Further memories of Ollerbrook Farm: Lambing Time
In my opening article last month I said I would try and match memories to seasons. With lambing underway on many Edale farms, I thought I would cover that in this edition.
To set the scene, lambing took place under different circumstances than today. Nowadays most farms have large modern multipurpose sheds, accessible by vehicles, used for a variety of tasks. This time of year many are devoted to lambing, either for early lambings or in bad weather, to enable large numbers of ewes to be lambed indoors.
Back in the early 1950s lambing took place outdoors and as they were in the main hill sheep, started in April. For me as a young boy, it was the most eagerly anticipated time of year and the first issue was hoping and praying that the Easter School holidays coincided with lambing time. You did not want to miss the action stuck in school!
The ewes would have been gathered in off the moors where they had wintered, in good time, and would have the run of the fields at the top end of the farm. I should mention that all the fields (and buildings) had names, so you knew instantly where you were referring to when mentioning location of stock, for example, “Carr Wood”, “Carr Bank Meadow”, “Horse Pasture”, “Plain Meadow” etc.
Before getting in to lambing, a bit about the two Ollerbrook key players, Granddad, and Uncle Jim or “Father Jim” and “Young Jim”. Both strong men, physically and opinion wise. Now, I have said lambing was exciting for a small boy; there could also be a lot of tension around. Weather, bad luck with lambs, illness and so on didn’t help matters. I quickly learned when to keep a low profile and not “chirp up”!
I was very much the” go for” and if either of the men gave me an order it was expected to be carried out at double quick time. I used to run everywhere and being skinny soon acquired the nick name of “The Whippet” or “Fido”. Fine for a boy but the joke wore a bit thin when I was in my late sixties and “Young Jim” still insisted on using those names along with “The Lad”. Both men continued to play a huge part in my life and my Granddad in particular was very influential in my formative years.
Once lambing got in full swing, all the ewes would be gathered in to “The Paddocks” overnight. These are a couple of fields with good dry stoned walls providing shelter from the elements. This was for a couple of reasons. Most lambs were born at first light and they were easier to keep an eye on if they were all in one place. Also new born lambs are vulnerable to predators and there was the “safety in numbers” aspect. As for dry stone walls, Granddad used to say a good wall was better for sheep than a building.
Early morning, Granddad or Jim, accompanied by yours truly, would do the rounds while the other one got on with milking. Any new lamb would be quickly checked over, ensuring it had suckled and got its first milk. Granddad always carried in his bag a few essential items. One item was a pair of miniature, red sheep shears and he would immediately “ear mark” the lamb. For hill sheep in particular where they often run on the moor with other flocks, the marks are very important for identification. Each farm has its own individual mark which stays with that farm,
(more in a later article). This did not cause any distress to the lamb although its mother would often kick up a fuss!
A quick injection, out of a glass syringe in those days, against “pulpy kidney”, which young lambs could be vulnerable to on certain ground, and the lamb would be reunited with its mother.
I keep saying “lamb” because in those days twins were not particularly welcomed. The sheep had to survive on the moor and the view was that one good lamb was better for the ewe than struggling to raise two.
After the rounds of the Paddocks the ewes without lambs would be released to roam the meadows while those that had lambed remained until later in the morning when if all well they would be moved to fields set aside for ewes and lambs.
Temporary pens in the barn had been set up prior to lambing and any sick or starved ewes and lambs would be taken there until they got on their feet. In extreme cases lambs would be put in a box by the side of the fire. This usually did the trick, with a return to their mother as quickly as possible; otherwise there would be the danger of rejection.
During the day, I had what I regarded as a boy, a very important job! From being a youngster, I would be sent out two or three times a day, to walk round all the ewes yet to lamb. They were spread out over a wide area, no quad bikes in those days, so walking was the order of the day. If it was wet, I would put on my “gathering mac”, grab my stick, and feeling full of self importance, would set off. If a ewe was lambing, or I sensed about to lamb, I would wait in close proximity until she had lambed. If she was in difficulty I had to run back and get one of the “men”.
From memory, lambing time weather was very mixed. Some years were great, but in often the weather was not good and lambing time was difficult. Each day was action packed, with inevitable highs and lows. Some lambs would lose their mothers and end up as “cades” having to be bottle fed. Half a dozen lambs in a pen, which would all fight hard for the bottle, were
certainly a challenge for a small boy to keep order and make sure they all got their fair share. A great job though!
Last thing at night, the Paddocks would be checked again, as would all the ewes and lambs in the barn. After about three weeks, the bulk of the lambing would be over, but still a lot to do caring for the growing lambs and the ewes. Long tiring days but for a young boy, very exciting times.