Riddlesden Jacobs

A site about a West Yorkshire flock of Jacob Sheep

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Lambing season nightmares

So of course we are behind with the blogging and haven’t been all that active on Facebook either. Things just haven’t gone very well and it’s hard to post the bad news and it’s hard to pick ourselves up and keep going. It’s hard not quite understanding what the problems are and how to deal with them. It’s hard to be this tired and emotionally drained and still
function. We are working in shifts but are still both operating on far too little sleep but that’s not a problem when you don’t have the emotional roller coaster to deal with as well. Lambs dying in your arms or finding dead lambs in the field kicks you in the stomach and takes your breath away in a way which is hard to explain. It makes you doubt everything you’ve ever known and done and it makes you feel like you are letting the flock, the ewes and their babies down.

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Snuffles in our kitchen

So after Kevin and Snuffles were rejected and came to live in our house, they came round really well, thrived and are now spending their second night on at the field in the shed. We have barricaded them in because both turned out to be proper little escape artists. They are still doing really well and getting them to the field was the right thing to do. They are a week old now.

Then on 22nd March we lost twins. Sometime between 6am and 7am our Number 15 gave birth to twin lambs. Kath had checked at 6am and went to check again just before 7am and found the lambs. Both were licked but were lying in really odd positions and the ewe had walked away. It was bizarre and upsetting. The weather was shocking but they shouldn’t have gone downhill that fast.

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Number 2 and her twins

The 2 horn ewe we’ve called ‘triplet mum’ all year was showing signs and was being decidedly odd and wandering round the field randomly. We wondered about whether we could get her in and a couple of times she went into the shed on her own and the second time I managed to shut her in. We penned her and she had twins that evening. They seemed fine but the ewe was doing very little to mother them and her behaviour seemed tentative and reluctant when compared to how she dealt with the triplets last year

The day after Kath walked the field at 4.30am and the shearling ewe was laying down looking as though she was asleep. Behind her, about 2 metres away was a lamb just laid out. Kath got to it and it was alive. The shearling wasn’t interested in the lamb at all. It was well licked but the ewe showed no reaction even when it bleated. We couldn’t get the ewe in – she wouldn’t follow the lamb and kept running off. We took the lamb home and it seemed to be doing well. It was big and solid. She had some colostrum replacer and warmed up well. Then she seemed to have a little fit, went all floppy and stopped breathing and died in my arms.

Yesterday number 12 lambed outside. She is the last of a group of 2 horn ewes we call

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Number 12 and Dewey shortly after birth

super-mums because that’s what they always have been. Kath was there when he was born and called him Dewey because it was a beautiful spring morning with the light playing with the dew drops on the grass. He seemed to be going strong and number 12 was licking him dry. Then he also seemed to go downhill and Number 12 lost interest and nearly walked away. We managed to bring them in and after having him in a lamb box and warming him up and giving him some colostrum replacer we decided, reluctantly, to force the issue and leave him with Number 12. It worked, he’s still a little weaker than we’d like but he’s come round and today we let them out. Number 12 is much happier outside and little Dewey has been getting stronger.

We now have 2 left to lamb and we are concerned. There is something going on with the flock. The ewes are all behaving differently to previous years, the ewes aren’t mothering the lambs and the lambs seem a bit unresponsive for the first 24 hours or so. We have sought advice and read as much as we’ve had time to but there is lots of conflicting advice out there. Some suggest it has something to do with our tup but that doesn’t make much sense to us. Dino is a good tup with a good and unrelated bloodline so there should be no issues. Others have suggested it’s just the weather and we were unlucky which might be true for Number 15 but doesn’t explain the others. Other possibilities include the ewes’ condition before tupping and the feed etc throughout pregnancy but that’s been no different to other years. The most logical explanation so far is a possible mineral deficiency. We feed ewe nuts and other feed which is enriched with minerals and we have had an energy lick bucket which also contains minerals in the field since December but maybe that’s not enough. We’ve now added a mineral lick bucket which contains high levels of selenium and vitamin E. We’ll do some research on a mineral drench for next year.

More detailed updates on the new lambs to follow but let’s end on a happy picture – the triplets playing in the sun earlier today.

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Registration Day

We said on our Facebook Page that today was a big day for Riddlesden Jacobs and it was. Today was our inspection to see whether or not our ewes can be registered in Appendix B of the Jacob Sheep Society (JSS) flock book. In other words – can we register them as pure bred Jacob sheep. Now, we know they are pure bred pedigree sheep but without registration there is no way to prove that! The flock our sheep came from used to be registered but at some point Malcolm stopped registering his lambs so eventually it all lapsed.

We have been going round in circles about whether to try and register or not. We don’t show our sheep and tend not to need to sell at the society sales – we sell the lambs we don’t keep as meat… With possible registration in mind though and to make sure we keep our sheep pure bred we have always bought a registered tup. When we bought Dino we were told that the Appendix system – the system by which an unregistered flock can become registered – was being phased out so we thought what the hell – we don’t have anything to lose and it may be useful to have the proof that our sheep are pure bred, genuine Jacob sheep.

