Yesterday we had our Meet the Lambs event at Rainbow Wood Farm. Parents and kids met us in the front courtyard at the farm, where we greeted them in the sunshine with teas and coffees. Once each group had arrived, James the farmer came to take them on a walk through the farmyard where sheep and their young lambs lounged in a sunny pen bedded with lots of straw. He stopped and talked about the lambing process and how he likes to try to lamb the ewes outside in the field wherever possible as this is a more natural and comfortable environment for them. However, if it is a difficult birth or if the new lamb is struggling to suckle then he will bring them to the lambing shed where it is warmer and more sheltered and he can keep a closer eye on them. Often, when the lambs are born, James will give them a biodegradable plastic coat. This significantly helps them to keep their body temperature up on cold, windy or rainy nights, which is when newborn lambs are at their most vulnerable.
James also introduced us to Hurricane, his stock bull. He is absolutely monstrous in size. I couldn’t quite believe how big and muscular he was – more like how I imagine a rhinoceros to be. James had bought him in Scotland for £3000 (actually quite cheap for a bull) and had spent another £300 just to get him home. He is a magnificent beast of great power – I’d have been petrified if he hadn’t been safely behind bars!
There were also pigs and piglets in their own pens. However, the piglets were small enough to run between the bars of the fence and seemed to be free to scamper around the yard snuffling at piles of hay and muck.
At the end of the yard we went into the lambing shed where there were more mothers and their lambs, which were having a difficult time feeding. James indicated one lamb that was much smaller and slimmer than many of the others and had a distinctly bowed back – a clear sign that it had not been receiving the nutrition that it required for a healthy bone structure.
There was a small pen in the corner that housed the ‘pet lambs’. These were lambs that were either orphaned, their mothers not surviving the birth, or had been taken from their mothers because they were one of a triplet or quadruple. James has a rule that mothers are only allowed back into the field with two lambs. Any more than this and the extra lambs are unlikely to get the nutrition they need to survive; so, better to allow all of the mother’s milk to be split between the two sturdiest lambs. While many farmers would not bother to look after the extra lambs, James does his best to give each one a chance by suckling them through an automated feeding mechanism.
At this point, James allowed us to hold and stroke one of the pet lambs. They were all incredibly friendly, obviously used to human contact having been looked after by James and his team.
We all got the chance to have a cuddle, the tiny little one with the mottled black and white coat nuzzling my chin with its wet nose as I dug my fingers into it oily fur to give it a little scratch behind the head. They really are just so cute! When I asked James if I could take one home with me he laughed and said ‘sure, I’ll even send you off with some milk for it’ – I’m still not completely sure if he was being serious or not.
James also talked about the calving which has been happening simultaneously over the last few weeks. Across the barn was the calving pen where we could see a calf that had been born just a few hours earlier, wobbling around on its new found feet. It’s the busiest time of year for the farmers, having to be on call 24/7 to assist in births whenever necessary over a period of 6 weeks or so. The farm is a suckler farm, which means that they breed cattle and lambs to be sent as stock to other farms for the production of dairy and meat – rather than producing dairy or meat themselves.
We had 3 groups arriving throughout the day. Each group was split into two, half of them going into the farm to see the animals, the others remaining in the courtyard where we had set up a lamb trivia quiz and some sheepy arts a crafts to keep them occupied while they waited. Everyone got stuck in to all of the activities and some beautiful badges and bookmarks were made – unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures of any made by the kids, but here are some of the pieces we made as examples.
A fantastic day was had by all and it was an intriguing insight into the world of lambing and calving on a suckler farm.