Wednesday 24 Sep 2014
Sunday 7-Thursday 11 March on BBC TWO
(Copy updated 1 March)
Imagine a maternity ward filled with around 300 expectant mothers. Many are expecting twins, some are even having triplets. All are due in the space of a few short days and many prefer to give birth just as dawn is breaking.
Lambing is the biggest and busiest event in the farming calendar and it brings with it a rollercoaster ride of sleepless nights, complicated births, orphans and adoptions. For five nights, BBC Two is right at the heart of the action as it broadcasts live from a sheep farm in South Wales. This is the life and death drama of lambing as it unfolds; this is Lambing Live.
In this groundbreaking series, Kate Humble gets her hands dirty helping to make sure as many lambs as possible survive those crucial first days after birth. She's joined by Countryfile presenter and farmer Adam Henson and the family who have been running this farm for generations, the Beavans. Over the past six months, Kate has been apprenticed to the Beavan family, grappling with the fundamentals of being a shepherdess. Now she has to put everything she has learnt into practice.
The stakes are high. Lambing may be big business – in fact it's worth around £625m to the UK's economy every year – but for farmers like the Beavans it's always a gamble. Sheep prices go up and down but the ewes still need to be fed and cared for. A disappointing lambing season could hit the Beavans's pockets hard, but it's more than that. Their sheep are important to them – they aren't simply products, they're animals; living creatures as well as pounds and pence. Every new life is valuable. From the glimmer of hope offered by a hypothermic lamb being nursed back to health to the heartbreaking sight of tottering newborns being rejected by their mother, lambing is about more than just the bottom line. The Beavans, Kate and Adam have their work cut out and, inevitably, not all of the lambs will make it.
Alongside the day-to-day lambing, the programme delves deeper into the secret life of sheep. Adam has travelled the UK to explore British sheep farming in all its many and varied forms. While Kate tests her new-found skills in the lambing shed, Adam looks at where our sheep have come from and where they might be going. From what they can be used for to how smart they are and what a mule is, exactly, Lambing Live has everything you need to know about sheep.
The Beavan family
The Beavans are a sheep-farming dynasty spanning three generations, born and bred in the foothills of the Brecon Beacons near Abergavenny. The family run two farms as one business. Lambing Live broadcasts live from the main farm, where Jim and Kate Beavan live along with Jim's parents, Anne and Trevor. Jim is responsible for the day-to-day running of this farm, and he has taken on the lion's share of training Kate Humble, along with his wife, Kate.
Jim's brother Huw lives and works on the smaller farm with his wife, Jan. He also runs the family butcher's shop.
The main farm covers 500 acres of prime Welsh farmland. Across both sites there are 900 breeding ewes; most of these will lamb at the main farm. There are also a few hundred beef cattle and assorted pigs and chickens. Plus there's Lassie the sheepdog, Nell the ever-so-eager but rather clumsy apprentice sheepdog, Smudge the cat and Rex the rooster.
Lambing is a test of skill and endurance and Kate mucks in with Jim and his family to ensure this lambing season is a success. For the past six months, the Beavan family have been training Kate so she knows what to expect from this round-the-clock event. She has been learning everything from how to pick the best ram to how to raddle and trim feet and tails. Throughout the series, Kate reveals how she has coped with the journey from the lamb's conception to their birth.
Jim is in charge of the farm although his dad, Trevor, is still heavily involved in its day-to-day running. Sheep are Jim's passion as well as his income and he can't imagine ever doing anything else. He loves playing midwife to almost a thousand ewes for three months of the year. He is one of five children, and his brother, Huw, also rears sheep on a nearby farm. Together, they have joined forces to diversify their business, opening a butcher's shop six miles away in Abergavenny. Their three sisters don't work in farming.
Kate is the linchpin of the family operation, full of energy and Jim's main support. She helps him to run the farm, makes sure the kids get to school on time and brings in an extra income teaching Animal Management part-time at the local agricultural college. Kate really gets stuck into the lambing with Jim, the grandparents, the kids and whichever minibus of students she has brought home for a lesson in the barns or the farm's purpose-built classroom. Jim and Kate have two children, Sam and Celyn. Sam loves farming but is also obsessed with his four guitars. Celyn likes lambing because she gets to help with bottle feeding.
Jim's dad, Trevor, is the patriarch of the family, having lived on the farm since the Forties. It was his marriage to Anne that brought the two farms together initially. Trevor has farmed there all of his life and that hasn't changed since Jim took over. He is still actively involved in lambing and thinks that he will keep working until he dies, such is his love for the place.
Jim's mum, Anne, is an old hand when it comes to lambing, having done it for decades with Trevor before Jim took over. These days she is still called upon to get involved and she still does the books for the farm's finances. Anne is also in charge of running the B&B, ensuring that the walkers who come and stay at the farm are well catered for. Anne's most important job, perhaps, is making sure that everyone is well fed at lambing time. Nobody can work those sorts of hours on an empty stomach.
Huw, Jan and the twins, Gareth and Daniel
Huw is Jim's brother and is also heavily involved in the family business. He has his own farm nearby, but Huw's time is now mostly taken up by running the family butcher's shop in Abergavenny. His wife, Jan, works for the local auctioneer and their teenage sons would both rather be on the farm than at school.
Kate's TV career started behind the camera as a researcher on Animal Hospital and Holiday, though it wasn't long before she was appearing on screen. She has presented a wide range of programmes, including Amazon Abyss, Tomorrow's World, City Hospital, Top Gear and The Frankincense Trail. Her love of wildlife has made her synonymous with Springwatch and Autumnwatch, which she has presented since 2005. Her experience of presenting live and keeping calm when things don't go entirely to plan make Kate perfect for Lambing Live. Since September of last year, she has been immersed in the life of a sheep farmer and has effectively become apprentice to the Beavan family. She will be forced to call on all the skills she has learnt over the past six months when the cameras start rolling and the lambs start arriving.
Adam Henson has delivered hundreds, if not thousands, of lambs on his 1,625-acre farm in the Cotswolds. As well as managing more than a thousand sheep, Adam's farm also includes the Cotswold Farm Park, which has more than 50 flocks and herds of rare-breed farm animals, including 198 pigs, 14 highland cattle and 15 different breeds of sheep. His passion for rare breeds is one passed down to him from his father, Joe, and Adam has been involved with the farm since he was a small boy. Since 2001, Adam has been a regular presenter on BBC One's Countryfile and reports on his own fortunes in the regular feature Adam's Farm. On Lambing Live, Adam unravels the history of sheep farming in the UK.
There are 32 million sheep and lambs living on 74,300 sheep farms in the UK. Every year 16.1 million lambs are born to 14.9 million ewes.
In 2008 the UK produced 326,000 tonnes of sheep meat (mutton and lamb), 269,000 tonnes of which was lamb meat. The UK is the largest sheep meat producer in the EU, supplying 34 per cent of all sheep meat produced there.
In 2008 more sheep meat was consumed here than in any other country in the EU: 385,000 tonnes of mutton and lamb, of which 283,000 tonnes was lamb meat. This equates to every person in the UK eating 5.9 kg of sheep meat in a year.
In 2009, the UK lamb industry was worth £625m to the economy.
The UK is the fifth largest producer of sheep meat and sheep wool in the world. China is No. 1, followed by Australia, New Zealand and Iran.
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