Having noted that the other contributing NI farmer writers weighed in with dissatisfaction concerning TB, my intention was to make it three in a row by having a good old rant about the rules and regulations and how it has affected this farm in the past year.

But that particular tirade will have to be put on hold, because more immediate problems have taken precedence.

I was walking across the yard a few mornings ago with sentences and ideas floating around in my head regarding the opening paragraph for my story, when I realised that one of the last two ewes had given birth.

I knew immediately that all other thoughts would be temporarily banished, because this was (with apologies to Marks and Spencer) no ordinary lambing. This was a purebred Bluefaced Leicester lambing.

I have worked with first timers giving birth that were quiet, nervous, fat, thin, of varying breeds and temperament, but never anything so consistently stupid as these 10 animals. I have often been advised to steer clear of pedigree sheep and never fully believed the stories about their thoroughbred behaviour. Now I know what they mean.

Popped out

Of the nine pedigree gimmers that were due to give birth (number 10 appears to be empty) only one of them loved her lamb from the moment it was born.

The rest popped them out, then sauntered off to the far side of the pen and tucked into the silage. From here they occasionally glanced towards the pitiful little newborns and called to them in a half-hearted fashion.

Meanwhile, if any of the other ewes in the pen were close to lambing, they adopted the lambs, gave them a good licking, and couldn’t understand why the angry shepherd suddenly took away their babies.

To be fair, within 24 hours of lambing, they behaved like proper sheep, and now that most of them are out in the field everything seems to be running smoothly.


This ninth ewe was no different from the others, except she had triplets, and being 23 April, there were no spare ewes. There were only two ewes left in the pen, so the Blue Leicester gave birth, then handed her lambs to the Mule ewe and marched off to the far corner for a well-earned rest.

I had to separate them from their adopted mother, feed them with colostrum, and trail their birth mother into an adopter crate for 12 hours until she came to her senses.


Despite it being a good lambing season overall, I’d bet that every other shepherd in the country has no interest in hearing about any of my successes.

For that reason, I’ll tell you about another unusual event from this lambing season. Does the term ‘Caesarean Section’ mean anything to you?

I have lambed enough ewes in my time to know when I’m beaten, and unlike some of my colleagues (‘Ah’ve niver bin bate yet’) I realised that I needed to phone for a vet.

This is someone who would not require a C-section more than once in 10 years, so to need three in one season was beyond rare.

There were various complications (mostly involving cervixes that were as tight as a cat’s back end), although we ended up with two living ewes and three good lambs.


But now I know why farmers are reluctant to allow this operation to be carried out.

Before the bill arrived, I asked various locals how much they thought it would cost. The answers varied from £75 to £200, so I had no idea what to expect. Well, each one was £136 (plus vat) and now I realise that C-sections on commercial sheep can only be a financially breakeven job at best.

The alternative options (as we all know) are fairly unsavoury, so I suppose from an animal welfare perspective I took the moral high ground.


But on a more positive note, we have never had so many successful transfers of triplet lambs onto singles.

I have complained in the past how I seem to get a run of singles, followed by trebles, but not at the same time. This year, however, there were frequent cases of singles and trebles lambing at the same time in adjacent pens.

I know there are lots of options for fostering lambs successfully, but the wet transfer at birth is the only one that works really well for me. Making the single ewe think she’s having a second, then watching her giving it just as much attention as her own is one of those lovely moments in the lambing shed. You could stand and watch it for hours.

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