This is the fourth and final post in a series lambing updates from our very own Donald Morrison, crofter and Changeworker, in the village of Cross on Lewis. Donald’s updates begin 15 March – see his firstsecond and third posts – and end with this one, from April.

30 April 2012

Well. That’s lambing over for another year.

The last twins arrived on Monday 23 April (pictured), if you peer closely you can just see the first hooves beginning to emerge.

This ewe had a very large udder and you will notice that one side is considerably heavier than the other. With each ewe there can a number of hazards. I was concerned that she might have mastitis and had treated her with antibiotic 24 hours previously. Fortunately after lambing there were no feeding problems, whether this was as a result of my quick action or due to the lamb’s reducing the burden of milk I don’t know. What I thought to myself was: no more getting up at 5.30am to check on early morning arrivals, no more midnight tours to monitor nocturnal events. All back to normal.

Or so I thought, until last night. I had turned the Blackface ewes and lambs out into fresh pasture on Saturday and went over on Sunday evening to feed them only to find that one of the ewes was suffering from bloat. This can occur when there is a change in diet from dry hay and dry supplements to fresh grass. It can leave them incapable of coping with the sudden increase in natural gases they produce internally (a bit like the effect of an Edinburgh curry on some of my northern outreach colleagues!). Her stomach was inflated like a balloon and you could have played the drums on her belly the skin was stretched so tightly.

I telephoned the vet whose advice was very quick and simple: mix 3 tablespoons cooking oil, 1 tablespoon baking soda and a little water and administer orally, then stand well back.

This morning the bloating had gone but the ewe was quite weak. I gave her 40 ml of calcium solution injected subcutaneously (under the skin) and left her and her lamb in a pen at the house. I also fed the lamb from a bottle before leaving for work.

Bloat can often be fatal and is one of the many hazards faced by shepherd and sheep. One comment that I heard when I first started rearing sheep was that sheep are very good at one thing and that is dying on you.

I ‘popped’ - a fifty mile round trip - home at lunch to check on her and she was standing eating hay but I think I will keep her with the Texel ewes that will be on a mixed diet for the next fortnight.

It has for me been a good lambing season: just two casualties whom I’ve mentioned in previous updates and the weather has been reasonable, a wet start but then replaced by a cold but dry spell.

The lambs are looking good, especially the Suffolk Texel crosses but what has puzzled me is the percentage of male lambs. This is probably in the region of an 80:20 split, leaving me with very few ewe lambs to choose to replace my breeding stock from. Last year the split was almost the opposite and sure enough a local worthy came up with an old wives tale that the gender split alternates year-on-year. We may prove him wrong next year.

The lambs will remain with their mothers until mid-August when amidst much noise and protest they will be separated. This is to improve the ewes’ condition until the tupping season starts again (5 November, hopefully fireworks all round) and to allow the lambs will be fattened up for market.

Local markets are held monthly in Stornoway in August, September, October and December, but this year I plan to send my lambs to ThainstoneAberdeenshire, in September where I hope to get the best return. It may seem to be adding to the food miles but as the island produces a vast surplus of lambs the likelihood is that they would undergo that journey anyway.

The ewes are due be sheared tomorrow (28 June) but as the forecast is for rain it might be put off until Saturday. You shouldn’t shear a sheep with wet wool as it does not store well if damp. They’ll then be dipped at the beginning of October.

The ram sales take place in October and I will have to replace my Texel ram as his progeny will be joining the breeding stock this year. I have agreed with my next door neighbour that he will give me the use of a blackface tup this year in return for me letting him put a dozen ewes in with my Suffolk–Texel cross.

And then it all starts over again.

I hope you have enjoyed sharing some of my experiences of this year’s lambing. Leave a note and let me know.