The Plaw Hatch Flock exists as part of Plaw Hatch Biodynamic Farm. Plaw Hatch is a mixed farm in which the sheep play an essential role clearing up the pastures in the autumn, after the dairy cows have come inside, grazing silage aftermath bringing their golden hooves and valuable muck to land. The flock currently consists of fifty homebred Lleyn ewes and thirty Romneys. Last autumn we bought a Jacob ram and half the flock was tupped by the Jacob and the other by our Lleyn ram David. Some Jacob x Lleyn ewe lambs have been kept for breeding and will be sheared for the first time this coming year as will our Romneys. This will greatly increasing the range of naturally coloured wool we will be able to produce for both yarn and blankets. We will also have some beautiful sheepskins available from time to time.
A year in the life of the plaw hatch flock
Preparing for tupping
The shepherding year begins in the autumn when I chose the ewes for the coming year. It is an exciting time of year but tinged with sadness as those ewes who have struggled in the past year will leave the farm. Ewes who's feet are always bad, have only one teat and can't feed their lambs. I find these girls particularly hard to let go they have taught me so much. Once this task is out the way it's time to look at rams. We currently have three rams on the farm David (Lleyn), Columbus (Jacob), Romulus (Romney). David will tup our older ewes and Columbus will be tupping the Lleyn ewes that are Davids daughters. The Romney ram will be tupping our thirty Romney ewes so we can increase the Romney flock.
The rams go in around bonfire night for two months in order to have lambs arriving from the beginning of April.
In order to ensure our ewes stay in good condition during their pregnancies we scan them in January so we know how many lambs each ewe is expecting. We then score their Body Condition Score them and group them according to the amount of food they will need. Ewes expecting a single lamb will need much lower protein than a ewe expecting three lambs. It can cause lambing problems if they are too fat or too thin.
We usually start feeding the ewes 6 weeks before lambing to ensure they have enough energy. 70% of the lamb develops in the last 4-6 weeks of pregnancy and as the lamb(s) grow they can push on the ewe stomach so that she can't eat enough grass to provide the energy she needs. Lambing is a wonderful and exhausting time. We lamb outdoors. I'm on duty 24/7 each ewe needs to be watched carefully to ensure she has help if she can't manage although stepping in to soon can also be problematic.
Last check usually happens around 9pm but if I'm concerned about any ewes in labour I'll go back out and check at 10pm sometimes leading to bed after midnight. Lambs whose mothers can't feed them need feeding every four hours for at least the first 24-36 hours of life. I usually bring lambs that need feeding into the house so I can roll out of bed and feed them until they are old enough to be on thrice daily feeds and can live in a pen.
First check is usually at around 5am when there is often a lot of birthing activity. The idea is that even if they start labour before 5am you will be in time to catch any problems and so far I have been! I try and get iodine on to each lambs navel very quickly after birth to ensure they don't pick up any infection. In the later part of the morning it's time to tag and record all the lambs that were born during the night. This is very important for our breeding programme. We need to breed from the healthiest ewes to develop the health of the flock as a whole. The healthier the flock the fewer problems there are and the fewer veterinary drugs are needed.
The last couple of years we have had lambing over within four weeks which is wonderful as the longer it goes on the more the exhaustion sets in. However it is a truly magical time of year and my favourite time of year especially when it's going well.
As the lambs are growing up we keep them on clean grazing to ensure they have a very low challenge from internal parasites. This means it is often unnecessary for us to use worming products. To be sure the lambs aren't carrying a high parasite burden we take faecal egg counts every month routinely and more often if we are concerned about an individual animal.
Shearing - coming June 2018