Our guide to lambing, including when it takes place, what happens and where you can see it.
It’s miraculous. Amazing. Unforgettable. And yet it’s commonplace on British farms. Every year, 16 million ewes give birth in the UK.
These days, lambing takes place anytime between November and May – but the birth rate still peaks in spring.
Our writer Ali Wood recently took her kids to the farm to witness the wonders of lambing. Read about her experience, or skip to the bottom of the article and find out where you can see this annual ritual for yourself – and head to a sheep farm this spring. It’s a wonderful learning experience for adults and children alike.
Wow! New life begins at Penpont Farm ©Philip Hartley
What is it like to see lambing?
It’s mid-lambing season, and the kids are clambering over the hay bales with the farmer’s sons, imaginary rifles in hands. Around us, fat-bellied ewes graze and sleep, apart from one, who is pacing and emitting a low-pitched bleat. She pauses to lick her newborn lamb, now an hour old, then slumps down into the fresh hay, ready to give birth to another.
We’re in the lambing shed at Penpont Farm, which, thanks to the mild Cornish climate, has an extra lambing season in November. While the children play, my baby daughter is sound asleep in her carrier, despite the cacophony of starlings fighting over spilt corn, and the noise of the tractor moving older lambs out to the surrounding fields.
At four years old, the ewe is an experienced mother, and her first lamb today was born easily.
“I noticed a couple of hours ago that she was bleeding,” says the shepherd, Rob Hawkey, who works 12-hour shifts during lambing season with his cousin Oliver. Farming at Penport is in its third generation and the pair are old hands at lambing. “I knew she was coming to lamb, but I didn’t expect it to happen so quickly, as some pace around for hours. I came into the shed and she was half out.”
Nature in the raw
It’s time to deliver the ewe’s second baby, so Oliver gets down on his knees, and gently slides his hand inside her to check the position of the lamb. Most ewes give birth without assistance, but with multiple births the shepherds like to get them out quickly, so that the lambs don’t get muddled up with other little ones born at the same time.
“We check that both legs are coming,” explains Rob. “It’s not like with humans. We want the legs first, not the head, because if they get stuck you can’t pull the neck.”
I call over the children. They’re mildly annoyed at having to stop their game of soldiers but soon become curious.
The children meet the lambs at Penpont Farm ©Philip Hartley
Oliver nods. This one’s in the right position. Had it been breech, he would have had to pull the lamb out quickly, because once the legs are out past the navel they start breathing and can drown in the ewe’s water bag.
“Only you can’t pull too fast, because you might break their ribs,” warns Rob. “It’s not as hard as it sounds,” he adds quickly, noting my horrified expression.
The water bag pops with a farting sound that delights the boys, and out comes a pool of blood-tinged water, followed by a dainty pair of hooves, which poke out like a crocus. The mother remains stoic.
The kids edge closer, although I can see that Brenin, my five-year-old, is anxious. I must confess, I am, too. We saw a lamb stillborn two years ago while walking through a field, and it was distressing to watch the farmer swing it around to dislodge fluid from its nose and make fruitless chest compressions.
With one hand on the ewe’s side, Oliver pulls the lamb by the ankles and we all gasp as a sweet little face emerges. He wipes the lamb’s nose, and swiftly pulls out its lean body like a rabbit from a magician’s hat. It’s still. “Oh, no!” says Brenin.
Oliver rolls the mother up on to her feet and carries the limp, wet lamb by its forelegs around to the mother’s head so she can lick it. Relieved, I see the lamb’s ears twitch, and it raises its head to nibble on the hay.
“It’s born! It’s born!” shouts Brenin.
It’s been a straightforward birth, but that’s not always the case. Yesterday, one of the mothers lay on her newborn lamb and killed it. When that happens, the shepherd will give the mother an orphan lamb to feed, but she won’t always be fooled. At times, they have to resort to bottle-feeding.
“When I was younger, I’d form attachments to the bottle-fed lambs,” says Rob. “But not now. When you get older, you see that many. I must have been seven or eight years old when I lambed my first sheep.”
The newborn lambs are now on their feet suckling. They’ll stay in a pen until they’re three days old, before being moved out to the field.
Our conversation is interrupted by a flurry of joyful, high-pitched bleats. Four newborn lambs skip into the barn, followed by Oliver’s nephew Joshua, who carries the fifth close to his chest, like a large teddy bear. We sit in the hay to bottle-feed them, and I can feel the lamb’s heartbeat slow as it relaxes in my arms – at least until three-year-old Dylan pours milk over its nostrils.
