Days soon getting longer….time for Lambing!

The ewes are currently putting on weight, getting ready for lambing.   They were with the rams in August, and there is a gestation period of about 5 months so the lambs will start arriving at the end of this month.

The sheep which graze in our paddock are Lleyns.  They are “renowned for their hardiness, prolificacy, ease of lambing, strong mothering instinct, milkiness, and easy handling” according to the National Sheep Association.Ewe_with_pair_300px_x_200px

In order that the ewes are able to maintain condition at the same time as grow lambs, the sheep are receiving supplementary feeding.  As with the cows, the grass is growing too slowly at this time of the year so does not contain much energy or nutrition.  

The mix the sheep are given contains

  • rolled barley (grown on the farm) – carbohydrate for energy
  • dried seaweed (bought) – vitamins and minerals
  • ‘blend’ made of bought in soya and oilseed rape, for protein

When the lambing time approaches, they will be brought in only if it is wet.  Lleyns have evolved to lamb outside if it is dry and cold.  The sheep are regularly checked and any lambs are brought in with their mothers in order to check they are healthy, and that they are able to suckle with no problems.  Later when they are stronger they are taken back outside with their mothers.  When they are newborn they can be quite vulnerable, and this is the time that they are most likely to be taken off by a fox.  Sadly we lost one from our paddock overnight last spring.

Why are the cows put into barns over the winter?

This year's calves....tomorrow's dairy herd

This year’s calves….tomorrow’s dairy herd

The long summer is over, the rains have come, some mornings there is a light frost, and it’s time to bring the cows in.

When I asked a local farmer why the cows are brought in, the first thing he said is, “Because otherwise they get miserable.”

A miserable cow is an unproductive cow.

Although sheep, thanks to their thick woolly coats, seem fairly impervious to the weather, cows  do not like the cold and wet.  They will huddle together, in or by a thicket for shelter if possible.  They lose condition because energy from their food is being spent to keep them warm.  Their milk yield decreases for the same reason or, if they are beef cattle, they do not put on weight so quickly.

At the same time, as any gardener knows, the grass has stopped growing so livestock need to be fed.  The shortened grass is more of a problem for cows than for sheep because of the way they eat.  Sheep have a very mobile upper lip which they use to gather up a bit of grass and then nip it off with their incisors.  Cows rely on using their tongues to grasp a clump of grass and then bite it off. The lack of grass together with the need for more food to keep warm means they need to be fed, and that feed needs to be carted from the yard where it is stored up to the field…the first reason why it is simply easier, less exhausting and time consuming, and more cost effective to feed cows in barns in the yard.

Another reason is that cows can get so miserable and cold that they simply will not come when summoned by the horn of the Land Rover.  Sheep do.

The short days mean that the sun rises after the morning milking has finished, and it sets before the afternoon milking:  this leaves little time for the multiplicity of jobs so saving some time by having the cows in helps.  Some herds are kept in the whole time until March but the local herd is allowed out to play after the morning milking and brought in for the night at the afternoon milking.  Milking is an essential opportunity for the welfare of the individual cows to be checked.  Imagine checking a herd on a dark, wet, and stormy night on a muddy hill.  Imagine trying to help a cow in distress in those conditions!  All much easier for both humans and cows if they are inside.

There is also the welfare of the pasture to consider.  As the grass is not growing and it is very wet, ‘poaching’ can occur. When soil becomes poached it is compacted with no air spaces to nurture the soil organisms and microbes that help maintain a healthy sward.  The grass will  not grow so well, and the turf will become full of hardy weeds.

So for the welfare of the grass, the cows, and the humans working with them the cows are brought in in the winter.