Walking towards the old barns at Ivory Farm in the lee of the steep escarpment of Beacon Hill, I first hear the ewes and lambs before, drawing closer, there is the familiar earthy smell of haylage, straw and sheep – magic, the promise of tiny white bundles of legs and black spotted heads. March at Highclere is lambing season. Lauren our shepherdess spent earlier weeks with Simon and the farm team cleaning out the barns and setting up the pens for the rotation in and out of the 1,700 ewes. Ably abetted by Hannah from Cumbria and with rostered extra help, Lauren undoubtedly has a busy month ahead.
The gestation time for a ewe is five months and so we put the rams in with groups of ewes in sequence to create some semblance of planning and therefore to spread lambing over a number of weeks. The first ewes come into outside sheds before coming into the barns to lamb.
A few days after that, they go back to the outside shed as a sort of transition before being put out into the more sheltered fields in the park. About 340 ewes have already lambed although the challenge of the bitter March weather makes it seem an endless and currently exhausting cycle. They can’t be put out at the moment which requires more ingenious use of barn space and providing shelter from winds with straw bales.
Geordie and I have been going down to the lambing sheds during the day and then Saturday evening found us there from midnight onward, and again on Sunday night for a couple more hours aiding and abetting efforts to keep the water topped up, the ewes fed and enough straw around their pens to help the lambs survive the freezing temperatures. I look for glacial eddies of wind and try to block them with straw and then bottle feed five lambs which I always enjoy. My husband was doing the water, carrying endless buckets around with Lauren et al checking for newborns and ones that sadly had just not made it in this weather, always such a sad sight. I don’t suppose this process has changed over hundreds of year and is both exciting and exhausting, depending on the time of day and the hours of sleep.
Sheep have been a valued part of the landscape here for well over a thousand years. Early 8th century charters mention sheep “dells” – sheltered areas good for grazing – whilst, on a larger scale, sheep contributed a third of England’s export revenues in the 13th and 14th centuries. In today’s world they need to be economically viable which is without doubt cyclical (I am still waiting for the upswing!) but they also form part of the stewardship of the landscape on the chalk downlands which we have here at Highclere. The nature of their grazing forms part of a complex relationship allowing grasses and other plants to thrive which in turn provide a home and feeding conditions for birds, butterflies, moths, and many insects. Is it a question of what is “natural” or is it, in some ways perhaps, simply what we are used to. Whichever, if there is no income, then land becomes abandoned and easily reverts to scrub bramble and pockets of afforestation.
I hope this weather cycle lifts soon so that the ewes and lambs can graze the park grass, eating it down and acting as fertilisers. Hopefully the lambs will grow ever stronger, playing chase and tag over old logs and tree stumps and providing all of us here with hours of entertainment. There is always something so uplifting about watching them gambol around.
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
The lambs and ewes at Highclere Castle are just lovely. I am always struck by the sweetness and charm of these beautiful animals. It is so nice to see what importance animals and other agricultural pursuits have in Highclere’s profile. It is, after all a COUNTRY estate and a functioning one at that. In America, as in Britain we have just moved beyond St. Paddy’s Day and are rolling towards Easter. I sincerely wish the Carnarvon family and all staff family the glories and joys that Spring has to offer!!
Ann Catherine Flood
These pictures are lovely and I am so proud to say Lauren is my daughter and doing an amazing job as always, you all look like you are doing a great job.
She is a good girl – I gave her a little present this morning which made her laugh (and two scotch eggs for a snack!)
How sweet! Being from the the Deep South in the USA, sheep are a novelty usually reserved for hobby farms or petting zoo’s. I was blown away by the number of sheep y’all care for. I’d so love to see it all. Thank you for sharing a life well lived!
I’m in the middle of my lambing season, too – Clun Forest sheep in Indiana, USA. Playing youngsters are cute, but even my small flock of 10 ewes can create a decent amount of work, when I don’t have a lot time outside of my office job. I can’t imagine tending a flock dozens or hundreds, although I know a lot of people do! Good luck with the rest of lambing season – hope it goes smoothly!
We have bought some Lleyns too they are coming in to lamb next!
Sounds very endearing and tender. We who live in big cities have lost touch with nature and the marvels of it. It’s a way of life that is so alien to us, thank you for your sharing these wonderful moments with us.
So lovely to see the little lambs in spring.
Seems such a different approach to NZ farming. No indoor birthing units here just allocated paddocks.
I think that if they were outside the lambs would not survive!
A beautiful description of the English landscape in Spring and the “busyness” that goes unnoticed by so many of us.
Thank you – it is busy, active rather than desk bound which is good.
Love the lambies! You are all doing a wonderful job caring for the mamas and their lambs. I pass a small flock of sheep on my daily walk and it is always so fascinating to watch them watching me, more so when I have my dog along. I must get a photo of them perched on the side of the hill, Thank you for sharing and keep up the good work you do!
