Lambing 2020 has begun! In previous years we’ve always had a pretty good idea about who’s going to lamb and when. We’d raddle* the ram and change the raddle colour every few weeks so we’d know who he’d gone back to. Shelagh would have a chart and, from previous years, she’d know who had a habit of being early and who had a tendency to be late. She’d adjust her chart accordingly, monitor the ewes and then bring them in to the lambing pen a day or so early so she could keep an eye on them. And we had a lamb cam set up so she didn’t have to disturb them or crawl out of bed every 4 hours during frosty nights to visit the lambing pen.
But now we’re moving over to Cameroun sheep and lambing is more of a lottery.
The reasons for the switch are twofold. One, we’re of an age when wrestling large stubborn sheep is more of a struggle. The sheep often win. And then there’s the shearing. The days when wool was a moneyspinner for the farmer have long gone. We give our wool away. Some people use it for insulation or digging into the veg garden. Occasionally we find a spinner. But it’s more trouble than it’s worth. And shearing by hand can be a very long sweaty Summer job.
Which is why we’re switching to Camerouns – they shed their fleece naturally. And they’re small.
Here’s Simba our ram. Note his very impressive horns and ruff.
But one drawback of a small sheep is that the ram’s are too small to raddle. So you don’t really know who’s due or when. You have to watch the ewes, see who’s pairing off with the ram and when, keep notes to see if they return to him in the next cycle, and then – later – check to see if they’re developing an udder.
This year Shelagh wasn’t at all sure about Liquorice, our pure bred Cameroun ewe. There was hardly any udder at all. But we brought her in anyway and a day later she gave birth to twins – a boy and a girl. That was a surpise too as maiden ewes usually have a single lamb.
Here are the thee of them an hour after the lambs were born:
We were concerned about the girl as she was a lot smaller than her brother and wasn’t suckling very well. And with France in lockdown it wasn’t easy to buy milk powder. But here she is – on the right – a few days later.
Note how near identical her colouring is to her brother’s. Cameroun sheep can be white, black, tan and dark brown. The males are horned.
*A raddle is a ram harness with a removable coloured wax brick on his lower chest. If he tups a ewe the wax will leave a coloured mark on the ewe’s rear end. By changing the colour every 14 days you can tell when a ewe was tupped. If a ewe has several colours on her rear end then that could indicate a problem with the ram or the ewe. Or they might be soul mates:)
Chris Dolley is a New York Times bestselling author living in France with a frightening number of animals. More information about his other work can be found on his BVC bookshelf .