What Is Lambing?

What is lambing??

Lambing is when all the new lambs are born on the farm! We choose to do it in late March or early April, so that the weather is a little more forgiving (no guarantees…we are expecting up to 30cms of snow as I write this…) and so that when the lambs are weaned eight weeks later, there is some grass available for them to go out on. We choose not to put the lambs out on grass until after they are weaned (taken from their Moms) because we do not want the Moms and Babes sharing the same pasture. Mature sheep, unfortunately, can harbour quite a few parasites which they will deposit on the grass, and we don’t want the lambs picking parasite eggs up from there at such a young age.


How nuts does it get?

Some shepherds choose to be very hands off during lambing (survival of the fittest) or have no choice but to be hands off due to the numbers of sheep they have and limited access to shelter. Sheep, technically, should be just fine to lamb this way, out on pasture, but not our sheep. We don’t select for that level of hardiness, and our Island climate is extremely damp and unpredictable, and frankly, we don’t want to deal with the possibility of high losses. Last year we weaned 100% of our lambs, which means we didn’t lose a single one during lambing. This is as good as life can get as far as we are concerned! We don’t expect that every year however, as things happen. Stillborn lambs, congenital defects, infections and accidents can all take a lamb easily.

Our lambing period is extremely busy because we like to attend every single birth. We bred 63 ewes this year, so we will be present at the birth of around 120 lambs give or take. We have cameras, monitors and an intensive barn checking schedule to minimize any room for preventable deaths. Someone is in the barn almost constantly. Luckily, there are four of us to share this burden, but it is still no walk in the park. One good night's sleep every second night, does not a full recovery make. As I write this we are tired, irritable, hungry and have mostly lost our senses of humour. For real. PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: If you happen to have any friends who are shepherds, don’t visit them unannounced during lambing. They are surely at their worst, don’t really have time to entertain people, and could be dealing with multiple emergencies or serious medical procedures. I don’t want to speak for other shepherds, but I would suggest at least phone ahead first. The lambs will be adorable for MONTHS after this (and less poopy) so once the insanity is over, is a much better time to visit. There is a t-shirt available out there somewhere that says “I’m sorry about what I said to you during lambing”, and it’s on my list to order one for myself today.

Fortunately for us this year, we are approaching the halfway mark…we hope. Often, ewes get bred late, (or early) accidentally and this can GREATLY extend lambing season which makes it exponentially more difficult. Fingers crossed we have all our “sheep together” this year. Many shepherds will also use hormones to condense their lambing schedule so that everyone kind of pops out at once and it’s over with a little more quickly. I don’t see us ever doing this, but I can certainly see the appeal!


What comes next?

Once everyone is born, we are on the countdown to weaning and nicer weather when everyone can go outside. This brings a whole new bunch of work including rotating pastures, parasite control and predator protection. There are benefits to sheep being outside. MANY. There are also drawbacks. The great thing is, they are feeding themselves, for “free” outside on our specially formulated sheep pasture that is very high in protein. The fleeces stay cleaner than they would in the barn, and we are able to keep them moving to control parasite load on their feed supply. We graze the horses after them, who work like vacuums to suck up and kill off any remaining sheep parasite eggs.  The main drawbacks are ensuring everyone has adequate shade while moving them around all the time, predators, and accidents, like getting stuck in a tree. Yes, this actually happened once. A full grown ewe got her leg stuck in the fork of a tree up off the ground. She was trolling for berries and leaves in that tree. Getting her out was no easy chore, and she had been without water for a while by the time we found her. Luckily, she survived, but vigilance is key. The time we don’t spend doling out feed everyday, we spend observing for these types of issues. Observation is a farmer’s best friend. It never stops. Every little sign and signal that you pick up can save a sheep’s life. Learning these signs and signals is generally done the hard way. You don’t know what you don’t know. We know a lot more than we did six years ago…and we learn a lot every single year. Often the hard way. That’s life with livestock. There are hundreds of lives in our care at all times. It’s serious business. We have wonderful, wonderful vets. We rely on them heavily and never scrimp on animal care. Never. We make sure our products are priced fairly for the amount of work we put into them, so that we have this “freedom to care”. There is an earlier blog post about this written by Kim here.


What does all this have to do with our yarn?

Well! We will get to shear these lambs around July and that first fleece that comes off is what goes into our yarn to make it softer than other “farm yarns”. We use at least 60% lamb’s wool in every batch of yarn. It is consistently finer that a full grown sheep’s fleece, and can be whiter which is really great for dying, especially the lighter, pastel colours. The one drawback is that it is also often a bit shorter for spinning, but we are always working to improve our genetics so that our sheep grow as much fleece as possible, efficiently.


So who has it easy on the farm?

The rams!!! While all this is going on, they are living the happy life of a sheep, outdoors, with their own dedicated shelter, and they are only put to “work” (debate-able) two weeks of the year. We don’t keep many rams, but the ones we have are some lucky chaps! Good thing they are so friendly and handsome so nobody minds having them around the rest of the year!

I hope this post tells you a little more about what goes on here on our farm and that you found it interesting. We love being this vertically integrated where we personally raise a lot of the fleece we spin. Of course, we also buy from other shepherds, but they are all going through the same thing right now, in much the same wonderfully caring way. Read about a couple of our other shepherd friends here.




1 comment

  • This was a great read. Thank you for your hard work and the love you give your flock. Happy sheep definitely grow better wool!

    Agnieszka Pagowska

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