Another lovely report on the goings on at Highclere. New-born lambs and puppies! What could be better? Thanks again for sharing so beautifully.
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
I think Spring is my favourite time of year, new life beginning, not just beautiful Lambs, but also trees begin to bud and bulbs start to come out, we have a beautiful Camellia in our garden, which has taken a battering with the Beast from the East, which I hope soon departs, not just for my sake, but also for the Lambs, so they can get outside and enjoy endless hours of mischief.
I also enjoy see the green buds and vivid green of daffodil leaves a few inches above ground. The crocuses are out and a stream of purple colour under the trees.
Dear Lady Carnarvon!!!
They are so cute and tender….I hope mommy feels good ☺️
In this period the sping does’n want to come….I hope it’s coming soon for happiness of sheep babies
So do I!
Thank you again for your efforts on the blog. I always enjoy reading them….in addition to learning stuff!
I’m thinking of all that yarn they are carrying around on their backs. Lots and lots of scarves I would love to crochet! Do you sheer and sell it locally?
I hope you continue writing this blog. I smile every time I see your name.
Happy Wishes to you and your family this Easter from Windermere, Florida.
The ewe’s coats are extraordinarily thick – sadly there is no market here for their wool.
How sweet these little ones are. Here in the USA we have the pleasure of seeing these little ones on a cam TV. There is a farm in New York that raise the sheep and sell their goat milk soap on TV. I look forward to buying and using this soap as it is very good for the skin. The name of the farm is The Beekman 1802 farm.
Once again Thank You for sharing.
The is a city farm in London too.
Hello Lady Carnarvon –
I so love your blog posts! Thanks for diligently posting about so many interesting things. Your posts make my day and always bring a smile to my face. How wonderful to have so much new life (ewes, lambs, and puppies!!) on the estate and farm. The babies are precious and I’ll bet, even more so in person.
I will be visiting Highclere at the end of July and cannot wait to take in the beauty of it all. Until then, cheers to you and a life well lived!
Lauren’s puppies are very cute and I would like to do a video of her working her dogs
Lady Carnarvon, I grew up helping my dad and uncles with dairy farm chores and always enjoyed giving the calves their milk, I always loved going up in to the poorly lit cold hay loft in the winter to throw down bales, and of course worked up a good sweat getting the bales off the wagon up the elevator in to the mow. As I walk by farms now the smell of the sawdust, manure, hay, animals etc. will always bring back fond memories of my childhood. Have fun tending your sheep and lambs!
It is a great smell – I was not quite sure how to describe it!
MY DEAR LADY CARNARVON,
NO BRASIL TUDO É TÃO DIFERENTE , TEMOS INVERNADAS DE GADO 24 HORAS POR DIA NOS PASTOS ,SOL E CEU AZUL 365 DIAS AO ANO.MAS A MINHA INGLATERRA E TÃO MARAVILHOSA DO JEITO QUE É ,QUE ATRAVÉS DE SUAS DESCRIÇÕES SINTO-ME EM SUA CASA E EM SEUS JARDINS.OBRIGADA.
MARIA AUGUSTA RIO CLARO SP BRAZIL
We could use some Spring sun and blue skies here – it has been an odd March
Delightful to hear about this “behind the scenes” very difficult chore! I had no idea!! I know it must be rewarding for all involved to reach the end of the lambing season. Wow!
BLooming tiring – I am going to bed early tonight…
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
God bless you and your husband for your gallant stewardship and for sharing the glories of nature with us all. In many ways, it is sad that as developed nations, we are no longer an agrarian society….when we were physically involved with our survival, drugs simply were not an option.
Now we have to pursue fitness in the past walking was the way!!!
Living in a big city all my life I am humbled by all of the process of the lambing — what a sheltered life I have led– thank you for sharing photos too. It is certainly a pleasure to be a part of this blog thank you for the opportunity. Hope the weather improves for all of you– do take care.
Farming is an extraordinary way of life – never has the world been so urban but this underpins urban life in that rural resources feed towns. Thank you I wish you could be here to see it!
Lots of lambing, calving, foaling, hatching, etc. going on in the Northern Hemisphere right now! It is quite a busy season in the American West too. When I lived in Montana it was always on the news about how calving was going for the ranchers, especially if there were late storms that threatened the mothers and newborns. Quite a sleepless time of year for anyone involved in the process!
All the new critters being born are one of the harbingers of spring, for sure! I hope you are able to shelter the lambs and not lose too many more to the cold.
I look forward to photos – or even better, maybe a video – of those lovely lambs doing the gamboling thing in the pastures sometime soon!
Thanks for sharing another of the myriad aspects of the estate with us. It’s always great to see notification of your latest post, Lady Carnarvon!
