Of Man-eating Lions and Lamb-eating Foxes

It’s a jungle out there.

Foxes do not take lambs very often.  One reason the local farmer chooses Lleyns is that they are good mothers and will defend their lambs.  Usually if a lamb is taken it is from a multiple birth and the fox grabs a lamb while the mother is defending its sibling.newborn lamb and ewe

Two days ago something unusual and distressing for all happened.  During lambing the flock is regularly checked 24/7.  During one of the checks the night before last a partly eaten newborn lamb was found beside its dead mother.  The mother had no sign of violence on her – no marks.  But she was dead as well,  most likely from a heart attack.

In general foxes prefer to catch wild prey.  Certainly the woods that fox came from are full this time of year with pheasants.  But anyone who has lived in an urban or suburban area is likely to have come across ‘urban foxes’ who have foresworne the rural life to live on a diet of refuse.  My experience of those foxes is that they are rarely like the large, vibrant, thick-coatered-fox2d foxes we see in the Valley.  They are usually rather thin, often mangy.  In short, they are often foxes that have moved in for easy pickings because they are old or unwell.

man-eating lionsThe Man-eaters of Tsavo is a story of man-eating lions in Africa in the late 19thC.  It is still in print.  I suppose that part of the fascination associated with man-eating carnivores is due to their rarity, as well as the fact that for the majority of the world’s population it is not a present danger.  Even lions seem to prefer ‘wild’ life to humans for dinner.  This link looks at various hypotheses for why lions should find human flesh desirable.

The shepherd’s problem is that somewhere in the vicinity there is a fox which has discovered that newborn lamb is easy-pickings; especially if, as appears to be the case, the lamb was attacked whilst the ewe was giving birth.  Any fear that fox may have had of sheep because of their human association is now dispelled.  And wild animals are also able to learn from each other, as anyone who remembers the days of tits attacking milk bottle tops to extract the cream will recall.

And there is also the grief and horror of the poor ewe’s experience to deal with.  To farm livestock successfully one does need to have a deep empathy and care for the animals.  Each and every animal is a relational asset as well as a financial one.  And a whole year’s work and nurturing has been focused on building up a healthy ewe who will produce a healthy lamb (or two).


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.