It might only be a lamb – one of 300 to be born on this farm over the next 10 days – whose carcass will fetch £100 in a few months’ time. But, right now, it’s a little miracle, one that has taught my children their very first lesson about life, and thankfully not death… I’ll leave that one for another day.
Stay on a farm for lambing season
Here are a few farms around the UK where you can have a spring break and watch lambs being born.
The Olde House, Cornwall
Mother ewe greets her lamb at Penpont Farm. Picture: Philip Hartley
Experience life on Penpont working farm, featured in the pictures above and below, while staying in one of a range of self-catering holiday cottages. Take part in a range of activities from feeding the guinea pigs in Pet Corner to lambing and sitting on a tractor. There’s also an indoor swimming pool, farm trail and play barn, and a hide for bird-watching. Low-season prices start at £420 per week for a one-bed, dog-friendly cottage. The Olde House, Cornwall
Hare Farm Hideaways, Sussex
Lambing takes place on a large scale here, with 1,000 pregnant ewes giving birth in four different farm buildings, just a stone’s throw from the shepherd’s hut and oast house holiday homes. Prices start at £400 per week for a two-person shepherd’s hut. Hare Farm Hideaways, Sussex
Abbey Farm Liveries, Norfolk
Guests can help the shepherds lamb the 600 ewes, including day-to-day running of the flock, feeding, cleaning and bedding-down pens, nursing and bottle-feeding pet lambs. Half-board costs £60 per person per day. Abbey Farm Liveries, Norfolk
Old Oak Cottages, Yorkshire
The Farm has spectacular views across unspoilt countryside towards the White Horse of Kilburn
Old Oak Cottages
are located on a well kept arable and sheep farm just outside the pretty village of Little Thirkleby, on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors. The Farm has spectacular views across unspoilt countryside towards the White Horse of Kilburn.
The City of York is close by and there are superb walks all around the cottage. Guests can watch the recently born lambs gamboling in the nearby paddocks and fields. On site is an indoor heated pool, spa bath and sauna, plus an all-weather tennis court and large play area. There’s also a choice of pubs and restaurants close by. A week’s stay in Pheasant Cottage for seven guests costs £940 arriving Friday 27th April or 18th May. www.premiercottages.co.uk
Rural Roosts, Lincolnshire
There are more than 300 sheep to lamb this season. Visitors can also combine their stay with fishing in one of the well-stocked lakes and walks around the farm and surrounding countryside. A one-bedroom pine lodge with hot tub costs £420 a week. Rural Roosts, Lincolnshire
Farmstay Loch Lomond, Scotland
Lambing starts in March at this 5,000-acre farm, which runs for five miles from the loch shore to the head of the glen, and has 2,000 Scottish Blackface ewes. Join in with lambing, shearing and gathering the flock. Bed and breakfast costs £30 per adult per night. Farmstay Loch Lomond, Scotland
Knowle Farm, Devon
At Knowle Farm in Devon visitors can look forward to seeing the newborns taking their first few steps
in the heart of South Devon
offers the perfect family retreat. With lambs born in April, visitors can look forward to seeing the newborns taking their first few steps. Families can also feed and interact with the farm’s pigs, rabbits, chickens, ducks, donkeys and turkeys. There’s also an indoor pool and toddler soft play area for rainy days. A week’s stay in the two-bedroom Cow-mumble cottage for four guests, arriving 27th April costs £585. www.premiercottages.co.uk
Stay Lambing Live, Cumbria
Lambing takes place in March and April at Stay Lambing Live, so named because this was the location in 2011 for the BBC’s Lambing Live, presented by Kate Humble and Adam Henson. The 400-acre farm has 850 sheep. The three-bed cottage costs £1,085 per week. Stay Lambing Live, Cumbria
Millmoor Farm Holidays, Cheshire
Watch lambs being born between January and April, and hand-feed orphan lambs between March and June. Prices start at £285 per week for a 1-bed cottage. Millmoor Farm Holidays, Cheshire
Cwm Nantcol, Snowdonia
Visitors can enjoy idyllic springtime views of sheep grazing on the hillsides and in the fields
Cwm Nantcol Barn
is an architect-designed converted 17th century barn on an ancient working farmstead, sleeping up to four in two bedrooms with an open plan ground floor with kitchen and sitting area, plus plenty of original features including beamed ceilings. From the windows of Cwm Nantcol Barn, across the tops of traditional dry-stone walls, visitors can enjoy idyllic springtime views of sheep grazing on the hillsides and in the fields, even perhaps seeing lambs taking their first steps a short distance from the house. Fields of livestock are all around here in Snowdonia’s Nantcol Valley and the farms are bustling with spring activity.