All the best from Summerville, SC, USA
Thank you – I hope the weather warms up ..
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
I grew up with a handsome Border Collie named Mombo. What a terrific dog.
He would walk the three of us to school at 8:00 and hang around until I got out at 12:00 ( when I was 8) and then bring me home. Then he would go back to the school and pick up my sister at 3:15 and walk her home. Finally, he would go back for my brother at 4:00 and escort him home. He did that every day for about 14 years. Mom would let us go anywhere as long as we took the dog with us. We were his sheep and we obeyed him!
The puppies do not quite look like Border Collies. What are they?
My uncle had a large dairy farm in upstate NY and we used to spend a couple of weeks there in the summer. As soon as we arrived I would run up to the barn to see the calves. I loved the smell of the hay and all the barn smells. I miss that.
Thank you for sharing your story and pictures of the lambing!
Boynton Beach, FL
They are Border collies – i think blame the photographer – me – slippery phone and cold hands!!!
What a gorgeous set of pictures and description from a place and life entirely different from my own. A blessed relief to see this! Thank you so much.
How lovely to see the new lambs, and the puppies, too…a sign of Spring and new life blooming! So much work and yet so many rewards, you are such wonderful caretakers of all of the Highclere estate. It is a joy to read your blog, Lady Carnarvon, and here is hoping that Spring sunshine and warmth will arrive soon at Highclere.
Thank you – lend us your sun!
Dear Lady Carnarvon, what a wonderful blog about lambing. Years ago I helped out in a ‘tobacco’ shed in the Netherlands that was converted in a sheepshed where local children could learn about sheep and lambs. The wonderful smell of hay, the sound of an old water pump and the ‘smile’ on a sheep’s face when she had given birth…all those beautiful memories brought back by your blog today. And yes it was also often freezing cold….let’s hope warm sunshine will come soon.
We used to be able to ask schools to come round but sadly it is not feasible now in a safety conscious world! Nevertheless photos tell a story!
These pictures are lovely
Yours is always the first email I open. Such a lovely way to start my day – thank you again. One of my favourite memories of England was on our first visit and in the North. I still treasure the photo of lambs frolicking among boulders and bright yellow daffodils. Your “babies – both lambs & puppies” bring joy to my heart. Be blessed this day dear Lady. Kindest regards, Anne
They are such characters- there is one little chap being bottle fed who is very bold and intent on making sure he is fed and petted
Dearest Lady Carnarvon;
I am so surprised to hear there is no market for your wool from the ewes; There is a teaching farm in Vermont you might check out to inquire how they go about spinning and marketing their harvest of wool. I found them from a short program on PBS, and as I am a beginning Knitter, was delighted to find real honest to goodness wool from such a worthwhile enterprise. Shelburnefarms.org is their website. I believe if Knitters and Crocheters could buy wool from “Downton Abby”, they would jump at the chance. Do give it some further thought, I know I would buy lots every year to knit woolly socks, a la “The Little Book of Hygge” for my family.
El Cajon, California
I think it is a bit mad …
What are “Scotch Eggs” and do you have a recipe?
I do – they are in the “At Home book” rather scrummy!
Thanks for the lovely lambing season story and pictures of those adorable babies. Your weather seems to be a lot like ours right now – in eastern Washington State. Let’s hope the sun comes out soon and those sweet lambs thrive! And by the way, I just watched “Secrets of Highclere Castle” for about the 5th time and am always so impressed with the love and devotion your and Geordie bestow on Highclere and all it represents. Learning about so much of what we didn’t see on Downton – the land, farm and the household – is always a pleasure.
A lovely blog, thank you. My darling border collie went to her rest some years ago… we had Goldens before, but she was wished upon us . I respected and loved her willing nature and intelligence. Your puppies made my heart leap…ahhh.. one day …again. My neighbors in France have just retired from sheep farming. The work in winter became too much for them with frozen ponds and wells in winter. I once said to my darling dad that I wished I had married a farmer and he said… no, it is such a hard life. His family farmed in The Weald. I hope the weather will be better for you and the sheep soon. Keep us up to date with news, we love it !
What a beautiful report!
I love the photos as well.
Lauren, you look great, such a hardworking young lady.
Madona and Levi xxx
Enjoy this amazing and beautiful place!
Have a nice day.
Thank you so much for your wonderful blog…..it always brings a smile to my face. I read this post with amusement, thinking of the striking similarity to Lady Mary and Charles Blake staying up all night with the new pigs. Did you make scrambled eggs for you and Geordie in the morning? 🙂
I also have a lovely Border Collie who is the most loyal and obedient dog I have ever had the pleasure of loving. Your current weather is sounding more like my native Canada…..take care of the lambs and yourself.
We had scrambled eggs for breakast!!!
