Adam Hen­son

Time to check on how many new ar­rivals to ex­pect

Cotswold Life - - INSIDE - ADAM HEN­SON con­tact @Adamhen­son T: 01451 850307 cotswold­farm­

Au­tumn is a time for ro­mance on the farm; at least it is if you’re a sheep. A cou­ple of months ago it was tup­ping time, the age-old prac­tice of putting the rams (or tups) to the ewes, with an eye on next spring’s new ar­rivals. Soon it will be the mo­ment of reck­on­ing for those love-struck rams as we check just how suc­cess­ful they’ve been at the task. All our breed­ing ewes, in our com­mer­cial flock and on the Farm Park, are scanned at about 80 days in to their ges­ta­tion pe­riod and it’s done in the same way that mid­wives check ex­pec­tant women in doc­tors’ surg­eries and hospi­tals. We hire an ex­pe­ri­enced sono­g­ra­pher who’s paid per sheep and uses an ul­tra­sound scan­ner and mon­i­tor to lit­er­ally build up a pic­ture of the lambs in the womb.

Ewes gen­er­ally have two teats so ide­ally we’re look­ing for each ex­pec­tant mum to have twins. When farmers dis­cuss the suc­cess of their flock we’ll talk about the lamb­ing per­cent­age and the fig­ure we’re aim­ing for is 200%. It’s all a bit baf­fling to ev­ery­one who’s not in to farm­ing but it’s based on that con­cept of two lambs for each ewe.

So if all our girls have twins we’ll hit 200% and ev­ery­one’s happy. If they all had just one lamb it would be 100% which in­di­cates a prob­lem and bad news for us com­mer­cially. If it’s above 200% then they’re pro­duc­ing too many triplets or quads and that’s a worry. For us, know­ing what’s in­side the ewes at this time of year is a man­age­ment tool; it means we can give each an­i­mal the right food, in the right amounts, to en­sure she has a healthy preg­nancy. It’s also an easy way of iden­ti­fy­ing any ewes which we had as­sumed were preg­nant, but aren’t.

De­spite the tech­nol­ogy and the keen eye of the pro­fes­sional live­stock sono­g­ra­pher, there are still oc­ca­sions when you can get caught out. Last year we got a pleas­ant sur­prise when one of our flock that we thought was ex­pect­ing five lambs, ac­tu­ally gave birth to six. She did in­cred­i­bly well and only needed our help de­liv­er­ing one of her new­borns; for any ewe to have four lambs at once is a lot, five is un­usual but six is vir­tu­ally un­heard of. In fact the last time there were sex­tu­plets on the farm must have been when I was about five years old. So this time you can imag­ine the fuss we made over them.

The an­nual scan is some­thing we’ve done for years and un­til re­cently we car­ried it out away from pub­lic view. In truth that’s the way most sea­sonal jobs on the land were car­ried out in the past; farmers did their work, the pub­lic let them get on with it and never the twain shall meet. For most peo­ple the five-bar gate was firmly closed and farms were a bit of a no-go area. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, here at Bem­bor­ough Farm and work­ing on TV, it’s that the pub­lic have a real ap­petite to know more about agri­cul­ture. When I was first ap­proached to present BBC Lamb­ing Live with Kate Hum­ble back in 2010, I hon­estly thought we’d strug­gle to fill one pro­gramme. But from the start we were flooded with texts and emails from view­ers ask­ing the most de­tailed ques­tions and in the end it ran for three whole series. So I’m keen to do as much as pos­si­ble to sat­isfy that thirst for knowl­edge and in­for­ma­tion. That’s why we’re hold­ing a spe­cial one-off pub­lic event at the Farm Park to demon­strate and ex­plain the scan­ning process. On De­cem­ber 15 we’ll be us­ing the ul­tra­sound equip­ment with some of our preg­nant ewes in front of vis­i­tors in the An­i­mal Barn. It’s al­ways de­light­ful to see the joy on peo­ple’s faces and hear the things they ask about the un­born lambs, but it’s even more re­ward­ing to get our first fleet­ing glimpse of a new, lit­tle life.

“Sheep, may be the beauty or the beast, may be the famine or the feast…” RIP Charles Az­navour

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