Snowdonia has much to offer visitors in spring. Shell Island, with its miles of golden sands, is nearby and the small intimate bay of Llandanwg with its tiny 12th century church tucked into the sand dunes is ideal for small children. For those looking to try something a little different, Black Rock Llama Trekking near Black Rock Sands offers the thrill of walking with these beautiful, gentle and intelligent creatures. Quality Cottages can offer seven night stays in April from £529, based on up to four sharing on self-catering basis. www.qualitycottages.co.uk
Hicks Farm, Powys
In the spring and summer you can bottle-feed orphan lambs four times a day and bucket-feed calves on this farm on the Welsh-English border near Presteigne. Note, there are not always lambs so please call ahead. Prices start at £915 per week for a three-bed cottage. Hicks Farm, Powys
Parc-yr-Hebog Cottages, Ceredigion
Parc-yr-Hebog Cottages offer a hands-on opportunity to see life on a smallholding
Located in a rural setting with glorious views of surrounding farmland Parc-yr-Hebog Cottages
offer a hands-on opportunity to see life on a smallholding. Children can help feed the animals including the recently born lambs.
The properties are also within an easy drive from the stunning Cardigan Bay with its spectacular coastal walks, quiet coves and picturesque harbour villages. Then, after a busy day’s walk, guests staying at The Barn can relax in the sauna. A week’s stay in The Barn for four guests during April and May costs £565 and a three night short break costs £300. www.premiercottages.co.uk
Cherrygrove offers a real ‘back-to-nature’ farm experience, with livestock grazing the surrounding fields
Cherrygrove is a glamping site in the Quantock Hills in Somerset that is ideal for a springtime getaway for big families or groups of friends. The site comprises five traditionally-constructed Mongolian yurts and sits within acres of active farmland with rolling hills and fields all around. This is a real ‘back-to-nature’ farm experience, with livestock grazing the surrounding fields and opportunities for visitors to accompany the farmer to meet and feed newborn lambs.
Each of the yurts has been beautifully hand-painted inside and is comfortably furnished with colourful rugs, a cosy wood-burner, double bed and a double futon. A nearby Dutch barn has been converted to include a well-equipped kitchen and communal dining area, shared bathroom facilities and a covered ‘chill out’ area that’s ideal for celebrations. The yurts can each sleep up to four and the site is available on an exclusive use basis so can offer flexible accommodation for several families, groups of couples or just friends
Quality Unearthed offers stays at Cherrygrove from £350 per night, with a minimum stay of two nights, based on up to 20 sharing on self-catering basis. www.qualityunearthed.co.uk
Tunstall Road Farm, Yorkshire
Guests staying on this working farm in spring have the chance to see the resident flock of pedigree, native sheep and their recently born lambs
Tunstall Road Farm
’s three properties are located between the Yorkshire Dales and the North Yorkshire Moors national parks. Guests staying on this working farm in spring have the chance to see the resident flock of pedigree, native sheep and their recently born lambs. Other animals onsite include pigs and cows.
A three-night stay in Galloway House, which sleeps up to eight guests, costs £792 and a week’s stay costs £1320 for arrival Friday 30th April. www.premiercottages.co.uk
Glamping West Midlands, Enville
Walkers can enjoy a stroll through nearby meadows, heathland and farmland, with pools and lakes all around.
In the Staffordshire countryside, Glamping West Midlands
includes fully-equipped accommodation with beds, linen, firepits and outdoor furniture to enjoy the night’s stars.
As well as lambs following their parents about the grounds, this smallholding site is home to llamas, chickens, ponies and more. Walkers can enjoy a stroll through nearby meadows, heathland and farmland, with pools and lakes all around.
Stay in a Yurt, which accommodates up to six people or a one-bedroom Shepherd’s Hut for two. Both start from £110 per night and include shared bathroom and shower facilities.
