Spring is for frollicking

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They call it the baaaah factor. It’s a cross between a bleat and an aw and the sound all kids make when they see their first lamb.

The good news for sentimental sightseer, shopper and farmer alike, is that lambs are in mint condition locally.

The Fylde’s farmers aren’t too worried at the latest deadly sheep virus to hit southern and eastern England farms. The Schmallenberg bug is carried by midges windblown across the North Sea from infected flocks in Belgium, Holland, France and Germany.

The virus causes birth defects in lambs and miscarriages in ewes. It can also affect cattle and goats. But breezy as bracing Blackpool is, it would take some wind power to blast the blighters along the M62, or around the coast, to reach our flocks.

So sheep may safely graze says Roger Leach, farm manager at Myerscough College, Bilsborrow, which specialises in land-based industries.

Lambing started in February for lowland sheep – such as those on our local salt marshes and inland fields – while hill sheep usually lamb in April.

Most lamb without incident.

Roger, on duty for day and night lambing, says: “It’s one of the finest things imaginable to hear a ewe snickering at a new-born lamb. I don’t think any farmer loses the buzz of hearing that.”

He says the virus started in Germany and spread through Europe, thanks to midges.

“The damage seems to be where the ewes have been tupped (put to ram) early in the south country where midges get windblown.”

It’s another setback for farming. Times are tough. Milk is very much under priced, a loss leader in supermarkets, beef and sheep are priced high but expenses have gone up to match.

Farmers turn over more money on the same margins but everything has gone up, feed, fertilisers, the works. You only get six months before everything else goes up to meet the market price.

“Until the last two years, we had a situation where farming generated enough capital to invest in the business, but now for the ordinary farmer it’s a question of subsisting by whatever he earns.

“Yet kids are still coming in, recruitment is on the up. Young people don’t change although what the experts tell them does. I suspect they know the best food is the food you grow yourself. Let’s support British farming. I’ve been in since I was 15 and farming was all I wanted to do from the age of five, although there was no history of it in the family.

“I’ve known nothing but agriculture and manage a thousand acres. We lamb 1,000 sheep night and day, we have 220 dairy cattle, 250 beef, we breed the replacements, the followers as we call them, the dairy heifers. About 200 acres are arable.

“We cancelled lambing weekends because of building work but with the open day coming up in June we should be firing on all cylinders.”

Colin Todhunter, short course manager, reports more take up of one-day lambing courses – taster courses with a difference.

“We tend to hold them in the evening, generally ewes lamb towards night, key time is up to 11pm, and we get more people coming then.

“Many come just to experience it, others are small holders, have a bit of land or a barn conversion, maybe want to get a few sheep and breed from them.

“We have hundreds of short courses. The hope is to get more people to take part or visit it. We hope to offer garden walks too. The daffodils are beautiful right now. And we need to diversify.”

At Farmer Parrs Animal World, Fleetwood, which has new-born lambs and chicks, children can help bottle feed lambs daily.

Farmer James Parr says: “The average number of offspring per ewe is two, although one and three are not uncommon. We will normally move one lamb from triplets born onto a ewe which has only a single lamb. This gives all the lambs a better start in life.

“It is not uncommon for a mother with triplets to disown the weakest and they need to be bottle fed.

“One Sunday afternoon I delivered four lambs in front of fascinated on-lookers – they just kept coming.

“Most give birth quite easily and without any help. If it takes longer than normal we lend a hand, literally, a gentle touch to tell if the lamb is positioned correctly.

“The lamb will need to be either moved to a better position, or delivered breach (back legs first). It is vital to remove any obstructions from around the lamb’s mouth.

“A firm rub over the lamb’s body normally encourages their first breath.

“It is also vital that they drink some of the ewe’s colostrum (a rich milk produced after birth) as it is filled with nutrition and anti-bodies vital to healthy development and long term well-being.

“After this we will leave them alone to bond.

“Schmallenberg virus is of concern to the farming community but there is no evidence to suggest it is dangerous to humans.

“The cases are mainly confined to the South and South East of England.

“It is only ever found to be dangerous to farm animals, we are pleased to say The Schmallenberg Virus has not been detected on this farm.”