BASC Young Shots Journalist Jess Smith writes about lambing and all the work and responsibilities it brings.
As I write this, it is lambing season and slowly but surely the little ones are popping up everywhere. Experiencing a new life entering the world is something I will never quite get over – I think I’m really lucky.
It is incredible how fast lambs can go from just being born, sitting there all confused, stumbling and wobbling on their little feet, to happily running around their mothers.
Some lambs have a tougher start than others, even if it is just needing the occasional top-up of milk because their mother cannot quite provide enough. Bottle feeding the lambs is one of my favourite jobs; it’s the most peaceful moment, you forget all your worries and stress, your mind clears, it is just you and the lamb.
Work on a farm is not just about the lambs, though. There are many other jobs to be done – the not-so-glamorous mucking out of pens is one example. And even that can be rather satisfying – I even get to use my special fork as the bigger ones are a bit much for me, considering I stand at the towering height of 5’1″!
As the lambs get older, they are moved to the fields outside. They are so lovely at this age, frolicking about, exploring their little world, with their mothers patiently putting up with their goofy antics.
These youngsters are truly loving life, there’s nothing quite like watching them. It’s blissful ignorance for the youngsters – but there are predators on the prowl.
Many animals pose a real threat to lambs, but two which can cause major issues are crows and foxes. Crows are widely known for killing helpless newborn lambs, with their mothers unable to protect them.
Crows on occasion will also attack ewes, especially those which are in active labour or stuck on their backs, unable to move or right themselves. Foxes are, of course, well known for killing lambs, and at this time of year they often have cubs to feed, so they’re desperate for food. This is even more of an issue for outdoor flocks, meaning they are vulnerable to these predators right from the get-go.
I recently had a video call with Murray Woodward and Alex Farrell from BASC’s gamekeeping team to discuss pest control methods to protect our sheep and lambs. They were both incredibly helpful and made some useful suggestions.
One of the main methods used where I live is lamping for foxes, whereby people head out after dark in an off-road vehicle, with a sizeable light or night vision/thermal imaging equipment, and a rifle. The light from the lamp reflects from foxes’ eyes, making them easier to spot.
Another method of pest control we use is working with terriers. We have Parson Russell terriers which are perfect for this. The dog goes down a fox hole, finds the fox, then begins baying to announce they’ve found a fox and to try to make it move. The aim is to bolt the fox from the earth to someone with a gun.
As for corvids such as crows and magpies, around the farm we use Larsen traps to keep their numbers down. You start with a decoy bird in the trap, and this bird will attract others to enter the trap. They can then be humanely dispatched. You must remember to check Larsen traps at least every 25 hours. By the way, remember to check the general licence rules in your home country before carrying out pest bird control – rules might differ depending on where you are!
Of course, there are many other methods of pest control. There is snaring, where wire traps are placed in spots foxes frequent; you can use live traps to catch pest species, too, and just like with a Larsen trap, the animal will then be humanely dispatched. You can also shoot pest birds, either on the crop fields or when they arrive at their roosting sites in the late afternoon.
Pest control falls under tight regulations – there are the general licences, the Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996, and the Hunting Act 2004. These can make things difficult for farmers and gamekeepers.
One of the biggest issues we currently face is the protection of badgers and ravens – both of which pose a major threat to young lambs – and there is very little that can be done to control them.
Legal control of predators is absolutely crucial to protect lambs and their mothers, as well as gamebirds, songbirds and other wildlife. Without people keeping their numbers down, we would soon find the countryside out of kilter. I know that farmers and gamekeepers are beyond grateful for anyone willing to help with pest control, so if you ever find yourself with some free time, think about approaching local farms or shoots and offering your services.