The process started a little while ago with us sending photos of all the ewes to the field
officer. We did that in early October – we sent pictures of all 8 of our breeding ewes and 7 of the 8 were provisionally accepted and could go on to be inspected. Our number 1 black faced ewe was not accepted as she has a slightly forward growing horn. The inspector had a good look at her today, too and said she was very borderline but we saw little point in arguing about her. She’s a lovely little ewe but her horn clearly grows very slightly forward which is not a 20160402_171837trait you want in a sheep. It looks a little odd but more importantly it makes them much more difficult to handle if it’s more extreme. While this ewe is really really borderline, some of her lambs have had issues with horns – cute as they were just after birth (as in the picture).

The inspection was scheduled for today.We penned the ewes so they were ready. Our inspector, Gavin, was lovely and took time to learn about our flock and explain what he was looking for and why. Basically he was following the guidelines applied at JSS shows and sales which are based on the breed standard:

  1. Eyes: Check for split and raised eye lids and reject any sheep showing these faults.
  2. Mouths: Check mouths are correct in all lambs, shearlings and two-shear sheep. Aged sheep (i.e. three shear or over) which are a little forward on the pad will be passed but this must be announced by the auctioneer when selling. Vendors must adhere to this or sheep will not be allowed to be sold.
  3. Horns: Any sheep with forward or fused horns in 4-horned sheep or close horns in 2-horned sheep (one fingers width) will be automatically rejected.
  4. Pasterns: Must be correct in all sheep.
  5. Testicles: All males of any age must have two testicles of even size and free from abnormalities.
  6. Udders: If the udder in any ewe has any minor faults like lumps this must be announced by the auctioneer when selling. Vendors must adhere to this or sheep will not be allowed to be sold. Ewes with more serious problems, i.e. lost quarters, will be rejected.
  7. Blaze: All sheep must have a clear white blaze running from the top of the head to the muzzle.
  8. The inspectors’ decision will be final.

After checking all the ewes over Gavin agreed that all other 7 ewes were fine and put the JSS eartags in. We have a random number B80 but the others are from B140 – B145. So there we are. Our ewes are now Appendix B or Foundation Ewes. How exciting!

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Dino’s Journey

Dino has been with us for a few weeks now and has settled in really well. It’s about time we told you about his journey. It took a bit of organising as we don’t have a trailer yet (but are making progress – we’ve ordered it) and Malcolm was away and then we were going away and Dino’s previous owners were keen for us to pick him up. In the end Bernard was able to borrow a truck and he just built a crate from pallets that sat in the back. So we piled in – Me, Kath and Kath’s mum Anne and Bernard driving.

We got stuck in traffic a little but nothing too major and soon we arrived and were shown to a nice little barn where Dino was penned with some other sheep which were going to be taken to a show the next day. After doing the paperwork we got one of our little leather halters on Dino to lead him out to the car.

The halter was a little small so we need to dig out one of the bigger ones next time we need to walk anywhere with him. He was good as gold and we secured the crate and then were on our way. We were lucky with the traffic so the journey home was quicker than the trip there. Initially Dino thought it was all a little scary but then he settled down and actually spent most of the time lying down

Even on the journey Dino was quite vocal and he hasn’t really shut up since. He’s a little chatterbox. He always seems to have something to say and I don’t think he’s complaining. When we arrived at the field we opened the gate and then walked Dino out of the car down the ramp Bernard had built and straight into the field to meet his new friends.

The boys seemed quite interested and came to have a look almost immediately and Dino was also keen to meet them. We gave them all some food and that seemed to settle everyone in. Reluctantly we left them to it, hoping that they would get on ok. They did. The ram lambs are respectful of him it seems – he is a few weeks older than them and a bit bigger. The older ram (the dog attack triplet from 2015) is a bit more put out because he’d just got used to being the boss after Brough left. There’s a bit of pushing and shoving but nothing major at all. It’ll soon be time for Dino to join the girls anyway but it is nice that there hasn’t been any drama.

Here is Dino meeting the ram lambs for the first time


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Checking sheep and thunderstorms

If you were in Riddlesden last night you will have been treated to a spectacular thunderstorm. The lightning created quite a light show in the sky and the thunder was deafening – and rumbled on for a very long time.

img_1335Over the last few days we have been checking all our sheep. Obviously this is something we need to do regularly. We see them almost every day anyway and keep an eye on them so we’d spot any urgent problems. However, every so often we bring them all in and have a look at all of them properly. We try and coincide this with worming or any other regular treatment they might need. This round of routine maintenance showed again how important it is to know your sheep and keep an eye on them. We got all the rams into the shed (they follow a bucket – makes life so much easier) and a couple just had slightly mucky back ends. One of them though was behaving a little oddly. He was more nervous around us than usual and just laid down in the corner of the shed while we were looking at another one. We couldn’t immediately see a problem though when we got hold of him. He was a little mucky but didn’t seem to be scouring badly at all. Because he had been a bit weird we took our time, turned him over and had a really good look and then we spotted it – just a few little maggots on the inside of his back leg. Nothing dramatic but definitely the start of something potentially very nasty.img_1337

We sorted him out, treated the little wound with antiseptic spray and also sprayed him with fly and maggot killer. We so easily could have missed that but we both just felt he wasn’t quite right. We checked him the next day and he’s fine. Then we wormed all the boys. Given that we have a half marathon coming up shortly and neither of us bends or bounces like we used to, we left the girls for another day. Better not to do our backs in!