Ah! So cute those little lambs! We don’t have much in North America, it’s a very European thing that facinates me each time I cross over the Atlantic. Last summer when I visited Highclere, I couldn’t help but wonder how much you had! I got my answer now. I saw some at Blenheim as well.
What do you do with them, sell them for the meat or take their milk to make cheese? or just keep them for your pasture?
It’s nice to see team work when there is help needed some place on the property, never a dull moment at Highclere, it’s great, you get to do so much different things!
Thanks for the pictures of the puppies too, always a treat to see!
The flock is something we are developing – many of the lambs are sold for meat as has been done for centuries!
A few years ago when in Scotland, we saw meadows full of sheep, most of whom were exceedingly shaggy, so much so tufts of wool were hanging from every bush, scratched off as the animal passed. Our guide explained it was not cost effective to shear the animals as the price of wool was so low. That seemed odd as woolen items always cost so much. St. Johns garments at the top of the pile! Is it still the same?
On the lighter side, we noted many of the ewes had colored backsides; red, blue, yllow, etc. How very amusing, yet odd we thought. Once again the guide explained: they paint the under side of each ram a different color so they could tell who sired each lamb! Is it done in your area as well?
that is exactly right!
What a wonderful post, Lady Carnarvon! Spring is about regeneration and renewal, and baby lambs are such a lovely sight. Love the beautiful photos too! Did they like the Scotch eggs?
I hope you all (including the baby lambs)stayed warm during the “Beast from the East!”
The Woodlands, Texas
Let’s hope Spring comes soon and all the new babies are strong and healthy. Beautiful story. Years ago we had a farm and I do miss it so.
Have a wonderful day !!
On the subject of “colored” ewes, might it not be amusing to post photos of a few ewes in “their colored finery?” …if a propos… I have a few from my Scotland trip; they always get a laugh…
Another lovely blog post. The lambs look so cuddly. I am glad you are able to produce meat from your farm but I am troubled that this PC world that is evolving is slowly killing our way of life that has been around forever: your not being able to market wool and or not being able to have the little ones visit the animals. Having said that I remain optimistic and do hope that things will change for the good!
All the best.
Es un honor para mi comunicarme con Ud. Gracias por compartir estos momentos de su vida, que me hacen recordar con mucho cariño mis ancestros Ingleses que a pesar de la distancia los siento tan cerca.
Permitame saludarla a Ud. y los suyos y a toda esa gran familia que construyen el día a día de Highclere.
Gracias. Estoy encantada de que usted disfrute leer sobre Highclere
It must be really something to keep a ewe tradition for centuries… I just cannot imagine that but as always, the ancients were inherently smarter about nature than we are now. They could sense, hear and feel weather patterns before they happen and really connect with their animals and read the land. It’ sad we have lost these innate abilities. Perhaps if we spent more time outdoors and with animals grazing about we could truly learn how to connect again.
I am sure we could listen better!
I’m going to London soon .
I’m so happy that you and I have written to each other .
I’m going to High Clere April 2 . And it would mention a lot to me to see you there .
Do you have time to meet me at the castle for a while ?
Because I would really like to take a picture with you ?
And I’m looking forward to se the castle .
From Tilda .
I am glad you are visiting Highclere – I should be around – usually dashing by for a cup of tea!
I enjoy your reading about the lambing season at Highclere. I relate to your experience and exhaustion.
Living on island, working at the local Vetenernary Clinic, sometimes this time of year we go out in to the field and have deliver lambs and give wellness exam. Farmers will even bring lambs to Clinic for exam.
The weather has be mild for this time of the year but the farmers need to watch for coyotes.
What breed of sheep do you raise at Highclere?
In June we have the Sheep Dog Trails. It’s the 2nd largest International event. For four days 350 sheep come from Idho to the island to compete. It’s a very exciting time.
Susan, Washington, USA
How interesting ! For some time we have had north country mules but are now just developing our flock and last Autumn have bought in Lleyns. I would love to have some sheep dog trials here.
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
What a lovely post – and here’s hoping Spring comes soon for the sheep and all the rest of us, too!
Just watched the special with Mary Berry at Highclere with my daughter in California last night. We, of course, were already fans of Downton Abbey – but now we are great fans of yours, as well. Thank you for sharing the history and majesty of your wonderful home. And most importantly for preserving it and enriching so many people with your beautiful blogs. I’m a subscriber now!
Thank you ! We were lucky to have Mary Berry here.
1,700 ewes…goodness! That’s quite the flock! My husband and I just did a 6-week farmsit in France where we watched 10 horses and 6 sheep. There were three lambs born during our time there, and you’re totally right…it is very uplifting to watch them totter around on their brand new little legs! We named one of the lambs “Her Ladysheep Effie von Fluffenstuff III.” Perhaps she would fit in very well with the Highclere herd!