Mind your head!


Mental heath in farming is a topic that is being promoted this week by the Mind Your Head campaign. The aim being to raise awareness of the pressure farmers are under and impact it has on mental health. To support this campaign and raise money for the DPJ Charity Matt, along with his brother in law George, will be climbing 9 of the highest peaks in the UK. Day one will involve climbing three of the highest peaks in the Lake District, day two will involve three Welsh peaks including Snowdonia, day three will end on Scotland in the top of Ben Nevis.

Farming can be a tough job; you are constantly at the mercy of the weather and disease however most farmers will tell you they couldn’t imagine doing anything else. Farm vets are often the people that see the highs and lows of the farming year. It is important to remember we are still tacking diseases like Bovine TB. Vets are often delivering bad news; cows that tests positive for Bovine TB it must be sent to slaughter. For farmers this is a heartbreaking event as most farmers know each and every one of the cows on their and think of most of them as friends, if not family (as silly as this may sound).

What can you do to support your local farm?
If you know a farmer who may be having a tough time take timeout and spend half an hour having a cup of tea and a chat. We are big believers in the saying “a problem shared is a problem halved”. There are lots of charities ready to help out those who are struggling and their details can be found at the bottom of this post. Other things you can do to support UK farmers are:

  • Find you local milkman. The local milkman is making a come back! Not only do they supply consumers with British milk which is coming from local farms (so it hasn’t travelled country wide before it reaches your fridge) and is often delivered in glass bottle which supports the increasing movement to cut down on our plastic consumption.

  • Try not to judge what you see online. With the increasing popularity of social media farming seems to be one of the many sectors coming under fire. It is easy to see an image and think the worst however it is important to remember that these images are often taken out of context. If you are worried about anything you see online; speak to a farmer and find out more. Most farmers are happy to tell people about their farm, they actually love to have visitors and speak to people who are interested, so make sure next time you see something your uncomfortable with or confused by interact with your local farmer and ask the question.

  • Buy local/ British produce- British farmers work incredibly hard to ensure that British meat, eggs, and milk is produce by high welfare, healthy and happy animals. By buying British you support the great work our farmers and doing and pump money back into the British economy- its a win win! :)

Charities that can help those who are struggling:

  • RABI (Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution
    Website: https://rabi.org.uk
    Helpline: 08082819490

  • Tir Dewi
    Website: http://www.tirdewi.co.uk/en/homepage-1/
    Helpline: 08002124722

  • DPJ Foundation
    Website: http://www.thedpjfoundation.com
    Helpline: 08005874262


Lambing- tips and tricks for lambing placements.

For some, the lambing season is in full swing and for others the preparations are well underway. Before visiting a farm to help with lambing it is important to find out what the farmers goals are; are they aiming to lamb early so that they can sell their lambs for a premium price in the Easter market? Are they lambing later on in the season and lambing outdoors onto fresh grass to produce a lower input lamb? Do they sell store or finished lambs? These are some examples of the different approaches to producing a lamb and it is important to remember there is no right or wrong.

Sooooo… What do you need to know before going on a lambing placement?

View from a hill farm.

View from a hill farm.

  • What type of sheep farm is it? There are many types of farming systems; the broad categories are hill, upland and lowland. Each systems requires ewe with different traits. For example a hill flocks will look for a ewe with a strong mothering instinct that will protect her lambs from predators and the weather however, these ewes won’t be as prolific (meaning they won’t produce as many lambs- predominantly a single lamb). In a lowland flock the ewes will be very prolific (meaning they will normally be aiming to have twins) and will often be lambed indoors earlier in the season.

Indoor lambing with each ewe and her lamb/lambs in an individual pen.

Indoor lambing with each ewe and her lamb/lambs in an individual pen.

  • Breed of sheep: this is important to know because certain breeds of sheep are prone to specific problems during lambing. Dystocia is the term used to describe difficulty giving birth, some breeds of sheep are more prone to developing dystocia than others. Double muscled breeds such as Beltex and Texels, as well as any other breeds with large shoulders and rumps, are more prone to have difficulty giving birth. This is because the size of the ewes pelvis is too narrow for the lambs shoulders and hind quaters to pass through. These sheep sometimes require a caesarean section so it is important that you assess the width of the shoulder/ hind quarters and the size of the ewes pelvic canal before you attempt to assist lambing.

