Hugh and Pippa Stables run Wandering Ewe Dairy in North Somerset. They produce a hard, unpasteurised, ewes’ milk cheese from their own flock of sheep. 2021 was their third year of commercial cheese production. This is the seventh of 12 monthly blogs, which are intended to give a flavour of the year.
Lambing marks the start of our production season, and once underway, there will be little respite until late August.
We have developed a lambing system which works for us. The ewes lamb outside in early April – in a field which slopes gently away from our barn – so we can see any that go into labour. We will bring in ewes and lambs when the birth is late in the day, or when the mother seems to be losing control. Occasionally there is a new mother, so traumatised by the whole birthing process, that once the lamb is out, she just leaps to her feet and runs. We leave the sheep to get on with it between dusk (9pm) and just pre-dawn (5.15am). We have a few obstetric interventions – but we can generally sort them.
It is really hard to insulate yourself from the emotional lows and highs. For us the worst times are predator attacks. This is usually bird attacks, sometimes foxes. Corvids and magpies will attack new born lambs and sometimes immobilised ewes. The most at risk are larger ewes and those having multiple births. As the lambing period goes on – predators arrive in larger numbers and start to work the same routines. Fortunately we are attuned to the signs. Birds will sometimes be the first warning that a ewe is in labour. Our pre-dawn check also picks up ewes who might need help before sunrise.
But there is much joy too. Typically we have healthy twins, that are up and feeding within the hour. The speed with which the lambs fill out and grow is always amazing – it helps having a dairy mother. Within a week there are groups of lambs starting to socialise. Early evening lamb races are a great pleasure. There is pride, as you survey strong well-proportioned ewe lambs, who you know are the future of your milking flock.
2022 lambing is drawing to a close (87 out of 107 complete). We have a few bottle fed lambs who are taking over our lives. But in general it has gone well – dry weather has helped. Milking and cheesemaking will start on 13th May.
Text and Images (C) Hugh & Pippa Stables @wandering.ewe
The Slow Food blog welcomes contributions on the topics of Food, Farming and Agriculture. The contents may not entirely match the views of Slow Food, but reflect the journeys of the authors. To write for us please click here