Last night we planned to check the girls, worm them and then sit with them and have a little BBQ.img_1360 The girls were a little spooked and getting them penned up wasn’t as straight forward as usual. They came into the big pen fine but it took as a couple of goes to get them into the smaller pen so we could work. Some of our calmest ewes were clearly anxious about something. The girls were all fine and we worked through worming them quite quickly. It was hot and muggy and they were panting away so we were keen to get them out again.

When we were done we were looking forward to a little sit down and some food and we turned round and were treated to this view of the sky getting darker and darker:

The sky was getting more and more menacing every minute and we (wisely, it turned out) decided to abandon the BBQ and head home. Just as well really because just about 15 minutes after we got home the sky at the back of our house looked like this:

The storm at least explains why the sheep were anxious, they could probably sense it coming and didn’t want to be penned up in a small space. I can sympathise with that. I’d love know where they sheltered and how they deal with a thunderstorm but I wasn’t about to head out and check!

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All Sorts of New Beginnings

I wrote about my work related new beginnings on my Ramblings of a Legal Academic site. Well it has also been a pretty momentous week for Riddlesden Jacobs. I keep thinking I will get time to finally update all the pages and catch up on the blog posts etc but it’ll never happen – at least not in the way I imagine it to. So I’ll just start blogging again and do little catch up posts in-between. It won’t be chronological but at least I won’t get further and further behind.

So all sorts of things have happened or been done recently. Shearing went fine with just little Edith getting a little cut because she just wouldn’t stop wriggling. We have moved our ewes from field to field a couple of times and it works lovely now – they just follow me (or rather the bucket) out of the field and then they know where they are going and just take themselves to the other field. Moving the ram lambs out was a little trickier but in the end we used a wheelbarrow and transported them one by one.

A little while ago we managed to sell our ram Brough. When the day came it all happened so fast that we never really said goodbye properly and then he was gone. He’s gone to a good home though so we’re happy.

So that means we need a new ram for this coming breeding season. Well we’d started looking around a little bit but didn’t see anything suitable locally. We saw one lovely looking ram on Preloved but it turned out that he was Brough’s half brother so we couldn’t use him. Then at Kilnsey show we saw a few lovely sheep from one particular flock and decided to ask whether the people who owned them had any for sale. Well it turned out that they were prepared to sell the ram lamb they had with them and he is lovely – more on him when we actually get him home. Don’t want to jinx anything.

Well then the getting him home thing raised the transport and not having a car that can pull the trailer issues again. We’ve gone round and round in circles about this thinking about having a second vehicle – something like a Landrover Defender but that didn’t seem to make any sense at all. So new plan, part 1 of which we put into place today. We have bought a new car. A Mitsubishi ASX which will pull a small trailer which is part 2 of the plan. The trailer we’ve got we’ll keep for journeys where we need to transport more than a couple of sheep and for those we will still have to rely on the goodwill of others but this way we can deal with things as they arise and take the pressure off everyone. In the words of a very wise little creature


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Ellie finds her legs

Catch up post number 5. Ewe Number 6 wanted to be out. Her babies did not. She appeared in the shed doorway several times calling her little ones and had to go back because they didn’t move. Eventually though they came with her and after a spectacular face plant in the mud just outside the doorway and an accompanying protest bleat, both lambs were out.

20160402_173552Once out they clearly enjoyed the space and the ability to try out their legs and Number 6 was obviously pleased to be out and grazing. She kept the lambs fairly close but let them run about a bit. They’re both quite bouncy but neither had particularly reliable brakes so the easiest way to stop is to face plant.

Once out of the shed Number 6 took her lambs across the field closer to the rest of the flock and seemed unconcerend when our gimmers went to have a look at her lambs. We watched them for ages and they were just playing and enjoying the fresh air. Mole hills are particularly fun for bouncing on it seems.


When I came back for the evening and bed time checks Number 6 had taken her lambs back into the shed – or maybe they had taken her. They were right at the back of the shed tucked up in a big pile of straw and Number 6 was guarding the door. When I came to check the others penned in the shed she stood by me and nuzzled my pockets until I got the message and got her some food.

I think it had been a very exciting and exhausting day for Ellie and her sister and I also think Number 6 was more than happy for them to just be asleep in the shed so she got get some peace just grazing by the door.