- Adam Henson sheep bloopers Duration: 01:52
- Cute North Ronaldsay panda eyed lamb Duration: 00:43
- Kate Gets the Rams Ready for Action Duration: 01:26
- Kate Humble finds her ideal ram Duration: 01:15
- Kate meets the first arrival of the year Duration: 00:23
- Kate spruces the ewes ready for the ram Duration: 01:20
Kate's year with the Beavans
Look back at Kate and Adam's time with the Beavans in our special programme.Watch clips and learn more about the special
Contact the team by emailing them at Lambinglive@bbc.co.uk
Lambing is big business – it’s worth around £625 million to our economy every year – but for farmers it’s always a risk. Sheep prices go up and down and you can never know if your hard work is going to pay off. It’s a job that doesn’t start in spring – if you’re serious about sheep farming, work begins by early Autumn. In September 2009, Kate Humble joined the Beavans, a three generation farming family based in South Wales, to learn the ropes and prepare for a busy lambing season ahead. Over six months she grappled with the fundamentals of being a shepherdess, while fellow presenter and seasoned farmer, Adam Henson, travelled the UK to find out more about British sheep farming in all its many and varied forms.
Kate learned how to pick the best ram, how to raddle, how to trim feet and tails and how important it is to ultrasound your pregnant ewes. She even delivered her very first lamb – a little black ball of wool which was named ‘Humble’ by the Beavans. Then came the real test. Kate and Adam joined Jim and Kate Beavan for the life and death drama of lambing, live on BBC TWO. For five nights from March 7th 2010, they were there for every long night in the lambing shed. Cameras followed the action 24 hours a day, capturing everything from the first signs of labour, to difficult deliveries, to adoptions, to our lambs’ first night out in the field. With a live show, anything could happen and it did. After a couple of days waiting for a live delivery, during show three they came thick and fast. A set of triplets were born just as the show came on air, then another, and then they just kept on coming. The sheep took over the show. This really was Lambing Live.
Nearly two hundred lambs were born over just five days. For the Beavans, this was their livelihood, for Kate it was to prove the apprenticeship of a lifetime.
The Beavan Family
The Beavans are a sheep farming dynasty spanning three generations. They farm 500 acres of prime Welsh farmland near Abergavenny in the foothills of the Brecon Beacons. Sheep are the bulk of their business and each Spring they lamb 900 ewes over three months. They also farm beef cattle with a few assorted pigs and chickens. Plus there’s Lassie the sheepdog, Nell the ever so eager apprentice sheepdog, Smudge the cat and Rex the rooster.
The Beavans are commercial sheep farmers who produce lambs for the table. They put mules – sheep bred to be both prolific and hardy mothers - and cross breed ewes with a good hearty meat ram or ‘tup’. Jim tends to favour Charollais tups. His brother Hugh, likes Texels. The idea is that the qualities from both ram and ewe go into producing lots of what are known as “fat lambs” for sale.
The gestation period of a sheep (how long a sheep is pregnant) is about 5 months, with most ewes averaging around 147 days. Sheep are also seasonal short day breeders. This means that most breeds of sheep are only fertile in the Autumn and come into season as the day length is shortening. This is when the tups (another name for a ram) meet the ewes.
Farmers like the Beavans tend to split the flock so they don’t lamb all at once. Jim usually lambs in three batches of around 300. Some are tupped early, some later.
In October, Kate joined Jim and Kate to see if the rams she’d helped select were up to the job.
Scanning The Ewes – Monday 4th January 2010
All of the sheep are ultra sounded so that the Beavans know exactly how many lambs each ewe is expecting. This way they can make sure that they provide extra food to those ewes having twins or triplets compared to those that might only be having a single lamb.
Marking The Sheep
Once the ewes have been scanned, they’re marked to show how many lambs they are expecting. The Beavans use an orange dot to show a ewe is carrying a single, a blue dot to denote twins and two blue dots for triplets.
Can you work out how many lambs these ewes are carrying?
This marking system is also an invaluable guide at lambing time. If a ewe has two blue dots but has only delivered one lamb, you know there are another two still to come. Scanning is expressed as a percentage. If every ewe is expecting one lamb then you’ve scanned at 100%. If every ewe has twins then it’s 200%. The Beavans had a mix of singles, triplets and twins that added up to an incredible scanning rate of 197%.
EARLY LAMB SURPRISE!
Lambs start to be born in mid to late January on the Beavans farm but this year they had one very early arrival. This little lamb was born early on the 4th of January in sub zero temperatures. It earned itself a name too – Elvis – in honour of the King of Rock and Roll’s birthday! Jim suspected that Elvis’s mum was a little too keen to meet the rams and managed to sneak into their field before tupping actually began. This meant that Elvis was a rather unexpected surprise!
KATE’S FIRST LAMB
Kate joined Kate Beavan very early one February morning to learn how to deliver her very first lamb. Despite a 5am start the sheep made Kate wait for hours until one ewe needed a helping hand. Kate stepped in to deliver the second in a set of twins, a little black ewe lamb that the Beavans immediately dubbed ‘Humble’.
Humble's New Home
Humble was to become quite the star of Lambing Live. Try as she might, she didn’t thrive out in the fields. In Jim’s words, she just wasn’t really a ‘doer’ so Adam, Jim and Kate brought her inside to bottle feed her. At the end of Lambing Live ‘Humble’ went to live on Adam’s farm and she’s still there, living a life of sheep luxury!
Kate and Adam joined the Beavans in early March for lambing. From scanning we knew that the 300 ewes were expecting 591 lambs so we knew it was going to be a busy time. Nearly 200 lambs were born in the five days of Lambing Live – but for the Beavans the job wasn’t over. They’d still be lambing come April.
And finally, for all those Lassie fans, here’s a picture of the Beavans’ sheepdog doing what she does best…..rounding up everything that moves. Sheep, chickens, film crew and footballs, you name it, Lassie will try and round it up. Here she is keeping one of the farm cats in line.