Lambing Joy or Misery ?
Lambing time is here again. Come Easter, families will be driving out into the countryside, taking the children to watch bouncy, active, happy little lambs playing in the fields, perhaps even bottle feeding them at “petting farms". What they won't be seeing is the misery that goes on out of sight of the public.
Lambing season can start as early as December and continue throughout the coldest, wettest, harshest months of the year. On most commercial farms ewes are lambed inside barns, the usual practice then is to turn them out into the fields when the lambs are a few days old to leave space for the next batch of ewes who are due to lamb. For a lot of these newly lambed ewes there is very little shelter, no grass, the ewe not only has to forage for enough food for herself but she has to produce enough milk to feed her lambs to keep them alive.
For ewes who live out on the moors and mountains it's an impossible job to watch them all. They like to find a private hidden place to give birth. Harsh weather, snow, strong winds can and will cause the deaths of vulnerable newborn lambs who are unable to regulate their body temperature until they are three days old. They need the warmth of their mothers' bodies and a bellyful of milk to stay alive.
A few years ago there was heavy snow throughout most of the country. A little Welsh Mountain ewe was found with just her head visible, the rest of her was buried under three feet of snow, it was thought she'd been there for about three days. She was dug out, her rescuers found she was sheltering two newborn lambs who were curled up together against her side. They all survived. It isn't known if any other animals in her flock were that lucky.It would be nice to think that after that ordeal she and her lambs would be given special treatment?
Lambing time isn't only the busiest time of the year for farmers, it's also the busiest time for the Licensed Deadstock Hauliers whose job it is to travel around the farms picking up the casualties and delivering them to the Incinerators. Dead lambs are put into large bags, the number of deaths doesn't have to be recorded. The number of deaths that happen out on the moors and mountains would be impossible to record accurately, and there's always the fox and the buzzards to take away the evidence.
Five to six months after giving birth ewes will have their lambs taken away. Older ewes thought to be past their best will be "culled", she's no longer profitable. The biggest majority of those will go for Halal slaughter. For the other ewes, they will be given respite of three to four months to recover before the ram is put out with them and the whole process begins again. A conveyor belt of misery for a tough, brave, stoic animal whose only role in life is to provide food for another species.
The True Price of Lamb
The lambing season is a time of year that is definitely not about little cute white animals gambolling in the fields at the side of their mothers but a time of extreme suffering and death.
The number of deaths that the farming world find acceptable is huge. Mike Huskisson of the Animal Cruelty Investigation Group says,”Hundreds of thousands of lambs and ewes die at this time.” A hauler of dead livestock tells Janet that,” I am out constantly picking up dead ewes and lambs from farms for the three months of the season.”
The farmers have to breed so many, in fact too many, to break even. Consequently the ewes do not get the attention that they need. Most young ewes are left to lamb on their own often in bad weather with no one there to supervise the births. Many of these ewes and their lambs die simply because no help is coming for them. To die giving birth is horrendous and can take a long time with no release except death when it eventually comes.
Many ewes simply give birth to too many lambs and do not have the strength or reserves to feed all of them. So they have to make a choice, one or more must be left to starve to death. Even in the snow this can take some time.
Adam, a lamb now at the Sanctuary was rescued from a field of dead and dying ewes and lambs, the dead being eaten by foxes. Adam was stood by the partially eaten bodies of his mother and his sibling. These animals were dying from a combination of starvation and a total absence of care when giving birth.
Fortunately not all farmers are cruel.
The plastic packets of meat in the supermarkets and adverts at the roadside for half a lamb or a whole lamb do not reflect in any way the suffering. The cute pictures on Easter and other cards do not reflect the death toll.
The ewes and lambs do not have a choice but the consumer does. If you have to buy meat it is more humane to source it locally. Shop at Marks and Spencer or Waitrose. They insist on high welfare standards from their suppliers. A lot of meat stamped Freedom Food Approved has been exposed as having the most appalling welfare standards. Better still don’t contribute to this industry at all.
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Please support the campaigns run by Compassion in World Farming, VIVA, Animal Aid and Hillside Animal Sanctuary.