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Vet Student On Placement: A Day of Lambing

A Typical Day



5:30am: My alarm goes off; it’s time to get ready, have breakfast and make the 30-minute walk to the farm for a 7am start. The tiredness is suppressed by the excitement because I just know that every day is going to be super informative and interesting.


7:00am: All early morning jobs are split up into priority and none priority tasks. The primary tasks to do every morning ­include preparing and giving colostrum (milk) to the young orphan lambs, checking the lambing shed for any recent births and separating those lambs and ewes, feeding the post-partum ewes with nuts and treats to keep them happy, refilling water buckets, administrating any medication that needs doing and checking up on the small next door poultry operation. Bottle feeding the orphans is by far the most wholesome and rewarding job I’ve ever done; seeing a stampede of them running over to you as you enter their pen is amazing.


8:am: After all the priority jobs are done, it’s time to handle the worst job of the day. Muck up. It takes about 2 hours to muck out recently emptied pens and to refill them all with bedding and water sources. This job is very physically demanding but vital to keep hygiene standards high. Muck up isn’t too bad though, its borderline meditative to just zone out and get on with a job you know how to do.



10:am: Although we check the lambing shed for new births throughout the day and night, around 10 is the first time where we have enough time to actually properly enter and examine the whole lambing shed and to observe behaviours that may indicate that an ewe is about to give birth (star gazing, curling of the lips, circling one area). This part makes you feel like a detective, having to pick up on body language and clues to who is about to give birth.


11:am: A quick working lunch in which we eat and walk about the farm, keeping an eye on all the animals. Lambing is a very sensitive time of the year and farmers need to be about and ready to intervene 24/7. A walk around the farm with food in your hands and colleagues to conversate with, it’s often the most relaxing part of the day.


11:30am: Now that the morning jobs are completely done, it is time to ear tag and tail dock any new-borns old enough to undergo such procedures. As the lambs are ear tagged, their breed and number have to be entered onto an online database. It is also time to move any ewes and lambs that are ready away from close observation pens and into large fields, during this process the newborns can be vaccinated and colour coded as needed. These empty pens can be mucked out straight away or left until tomorrow if the workload is intense. Here you get some one-on-one time with all the lambs you’ve helped raise and know by name, and it’s very satisfying to sign them off as old and strong enough to no longer need constant observation.


3:30pm: It’s time for another thorough check of the lambing shed and to move any ewes and lambs that were separated from the rest earlier in the day, this is done using a small vehicle similar to a beech buggy that has a cart attached to its back.


4:30pm: The ewes are fed for the second time during the day and all buckets are refilled. Once we have confirmed everything is looking good and that the second shift of workers are now coming in, it’s finally time for us to go home. It’s been a long but very informative day.


5:00pm: Time to make the walk back to my accommodation for a quite night in of eating and resting to prepare for the next day. On the walk back I get to see many of the ewes and lambs that we released into the fields as well getting a chance to wish all the lovely neighbours a good night. The farm community is tight knit and after even a day or two working, it seems like you know everyone in the area.


Skills I learnt/honed:

· Measuring and weighing skills in regards to feed, milk and medication

· Sheep herding skills

· Understanding body languages of animals

· Endurance


My Top Tips for Lambing:

  • Dress warm, you may be asked to work overnight and 3am in March can be pretty chilly. You can always take layers off if you get too warm, but cannot put on layers you didn’t bring along.

  • Wear your glasses or contacts. Being able to see across fields can mean the difference between life and death of some lambs as the sooner you can see an issue and intervene, the higher the likelihood of there being something you can do.

  • Do not be afraid to ask for help or information. You are there to learn, the farmers are there to teach. You’ll have a great time as long as you ask what is on your mind.

Overview

It was an interesting 2 weeks at this lambing operation, there were so much to learn about medicine, husbandry and animal welfare. This was a run through of a typical day but please note that unexpected things happen all the time and each day did vary a lot. My most unforgettable case was the break-in. Halfway through my placement we had gotten reports about one of the gates at our furthest fields being opened. With further inspection, it became evident that someone had driven through it overnight in an attempt to play a prank, but then left before they could do anything. That whole day was unique, it consisted of rebuilding fences and gates, herding sheep away from the opening, talking to and dealing with all sorts of officials and policemen who had to be called over. It was a very unique day that just went to show how often the unexpected happens and it was really cool to see how professionally the whole matter was handled.



Written by: Ammer Azeem


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