really to have a single lamb that can survive and thrive on the fell. Looking after two offspring on such terrain is probably more than they can cope with. Herdwicks will quite often have two lambs on lower pastures, though. This is another reason not to go too close to them as they will soon disregard one of their lambs if they see danger.
3. There is an age old saying among Herdwick farmers: when a Herdwick lamb is born all it needs is a teaspoonful of colostrum (mother’s first milk) and the lamb is up and away. This is so true.
4. If a Herdwick ewe does not want to lamb in a certain field it will be adamant and meet you at the gate every time you go in. We had one like that this year, she would not stay in the field. She’s got a real long fleece and you can hardly see her legs. Sally has called her Dougal for those of you who can remember the long-coated dog on the Magic Roundabout!
5. Never get lulled into a false sense of security thinking you know what a Herdwick is thinking. If you do have to assist in lambing them you need your wits about you when trying to catch one and a good sheep dog like our Wisk. When you have successfully lambed a Herdwick, always take the mother’s head around to the lamb for her to lick, not the other way around like normal sheep. If you take the lamb from the back to the front the Herdwick will think “where’s he got that from?” and disregard it.
6. Herdwicks have quite a distinctive smell which can enhance the odour of your lambing waterproofs. The smell can make them so pungent that they could walk to the washing machine without you in them!
7. Never watch a Herdy lambing, they are quite private sheep. The last thing you want to do if you are walking on a fell is to pretend you’re Bill Oddie and do a running commentary while taking a video or snapping your camera. The Herdwick could be off into the sunset.
8. When a Herdwick lamb is born you need to mark it within 24 hours, as after this period it will turn into a lamb that could outrun Usain Bolt and you definitely won’t be able to catch it.
9. You never have to worry about Herdwick lambs in bad weather, their thick black coat makes wire wool look pathetic. On a cold wet day, a Herdwick lamb will be jumping around like it’s in the Bahamas.
10. Herdwicks are made to make you smile and as I close the field gate on a night, I often look to the starlit sky and wonder if there is another crazy shepherd on a planet out there lambing Herdwick sheep with a smile on their face too!