  • Vaccination status of the Flock: There are two highly contagious diseases that are common during lambing- these are toxoplasma and enzootic abortion. Both these diseases can be vaccinated against however the vaccines are costly so vaccination status varies between farms.
    - Toxoplasma is caused by a protozoa. It produces a variety of signs however the two most common are a higher than normal number of barren ewes at scanning (because it causes reabsorption in early pregnancy) and lambing abnormalities such as: mummified foetuses, weak lambs, and stillborn lambs.
    - Enzootic abortion is a bacterial disease that can cause a variety of signs however the two main signs are premature still born lambs (normally 2 weeks before the due date) and a red, thickened placenta.

    If the presence of either disease is suspected the ewe showing clinical should be isolated from the main flock and placental and foetal contents should be removed straight away. Keep the foetus and placenta as clean as possible and the vet should be called to take samples and confirm the presence of disease. The area where the abortion occurred should be disinfected to minimise further spread.

Example of a ewe with a water bag

Example of a ewe with a water bag

Hints and tips for lambing itself…

meconium staining on a lamb

meconium staining on a lamb

Signs of lambing: if you have never lambed before spotting a ewe that is about to start lambing can be tricky. Often they will take themselves away from the main flock and stargaze (this basically means they lie on the floor, extend their neck and gaze towards the sky). They will also start nesting, this can be scratching at the ground and making themselves a comfortable place to lamb. If they are a bit further along you may see a waterbag; it can sometimes be confusing because ewes may have a water bag hanging out but they may still be munching on some hay and walking around- if this is the case DONT PANIC as this is completely normal for sheep! The final stages are lying down and straining. Straining can last for up to 20-30 minutes, it is important to give the ewe some time and space to try and lamb herself before intervening.

Lambing: you could write an entire blog on lambing alone but these are some of the key points.
- Meconium- what is it and what does it mean? Meconium is a brown/ yellow staining seen on the lambs when they become stressed during lambing. When lambs become stressed during lambing the poo… this is gives it the brown/ yellow colouring. If you see a yellow/ brown discharge coming from the ewe or a part of a lamb with meconium staining you should assist the ewe immediately.
- Malpresentation- ideally you want a lamb to come out with it too front legs forward and its head snugly position between the front legs… however this is not always the case. Lambs can be delivered back legs first. When delivering lambs backwards the lamb will normally come half way out of the ewe at which point you need to ensure the umbilical chord is still in tact and supplying oxygen to the lamb; as long as the umbilical chord is still attached it is safe to wait for the next contraction during which you can help pull the rest of the lamb out. If the umbilical chord has been severed the lamb should be removed as a matter of urgency. There are some great resources online to help you learn about all the malpresentation because there are too many variations to list in this overview.

Post lambing:
- Ensure the lambs airways are clear. This may sound obvious but often lambs have raspy breathing post lambing the this is because some amniotic fluid has been inhaled during lambing. Clear the fluid from their nose an around the mouth and rub the chest to encourage them to cough. Making the lamb shake their head can also help remove lodged fluid; this can be done by poking a blade of straw up their nose or in their ear (sound a bit mean… but it won’t hurt the lambs).
- Applying iodine to the naval should be performed ASAP after lambing, The naval is a connection between the outside environment and the body and is a great place for bacteria to enter. Iodine helps dry the naval and kill bacteria. If iodine is not applied lambs there is a high risk of developing joint ill; a disease in which lambs develop hot, swollen, painful joint. Once iodine has been applied some farms will give 1ml of spectam as a watery mouth preventative.
- Wait for the lamb to suckle. The first milk the the most important feed of a lambs life. Colostrum produced by the ewe is high in fats (for energy), immunoglobulins (to protect the lambs against disease) and is warm (therefore preventing against hypothermia). If the lamb is not suckling or the ewe has no/ little milk you should feed the lamb powered colostrum via a bottle or stomach tube.

Enougraging a lamb to suckle. this photo also show iodine staining around the naval.

Enougraging a lamb to suckle. this photo also show iodine staining around the naval.

If you are interested in sheep husbandry and handling and would like to come and learn more we will be running sheep courses all year round. Click below for more information.