Friday, 23 March 2018

Livestock matters

In between sowing seeds, soil preparation and chopping wood (it’s been bitterly cold for mid March), and life outside of smallholding, I’ve been busy with livestock matters. The main event in the last week or so has been the commencement of lambing. I know for us it’s a matter of just five breeding ewes this year and so lacks the intensity of demand of a commercial sized flock but I am nevertheless still responsible for the welfare of the animals involved however few in number.

We’ve had mixed results so far. The first two deliveries were both sets of twins. In both cases one of each pair did not survive beyond 48 hours. One lamb, which was born distinctly undersized compared to its twin sister, developed pneumonia and went down hill very quickly. The second one, after seemingly doing well suddenly deteriorated. Despite bringing it indoors for warmth, tube feeding, antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medication it too died. 

One rather large lamb needed some help to be delivered but once out in the big wide world it was soon up and about with the ministrations of its attentive mother. So far we have four healthy lambs with one more delivery to go. 

The pigs have needed attention too. A couple of weeks ago we sent off two pigs at six months. We have more to go off next month but one young boar’s hormones were firing away and he kept jumping the electrified wire to join the adult sows (his mother, aunt and sister). This was a situation that could not continue so he has gone much sooner than planned. 

Taking an animal to the abattoir is a bit of a process: booking them in, getting the movement licence in place, making sure your trailer is in working order, loading the pigs, setting off very early in the morning (5:30am) and ensuring that everything is well organised and runs smoothly with animal welfare uppermost. 

Anyone who has tried to load pigs onto a trailer will be familiar with the challenge. Sometimes it takes just a few minutes, but at other times it can prove frustratingly tricky. Pigs become wary of the unfamiliar sight of the trailer and are not keen on ascending the ramp. All sorts of techniques and strategies have been suggested to coax them along and most are worth trying. I've built a narrow corridor from corrugated steel sheets into which I can back the trailer. It is wider at the opening and so its acts as funnel to send them in the right direction and makes its more difficult to turn around and scarper. It does become easier with experience. Fortunately we also have the assistance another couple who are smallholding friends to help out too.

I'm off to check the sheep again this evening. Fortunately the temperatures are at last picking up again which makes it a more comfortable experience for the lambs as well as me.

Here are some lamb photos as you might expect.


  1. Sorry to hear lambing has not been going to well. As for loading pigs, when we kept them I found that if you back your trailer up to the electric fence and lower the back board and feed them in there, when the time comes to carting them off it takes seconds. Col

  2. Thanks for the suggestion Col. Yes, lower the ramp over the electrified wire because as I guess you know pigs won’t otherwise “cross the line”. I can’t leave the trailer out overnight for them to get used to it because of the risk of theft. We had some sheep hurdles nicked a couple of weeks ago just when we needed them. Still, my funnel layout seemed to be a big help.

  3. We have tried putting the food in the cow box for a couple of days to coxe then. Years ago licensed slaughtermen would despatch them for you. It can be quite a pantomime loading livestock.

  4. Pantomime is a good description Dave.