Winter at the Cotswold Farm Park

As the Farm Park winds down for the winter, the ewes and rams are getting frisky...

It’s a little quieter at the Farm Park towards the end of the year. At the moment of writing, the harvest is over, and we’re trying to begin drilling next year’s crops – but when the ground is wet, this becomes a little difficult. With so much of farming at the mercy of the weather, it can be quite depressing when the heavens open and a downfall occurs at the most inconvenient moment.

We will be closed to the public from 30th October 2016 until 11th February 2017. It might seem like we become ‘dormant’ over these winter months, but there’s still lots going on behind the scenes.

On the livestock side of things, our rams and ewes are busier than ever. After a few weeks of mating, the aim is to see all our ewes in lamb. The process is actually a little more involved than herding them all together and hoping for the best.

Peak body condition is ensured by 12 weeks of good feeding before the ewes and rams are put together – and there are full health checks to undergo, too. As the days shorten, the ewes come into season. Every seventeen days they become receptive to the ram – this usually lasts about 30 hours. The way the ram detects the hormonal changes is rather interesting – there are sensitive receptors underneath his top lip so he knows exactly when the ewe is ready to mate. This isn’t to say the ewe is passive. She’ll often seek out rams, too.

As for the humans who observe this process, we need to know when mating has occurred. This is achieved with by fitting the rams with a harness called a ‘raddle’ – this contains a wax block that colours the ewe when mating is underway. We actually replace the block every week with darker-coloured wax, so this colour ‘over-writes’ marks left by previous mating. We will know that the darkest colour is the date of conception because the rams lose all interest in pregnant ewes. A loose harness can present problems, too, since the rams work so hard they can end up losing quite a bit of weight. Regular inspections allow us to modify the harness, so it better fits the ram, preventing abrasions.

So, you might be wondering - why do we need to know exactly when the ewes were impregnated? It’s because our lambing shed has limited spaces, and we only bring the ewes in within three weeks of the due dates. During gestation we also make modifications to the diet of the ewes – this so they have the best chance at producing healthy lambs.

By the time we reach mid-November, the last of the rams should have left the ewes. The lambing should begin on the 11th February – just as we re-open to the public! 

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