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Lambing time

Unlike most other farm animals, sheep are seasonal breeders and lamb in the spring months when the weather is warming and ample supplies of grass are available. Sheep can be housed for lambing or are more commonly brought to a field close to the farmyard where the shepherd can keep an eye on them. We illustrate the process of lambing.

ewe ready to lambThe first sign of lambing comes when the ewe leaves the rest of the flock and finds a quiet location in which to lamb. Within an hour or so, labour will start.

ewe ready to lambWhen the ewe is in labour she may stand and paw the ground searching for a lamb in the hope that her efforts have been productive.

lamb now appearingLambs are normally born head first with the front feet tucked up under the chin. Sheep generally lamb freely without intervention, but periodically a lamb may be breached in the womb or otherwise displaced and the ewe may require assistance from the shepherd.

lamb now ready to be bornThe moment of birth. Once the head and shoulders are through the rest of the lamb is pushed out very quickly.

lamb is bornAt birth lambs are often born with mucus membranes covering their faces. The ewe will instinctively clear this by licking the newborn lamb. If the shepherd is nearby he will assist by removing the membranes and placing the lamb in front of the ewe.

the new born lambLicking will continue for some minutes and during this time the lamb will be gaining strength and starting to think about milk!

young lambAfter the first lamb, the second quickly follows. Some breeds of sheep have only one lamb. This is a survival mechanism for sheep that live in cold hilly conditions where ewes may have insufficient milk for two lambs and where hypothermia can quickly kill.

young lambIn just fifteen minutes both lambs have been born. After birth the "after birth" will follow. This is the mucal membrane that contained the lambs within the womb. Part of this can be seen trailing from the rear of the ewe. Sometimes the ewe will eat her own afterbirth.

farmer checking the young lambThe urge to suck is very strong in the new born lamb and within 20 minutes the lamb will be looking for milk. The shepherd may assist the lamb if it is struggling to find the ewe's teat.

lamb now looking for milkThe first few days of milk contain "colostrum". This is a very thick form of milk that is produced only at birth by the ewe. It contains many beneficial antibodies that help prevent the lamb from becoming ill. Some lambs are not so lucky however. The ewe may reject the lamb or sometimes simply have insufficient milk to feed it. Lambs in this situation become orphans and are looked after directly by the shepherd.

Statistics for sheep

Total marketings sheep
19 635 13 322 15 342 15 436 15 493 16 539 16 590 16 036 16 989 15 911 14 440
Sheep value of production
(£ millions)
900 566 838 929 984 686 709 641 798 967 979
Sheep subsidies
(£ millions)
284 128 225 233 258
Home fed sheep as % new supply
98% 78% 85% 86% 85% 90% 88% 84% 89% 89% 92%

June Census statistics for sheep

Ewes for sheep breeding
6,011,818 6,140,062 3,777,237 4,933,363 5,053,605 3,104,468 5,034,240 4,454,664 6,544,829 7,745,588 7,829,104 14,740,000
Other sheep 1 year and above
3,454,142 3,338,401 3,338,401 1,838,059 2,135,570 1,565,386 1,740,016 1,484,788 1,751,100 2,270,980 1,596,231 551,000
Other sheep and lambs under 1 year
6,378,753 6,795,055 4,084,874 5,442,016 5,980,532 3,836,473 6,257,376 5,688,003 7,427,117 10,759,310 9,719,010 15,431,000
Total sheep and lambs
15,844,713 16,273,518 10,224,664 12,213,438 13,169,707 8,506,327 13,031,632 11,627,455 14,554,451 20,775,878 19,144,345 31,084,000