Swiftly after carrying my suitcase up to my room for the week, I was straight to work. The barn is the temporary home for lambs being mothered on to gimmers and shearlings, and any pet lambs, or ill sheep.
So I was helping the lambs to suckle, most often by flipping the sheep onto her side (with the same goat-flipping technique)! This is the first stage in the ring pens, where the sheep is tied up to prevent them from harming and rejecting the lamb.
When the farmers are confident that they have bonded, they are moved to another larger pen in the barn and the sheep is untied. From here, 7 sets of sheep and lambs are placed in an outdoor pen before being taken into the field. This is a very effective process, because ring pens are freed for any lambs brought in.
Aside from changing water and topping up hay, I had many opportunities to castrate, tail-dock, inject, stomach tube and bottle feed.
I had stomach tubed a deceased lamb before, during a vet lambing course but that practice was not on a wriggling crying lamb. I held the lamb between my knees whilst sat on a bucket, and placed the end of the tube in the milk/colostrum (depending on each case), I then pushed it through the side of the mouth and fed the tube through. I listened into the syringe to ensure that the tube had gone down the oesophagus and not the trachea. Colostrum is vital in the first 12-18 hours before the lamb is unable to transfer the antibodies from the gut into the blood stream. Colostrum not only provides a lot of energy but also antibodies to specific diseases, depending on what the mother has been vaccinated against or encountered. Some pet lambs do not have a mother ewe to feed from, so have to be bottle fed with formulated milk. If they are unable to bottle feed, we have to stomach tube feed them.
I held the lamb in between my legs and checked whether it was a ram lamb or a ewe lamb. I placed the band at the top of the lambs scrotum, ensuring that both testicles were below the band before and after removing the elastrator. This took a bit of practice to find the most comfortable way to hold the lamb in place and to flick the elastrator out once the band was in place. Once I checked that both testicles were below the band, I turned the lamb around and help it between my knees to tail dock. Long tails can cause a lot of problems, filth accumulates on them which is maggot paradise- fly strike is a wool maggot infestation. By UK law, the tails are long enough to cover the ewe’s vulva and ram’s anus. Any shorter, and there is believed to be an increased incidence of vaginal prolapse. Banding cuts off the blood supply so the tail will fall off.
New lambs were brought in from the field checks for multiple reasons. If it has been abandoned, if it is a twin so going to be mothered on to a shielding, if there was a problematic birth or if there is a problem with the ewe or lamb. As soon as the quad pulled in, I had to get the lambs out and administer a pump of spectam orally and dip the navel in iodine. This is to prevent bacterial neonatal disease, watery mouth was the main issue that it was targeted at. It is caused by E-coli in the small intestine, the bacteria passes through the abomasum. Lambs will be lethargic and unwilling to suckle, it can lead to death so it was important to identify watery mouth in any of the pet lambs brought in. A general test is to stand the lamb up and if it doesn’t stretch or stand, that may be the problem. However, simply feeling the lower jaw for saliva, as the name suggests, is a quick way of identifying lambs with watery moith. The spectam (oral antibiotic) should limit this bacteria colonisation in the gut. The pH of a newborn lamb’s stomach is 7 as they do not have stomach acid yet which kills the bacteria which is why watery mouth usually affects lambs ages 6-48hours. The bacteria multiply and release endotoxin when they die. Endotoxins cause further bacterial multiplication by reducing intestinal movement. Endotoxaemia occurs when the liver is unable to destroy the endotoxins due to the huge number of them as a result of the E-coli colonisation. Endotoxaemia is what causes the watery mouth clinical sign.
Iodine on the navel is to disinfect a potential route of infection resulting in joint ill or navel ill for example.
If a ewe mid-lambing is brought in, she is restrained on her side whilst one of us get the lamb out. This is how my first time lambing went! It was a large Suffolk who had his head presented. It was a simple job of flicking the legs up and pulling the legs and head- an easy case for my first time.
To continue the effective system on the sheep farm, we had to do a lot of sheep moving in the fields. On this particular day, I had to round up the sheep with twins whilst the farmers on quads took the ewes yet to lamb into a different field. This makes field checks easier.
Field checks were 4 times a day, where a quad would pull a trailer down to the fields and check on every single sheep. I sat on the quad, and I guess this helped my unusual gate lock opening skills! I jumped off to help any sheep struggling on their backs, this was especially important as it was a hot day. If any sheep were still struggling to give birth after a while, then someone would hold the sheep whilst I got the lamb out. We also had to look out for any abandoned or weak lambs, or any dead lambs on the ground. Every sheep had to stand out before the quad would continue, to check they are okay. On my first day I had to take a few Suffolk lambs (these grow faster) from the gimmer twins field as the shearlings are more valuable sold with twins and are experienced mothers. Some of these are wet mothered, so they are coated in another ewe’s birthing fluid whilst she is giving birth to her own lamb.
She is then put in a pen with the lamb that is not her own so she can bond with it, whilst her actual lamb is temporarily placed under the heat lamb. After a while, her lamb is brought back to her and she believes she had twins. This has been very successful.