Guest blog written by Jonathan Clarke

Lambing is always a special time of year for farmers. It is the feeling that spring has definitely arrived, the sun seems to be shining most days, the temperature is rising and you can almost hear the grass growing.

Photo of ewes with lambs

At Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, we have been lambing Herdwick ewes at our Coombe Bissett Down nature reserve, south of Salisbury, for about 15 years.  These tough little sheep have become firm favourites with us as well as with visitors to the reserve. Herdwick sheep were originally bred to withstand the harsh weather of the north west of England, so the chalky downlands of sunny, south Wiltshire must feel like a real holiday for them! As a hill breed, Herdwicks are a compact sheep that generally have a single lamb, or occasionally twins, and are able to graze and flourish off the wildflower meadows that we have on a number of our reserves.

Lambing season starts at different times throughout Spring in the UK, but for us here in Wiltshire, our ewes lamb outdoors throughout April.

A typical lambing day starts early.  We check the fields for any new lambs that have been born overnight and they are collected and brought back to the shed.  The newborn lambs are penned with their ewes to ensure the lambs are doing well and have had enough colostrum. After about 12 hours, when the lambs have drunk several times, we ensure they are fit and healthy before turning them back out into the fields with their mums.

All lambs have their tails ringed and both the lamb and ewe are marked with corresponding numbers so we can identify them out in the field. The spray mark is for easy identification at a distance, to ensure the right lambs are with the right mothers. When putting out one lot of ewes and lambs, we are also checking the field for any new lambs born over the last few hours. For a few mad weeks, it seems a conveyor belt of sheep and lambs, as we bring one lot in and take another lot out!

Occasionally we might have to assist a lambing, but the Herdwicks are usually pretty good at lambing by themselves, and the lambs are on their feet within just minutes of being born. A final check of the fields in the evening is our last job of the day.

Photo of a ewe and lamb

Although the Herdwick ewes lamb at Coombe Bissett Down, several groups will be moved to other ground, so you may only see a few sheep on the reserve during the summer. In autumn, we have pure Herdwick rams that run with half the flock, but we also use Charollais cross rams to produce a heavier lamb.  To spot the difference between a pure Herdwick and a Herdwick/Charollais cross on the reserves, the crossbred lambs are generally a white lamb, while the purebred Herdwicks tend to be dark coloured.

This season, 111 ewes were put to the rams last and they were recently scanned to see what lambs they are carrying. We were delighted to find out that 54 were carrying twins and 56 were carrying a single lamb - an absolutely great result for us and the continuation of the flock.

Whilst our sheep are very much part of our conservation grazing management plans, the farm is also a business.  The crossbred lambs and the male Herdwick lambs are sold, while we retain the best of the Herdwick ewe lambs for our own flock replacements. We have also been fortunate to offer breeding ewe lambs for sale to other Wildlife Trusts to support their own grazing management programmes.

It is an exceptionally busy time of year for the farming team at Wiltshire Wildlife Trust as the future of the farm depends on how well the lambing season goes. It is, however, an incredibly rewarding few months as well, especially when we have such large numbers of lambs predicted.

We hope you visit Coombe Bissett Down nature reserve this Spring and enjoy seeing the newborn lambs, however, please ensure all dogs are kept on leads at all times, to ensure our reserves remain special and safe places for our animals, wildlife and other visitors. 

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