Is there anything that can beat the sight of a newly-born lamb? Eyes blinking, a first tentative bleat and a woolly tail wagging ten to the dozen. It’s what spring is all about here at the Cotswold Farm Park as our brand new Animal Barn becomes the focus of everyone’s attention with all the excitement and anticipation of a maternity ward. This really is my favourite time of year and I love seeing new, little lives coming in to the world. But what makes lambing time even better is being able to share that joy with hundreds of our visitors. The improvements we’ve made over the winter mean that there’s plenty of room in the Animal Barn and lots of tiered seating so that everyone can get a good view while they wait for a new arrival to appear.
This year we’ve got more than 500 pregnant ewes from our commercial flock and another 144 from our collection of British rare breeds. Together that will mean 1,123 lambs by the time the last mother is due to give birth on 15th April. Hundreds of our Lleyn and Romney ewes are the first to lamb, then from around Easter it’s the turn of the native breeds such as the soft, fleecy Welsh Kerry Hills and the little Scottish Borerays with their curved horns.
We can be pretty accurate on the numbers because just like a human mum-to-be, we’ve planned and scanned in preparation for the big day. The gestation period for sheep is five months, so in the autumn we stagger the number of ewes who are served by the ram at any one time. We use the old tried and tested system of putting coloured crayons in a harness on the ram’s chest. When he impregnates a ewe the crayon leaves a big smudge on her back and we change the colour to make sure we get the lambing dates right. It’s simple but effective. Around three months in to their pregnancy we scan the ewes with a portable ultrasound. It’s identical technology to the kit that’s used in hospitals and it does exactly the same job – to see how many lambs are due. The scan also helps us to tailor the diet of our girls, to fit the number of lambs they are carrying. Those woolly wonders are definitely in safe hands here. And don’t forget if you want to get even closer, we’re bottle-feeding lambs twice a day in the Discovery Barn too. Just follow the sound of people saying “arrrh”!