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Leap Day Lambing

Every vet student spends time learning about lambing.

I visited a sheep farm in Oxfordshire with several hundred ewes currently in the lambing season. My role there was to see things from the farmer’s point of view. A good vet needs to understand this before they can offer advice and guidance to the farmer.

I was very fortunate to be welcomed as one of the family, despite still being a teenager myself and with very little farm experience. When I joined, the flock had already been brought into a huge open-sided barn from the field. This makes it easier for the farmer to keep tabs on each birthing, as the barn had lighting.

It was easy to monitor new arrivals in the daytime. Nearly every time we walked past the barn another mother would be producing her singleton or twins. Almost every birth occurred naturally, without any assistance being required. I learnt how to clear any birthing fluids from the newborns mouth and nostrils and ensure that they were breathing. We would stay nearby, supervising from a distance, only intervening if we felt it was absolutely necessary.

Our main role was to gently separate the newborns and their dam from the flock once the birthing process was completed. They need a little privacy to get to know each other. Occasionally one expectant ewe will try to adopt the newborn offspring of another, leading to all sorts of problems, so this task needed to be done soon after each birth.

All this was easy in the daytime.

But after dark, in the early spring, it felt quite different.

We split the night into shifts, rotating the opportunity to grab some sleep. So, I was on my own and sleep-deprived, doing the rounds. I had to collect and carry some heavy newborns, gently carrying them to a second barn. I then set up each new family with bedding, water, food and a safe pen.

It was arduous, tiring and relentless. But also rewarding to see each little lamb leaping with new life.

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