Monday 9 May 2011

Shedding In

I was talking to a neighbouring farmer just the other day with regards to the lambing and shedding in. He’d actually pulled up in his Landover next to the sheep pens which are conveniently and socially positioned on the roadside and at the time I was busy going through the Crunchylaw sheep which I had just shed in.

“Aye” he said,” you always know the lambing will come to an end (if you fetch your tups off), unlike hay time which can stretch into October”

How true is that?

It must be heartbreaking to lamb where the tups were not pulled off the ewes once they had had the chance of a couple of 17 days worth of company with them, when will the lambing end?

Like shedding in, I can never follow the logic of not getting the ewes shed in.

Shedding in is basically bringing those without lambs into the pens, leaving those with lambs running on the hill or fields. A quick handling of the sheep soon enables you to ascertain which are yet to lamb and which are not going to lamb. Those which are yet to produce a lamb are then kept near at hand, in a field somewhere. Those which will not be producing a lamb get a red keel mark on the back of the head and get their backsides kicked back out to the hill.

We all look forward to getting shed in, life gets easier, there is less ground to cover to check those which are due to lamb, if you’re lucky they can be kept in a field closer to the place which makes for even more convenience.

The hill now only has to be looked twice a day, not the thrice which has been the norm throughout the heat of the lambing period, a lie in is possible as those which are lambing are easier accessed, seen and dealt with.

None of these sheep which I lamb are pregnancy scanned and so those geld/barren ewes are unknown until I get shed in and find out what exactly is going on with the flock. Even if the sheep have been scanned and the geld ones are already known it still pays to shed in and look through them, there are the ones which may have kebbed (aborted) and slipped the net, or something which somehow lost a lamb unknown to the shepherd. There reaches a time when we want to know what is left, what we are dealing with.

There is no fixed date for shedding in, often the sooner the better. The two cuts of sheep lambing on the hill over the back were shed in at about 14days, they had caused grief the day previous and I’d taken it into my head that one morning when they were sitting ‘pretty’ and being co –operative I’d nab them and run them down into the pens. The opportunity arose the following morning and the task was done.

Following those in which didn’t have a lamb at foot whilst trying to leave as many back as possible which did have lambs, I finally found myself with a mob of sheep in the field at the bottom. The hoggs (last year’s lambs) unfortunately had done what hoggs are good at, they had kicked their heels in the air and booled (charged) down the hill like children on a sugar fix, hyper they were and keeping them back was going to be too difficult, they were going to cause more bother than it was worth as they charged around in their exuberant fashion, they too found themselves in the field.

I then set about shedding out – about a score (20) ewes with lambs had found themselves into the field, alongside the hoggs and those without lambs. Easier to mother them up in the field than in the pens I quietly encouraged them to walk off the other sheep and set them back to the hill, out of harms way for now.

Breakfast was had before I returned and dropped the sheep into the pens, then the job began in earnest. A quick handle underneath tells you if there is any sign of a bag (udder) or not. Those tup geld (not conceived) have nothing but wool below you would really have to delve to find any sign of tits (teats). A quick mark of red sorts them out.

Some may have a slight show of bag at them. A lift of the tail can tell you whether their backsides are rosy or not, signs of blood or goo may still be evident on the tail if they’ve quietly slipped a lamb away sometime. Any doubt and the ewe finds herself sat on her backside. Holding your fingers together and pushing them into the sheeps belly above and to the sides of the bag will enable you to feel a lamb, often lying on the near (left) side of the belly – a hard bit can be felt, mebbes a leg, or a head but it can be felt through the skin of the belly – she’s in lamb! I’ve also learnt over recent years that if you draw the tits to try and get milk out, should the liquid come out waxy then she is in lamb, should it come out like water then she ain’t.

I was shocked when I shed in over the back. I had 26 left to lamb out there and 15 that wouldn’t be going to. Last year (a day later) I had had 10 left to lamb and only 1 geld – a huge difference!

The 26 lambed fast and within days I was down to single figures.

The crunchylaw ewes fared slightly better. 6 left to lamb and 10 geld, still 6 more geld than last year tho’.

It appears to be the norm around these parts, the geld are up on the year previous. The snow was bad at tup time, worse than we had had in the North Tyne and some are putting that down to being the problem, tups weren’t always changed at second time over, although there is no doubt that they had worked well first time around, mebbes a fresh lad would have made all the difference in catching the handful which had failed to hold to the tup first time around.

There have also been more kebs (abortions) for whatever reason, often stress related. During the duration of the night lambing when I was heading to the hill every morning to feed and check the hill ewes I clocked up 6 kebs, 2 of which I never found the mothers for, the other four I managed to get a lamb set on to.

So the sheep left to lamb over the back are now in a field, the crunchylaw which were lambed in an enclosure now find the remaining lambers in a small field with easy access. I rise an hour later than I did at the height of the lambing, the lambers are easily checked before breakfast and the hill is pushed in after breakfast and pushed out after tea, to ensure all is well with those young lambs and their mothers. Anything that is not well will not want to move, so not only are the sheep raked (moved, pushed in and out) to ensure they make the most of the grazing but it is also an easy way of telling if all is well or not.

Life is becoming more relaxed, lambs are to be marked before I depart for home and an invitation from the farmer whom stopped for a crack at the pens may yet to be fulfilled. “Call in for a cuppa before you leave” were the parting words. I can still recall the shepherd and I staggering away from the place last year after sharing typical Borders hospitality with the man......................