Busy lambing but still time to demonstrate
With lambing in full swing it is the busiest time of the year
at Kings Arms. Great efforts are made to get all ewes
rearing twins. Allan Wright reports
WITH 1050 ewes and 250 hoggs lambing from Feb 20, Robert and Caroline Dalrymple have had little time to think about anything else. But they did make time last weekend to join the countryside march in London.
"We felt we had to be there to demonstrate our opposition to any imposition by urban interests and MPs on our way of life," said Robert on his return.
"I hope the government got a clear message that there is no excuse for dramatic change in the countryside. Things must be allowed to evolve and we really do take a dim view of people with little or no understanding of the countryside trying to impose their will on us."
The decision to go to London was made even more difficult at the 11th hour. By last Friday, more than 120 ewes had gone out to fields showing record grass growth. Overnight, the weather changed and much of Scotland was covered in snow.
Progress of ewes and offspring from shed to field was halted. However, farm manager Andrew MacLean reports the snow line retreated up the hill by Sunday afternoon and ewes and lambs are doing fine outside.
"The ewes are grazing in the centre of the fields and are content. As long as they are full there is no danger of them leaving their lambs." That has taken the pressure off – with at least 70 ewes lambing each day every available space was taken up.
Extra staff are drafted in for the lambing. Night lamber Peter Blain hands over each morning to retired shepherd Andy Seaton who is 60 this year and has been involved with lambing since he was 13.
Andy is in charge of the shed. He sees them lambed, and dips the navels in a mix of strong iodine and surgical spirit, the latter to speed drying and reduce the chance of infection.
Each lamb is given a protective dose against watery mouth and then moved into individual pens for 24 to 48 hours. Andy leaves any special notes chalked on the side of the pens.
After the lambs are over the first day, Andy goes round spray numbering lambs, ringing their tails and worming the mothers. They are then moved to larger pens in another shed and batched ready for transfer to the fields. Before that happens, each ewe will be turned and have her feet pared.
Robert and Caroline spend each day in the lambing shed as lambing pressure mounts. The aim is to have every ewe going out to the field with two lambs and Caroline is particularly adept at twinning a triplet lamb onto a ewe with a single.
The water bag from the ewe with a single is retained, mixed with blood temperature water in a basin and both her own lamb and the one to be adopted are rubbed together in the mix and then both are presented to the ewe. Success rate is high.
Robert enjoys taking ewes and lambs out to the fields. "It is a satisfying time, a time for optimism. There is no point worrying about the price the lambs may fetch. The thing is to have a successful lambing and as many as possible going with pairs," he said.
Great care is taken to achieve that. Ewes are batched in lambing pens according to date due, lamb number and body condition.
Feed troughs are cleaned regularly to maximise fresh silage intake. Individual pens are thoroughly disinfected and given fresh straw between occupants.
Ewes having singles are penned near those having triplets to ease twinning. Individual feeding and watering allows monitoring of early progress after lambing.
The sheep trailer used to deliver ewes and lambs to the field is divided into eight compartments to prevent mismothering.
Adequate fresh grass has been encouraged by a light mid-February application of 26:13:0 fertiliser, which will be repeated this month. It is applied by farm bike and spinner which can cover 40ha (100 acres) a day with ease.
The optimism of lambing eases bad memories of recent suckled calf sales. In February, 18 bullocks averaged £443, down £107 on the year and 12 heifers £354, down £86. *
Lambs are arriving thick and fast at Kings Arms. Retired shepherd Andy Seaton is in charge of the lambing shed, looking after new arrivals.
• Kings Arms and Crailoch Farms, at Ballantrae on the Ayrshire coast, run as one 262ha (650 acre) unit by Robert and Caroline Dalrymple.
• Grass the only crop – for grazing and high quality silage. It is an early area but land near the sea is sandy and burns easily in summer.
• Suckler herd of 180 cows mated to Charolais sires and progeny sold as yearlings.
• Sheep flock of 900 Mule and Texel-cross ewes lambing from mid-February. About 300 hoggs are also lambed.
• Farm staff of three.