Posted: 4/9/2011


       All week in prime time on BBC 2 TV they have had one of my favourite shows: LAMBING LIVE. I must admit I switched back and forth to Chelsea v Manchester United a lot on Wednesday, but on Tuesday watching life on the farm was more exciting than watching Spurs disgraced in Madrid.

       The show was based on a farm in Cumbria in North West England with lambs being born as we watched, a Limousin heifer being blow dried and groomed for the Kirby Lonsdale Show, rams getting it on with lots of ewes, drystone walling, shepherding and lots more. The heifer is blow dried, after a thorough wash with detergent and water, and a professional arrives to trim its mane and a tickle stick keeps its tummy happy. Not only did it win its class but was crowned overall champion of all breeds at Kirby. It was then sold for about 1,600 to a buyer who wanted to keep it and take it and show it at other agricultural shows.

       We are at the Marston's family farm in East Cumbria with their working sheepdogs Hope, Smudge and Coco, and lots of time in the lambing shed. Black Faced Swaledales are the dominant breed,with their distinctive curly horns,  but also some Blue Faced Leicesters and Textals.  We see twins being born, and since sheep can only look after two, when triplets are born one is smeared with the smell of a single lamb and introduced to a new mom.

       Sheep grow two teeth a year, maximum eight and when they start to drop out from age 6-8 they can't eat the grass and survive and are culled.  We see the pregnant ewes scanned to see how many lambs they will have and painted, or raddled, with a red dot for twins, blue for a single and yellow for triplets.  The scanner can do 100 ewes an hour so it took about 5 hours to deal with the Marstons flock.

        Each area has a shepherd's guide to show the markings of each flock. The Marstons have a red stripe painted on their fleece. There is also a breeders book going back annually for a hundred years with each sheep being recorded and ear tagged for identification.  The rams are 'raddled', their chests smeared with yellow to check if a ewe has been impregnated and the dye will be transferred.

        Farmer Andrew Marston and his wife Rachel are helped by their grandparents and young daughters Abigale and Katherine  who help with the animals.  The sheep are sheared a couple of times a year, but British wool fetches low prices, due to competition from man made fibres, and often shearing doesn't cover the cost of selling a fleece.

       I sometimes go to the twice weekly auctions in Otley in Yorkshire to watch the farmers and auctioneer for a fun few hours.  During the day the new born lambs jump, prance an play together, which produces serotonin which is good for them, before going back to mom for a meal and a cuddle for the night.