Uppergate Farm, Yorkshire
Explore 50 acres of grass and woodlands at Uppergate farm
sits on the edge of Hepworth, a lovely Pennine village in Yorkshire. It boasts 50 acres of grassland and woodland and, depending on the time of year, children can join in with feeding the calves, cow, lambs, ducks, geese, pigs and free-range hens every morning. Bottle feeding lambs is particularly popular in springtime as is daily egg collecting. The farm has five historic cottages of varying sizes, a heated indoor pool, outdoor and indoor play areas, plus an excellent pub, restaurant and cafe are just a short walk.
Up to eight guests can enjoy a three-night stay in April in newly renovated Bray Cottage with its own private hot tub and large enclosed garden from £596. www.premiercottages.co.uk
Ty Fferm, Pembrokeshire
y Fferm is just two miles from Abereiddi and well-located for exploring many of other beaches of North Pembrokeshire, as well as picturesque St David’s.
Down a quiet country lane that leads towards the Pembrokeshire coast, passed the traditional farm buildings and overlooking open fields lies Ty Fferm
, a traditional Welsh farmhouse that sits at the heart of a working farm. This three-bedroom house is an ideal base for spring adventures through the Welsh countryside and children will enjoy heading out into the farmyard to meet and feed lambs and chickens, collect eggs and learn about the farm animals. The farmhouse has a large family kitchen, a snug sitting room with log burner and a front garden looking out towards the farm buildings.
Nearby, the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path runs in both directions from the beach at Abereiddi. The dramatic coastal scenery, flowers and wildlife mean that Pembrokeshire is regularly voted one of the best coastal destinations in the world and although splendid at all times of year, it is particularly special in springtime as flowers begin to bloom and the countryside bursts into life. Ty Fferm is just two miles from Abereiddi and well-located for exploring many of other beaches of North Pembrokeshire, as well as picturesque St David’s.
Quality Cottages can offer seven night stays in April from £367, based on up to six sharing on self-catering basis. www.qualitycottages.co.uk
Bryn Eithin and Bwthyn Clychau’r Gog, Denbighshire
Until mid-April, the farm will be lambing its flock of 50 ewes
Two fabulous cottages, Bryn Eithin and Bwthyn Clychau’r Gog
are located at 1050 feet and have amazing views. Until mid-April, the farm will be lambing its flock of 50 ewes. Families can help feed the ewes, cuddle newborn lambs and assist with feeding the chickens and collecting their eggs too.
A week’s stay in Bryn Eithin, which sleeps six, is available from 22nd April for £620. www.premiercottages.co.uk
Einon Valley Camping Pods, Wales
The cosy camping pods offer far-reaching views to the Llanllwni mountains
A traditional family farm in the Teifi Valley, Einon Valley Camping Pods
make the perfect spring break. The property’s flock of sheep is a spring highlight, with lambs expected from the second weekend in March.
The cosy camping pods offer far-reaching views to the Llanllwni mountains, and the friendly owners often are available to take families on a tour of the farm – a highlight for animal-lovers young and old. Pods have electricity, with shared bathroom and shower, and are unfurnished, allowing visitors a comfortable camping experience without having to bring their tent.
An overnight stay in a Small Camping Pod starts from £25 per night for two adults and two children or a Large Camping Pod from £30 per night for four adults and two children. www.pitchup.com
The Barn Studio, Shropshire
Sitting deep in the undulating hills of rural Shropshire, the one-bedroom Barn Studio is a cute and very quirky retreat
Sitting deep in the undulating hills of rural Shropshire, the one-bedroom The Barn Studio
is a cute and very quirky retreat. While you’re unlikely to find spring lambs here, it doesn’t get much more ‘down on the farm’ as this little cottage can be found within an enclosed side of a stable barn and the animals regularly pop their heads over the half stable door to say hello. The farm, owned by a former circus performer, is home to retired circus horses, a miniature pony, Henry the little black lamb, a very flamboyant rescue hen named The Duchess and a flock of chickens. Owner Nink will even let guests bring their own horse too to join this motley crew.
Crossing over between country cottage and a circus-chic, a stay here is a wonderland for animal lovers and those keen to fill their lungs with the fresh spring air of Shropshire. Situated in the beautiful rural surroundings of Ellesmere, there are ancient castle to explore, as well as medieval market towns, country walks and cosy pubs.
Quality Unearthed can offer stays from £90 per night, based on two sharing on self-catering basis and with a minimum stay of two nights. www.qualityunearthed.co.uk