Lambing Tours with Richard Smith, Farm Manager at Daylesford Farm
Lambing begins at Daylesford Farm in Kingham, Gloucestershire, at the beginning of April, and over the course of the month 2300 lambs are born from 1250 breeding ewes. The farm is open for lambing tours and Richard Smith, the farm manager, and his assistant Daniel, show visitors how lambs are reared on the estate, explaining the principles of organic nutrition. It is an opportunity, in particular, for young children to see life cycles and organic animal husbandry at close quarters.
Four different breeds of sheep are reared on the farm: Lleyn, North Country Mule, Texels and Cotswold sheep. The Daylesford estate has a sister estate in Staffordshire, and in total 6500 lambs graze over 5500 acres. All the estate’s seasonal produce is sold through three London shops and a Selfridges & Co. concession as well as in the Farm Shop and through Ocado deliveries.
When the barn doors open, visitors are able to see 10 day old lambs in square wooden pens filled with straw. Some of the younger children even enter the pens to cuddle the lambs. The lambs have blue dots painted on them if they need to be taken in for shelter and protection, some not able to endure the chilly spring temperatures outside.
From the beginning of April every year the farm team has a full-on schedule: a team of four shepherds works round the clock, in separate day and night shifts to ensure that all the lambs are looked after. 150 lambs are born every single day at Daylesford, and 98% are born with no complications to the ewe but in 2% of cases they need extra assistance.
Sheep are ruminant animals and are only fed on organic grass. The breeding cycle is run so that by the time the lambs are born there is plenty of fresh, new grass to feed them. The breeding ewes go into the straw filled barns at the end of January, once they are shorn. This is because the temperature is warm within the barns so it is healthier for sheep not to have heavy, sweaty coats. The wool is then used to make blankets and shawls which are sold in the Daylesford shops. Because animal welfare is at the top of the priority list there is no blanket antibiotic treatment: sheep are treated for individual illnesses on a case by case basis.
Part of the tour takes place on a tractor drawn trailer, and we make the journey into the open fields where the flocks forage. There are a large number of mature trees in the fields, for shade from the sun. Richard explains how you can judge a sheep’s age by looking at the number of teeth in their mouth, which is what he does when he goes to buy new stock. The overall cost of a good breeding ewe is now around £400, and a butcher pays around £100 for a whole lamb. Each breeding ewe lasts approximately 5 years, so 20% of the stock needs to be replaced each year.
The shepherds have four sheep dogs to round up and control the sheep and Richard is an award winning sheep dog trainer, walking across the farm on foot with his dogs. He also lives on the farm, saying it is not a job but rather a way of life.
Some of the lambs are slaughtered at Daylesford whilst some go to Laverstoke in Hampshire. As we drive through the farm the sheep all run towards us, bleating, not at all frightened by the trailer. Many lambs stay close to their mothers, and this close, suckling bond is encouraged from the start. The trailer is then driven back to the farm courtyard, where the next group of visitors wait for their turn. On the return journey we went into the cafe to have breakfast and enjoyed browsing through the seasonal produce: fresh asparagus, leeks, rhubarb, chard, salad leaves, herbs and wild garlic from the market garden and fields.
Tours run from 10am – 2pm on Lambing Day, and if you wish to visit the farm keep an eye on the “News and Events” section of the website, at www.daylesfordorganic.com and follow on Twitter @DaylesfordFarm. There is a Blog and a listing of all the tours, supper clubs, talks and courses available. There is also an opportunity to see the whole farm and its produce during the Summer Festival on Saturday 19th May 2012.