Ah, sweet bliss! The days are getting longer and warmer, plants and trees are starting to grow again and ewes are giving birth to their lambs. How can anyone resist smiling when they see those lovely little lambs doing their funny hoppy jumps around the fields? This weekend I paid a visit to Hadlow College Hadlow College – an agricultural college just 22 miles south east of London. They had an open weekend which allowed visitors to walk around their lambing shed, look at newborn lambs and if fortunate enough, see a lamb or two being born. I was lucky enough to catch a birth on film when I visited;
Staff at Hadlow College are expecting 814 lambs this year (not personally). From a mixed flock of Suffolk Crosses and Mules, 72 ewes are carrying one lamb, 288 ewes are carrying twins, 54 ewes are carrying triplets and 1 ewe is carrying quads. I always thought that sheep gave birth to lambs by themselves in the fields, but as seen in the short film above, the ewes are brought into a lambing shed to give birth under the supervision of staff, students and the watchful eyes of hundreds of spectators. It’s not the same intimate process that women go through when they give birth.
There is a large pen in which a group of expectant ewes wait to give birth and when they are ready they pick a spot and settle down. All the other ewes back away from the ewe actually giving birth and impressively, the lambs are up and walking and on this occasion seeking milk within minutes of being born. When the ewe has finished delivering her lambs, she and her offspring are given a few minutes to recover before the offspring are picked up and taken away to small private pens – followed by a bleating mother trying to catch up with them. They are held in these pens for a few days before they join a flock of ewes and lambs in the same lambing shed. Then they are turned out onto the fields to graze. The lambs are ‘grown’ for just 3 months before they are all sent to the slaughter. There are plenty of staff and students around to explain what and why everything is happening.
I went along because I thought it would be a cute sight, but also because I was thinking about the story of staff at Lydd Primary School who raised a lamb, and then slaughtered it in order to teach the school children about the food cycle. This particular story brought a lot of criticism suggesting that “the headteacher says she is teaching kids about the food chain, but letting them fall in love with the sheep, feed him and care for it is inappropriate. Can we not let kids hold on to their childhood for a little longer before they have to face the grim realities of life?”
I would have to side with the staff at the school. I completely support the idea that they had, even though the headteacher (which brought the school out of special measures) ended up resigning after a massive internet hate campaign against her and the school. Animal rights groups were very vocal as to why Ms Charman should not have sent the sheep to slaughter, but surely they were the ones that should have been supporting her? If I was taught about how meat reaches my plate when I was younger, then maybe I might just have turned vegetarian as a child and not as a 29 year old?
It is worth remembering that humans are not the only species that eat meat. Trainers from Xtreme Falconry use meat to train their birds of prey as seen in this next video;
I recently turned vegetarian for various reasons. It’s impossible to ask an animal for consent – to ask them if they mind being eaten (and it’s quite likely that the animals would prefer to stay alive). Also, given the pressures on worldwide food supply – it makes more sense to eat the grain that is fed to the animals, rather than to feed grain to animals, eat them and then have to grow even more grain for people.
But I don’t force my choice upon other people – not everyone I live with is a vegetarian which can make cooking at meal times interesting. Is it natural to eat meat? Birds of Prey have evolved to have tools such as excellent eyesight and razor sharp claws and beaks that they use to their advantage when it’s lunchtime. Humans have evolved to have tools such as guns and domesticated animals. One might argue that we do have an unfair advantage over animals that we choose to slaughter – but remember that humans themselves have predators too. When was the last time another MRSA or Ebola bug stopped to ask their fellow bugs if it was right to slaughter humans – or do they just act on instinct? If sheep had evolved to have a bleat with fatal sonic boom, do you think they wouldn’t be tempted to find out what we taste like? It’s a circle of life – but a circle in which we choose whether to eat meat or eat vegetables or eat both.
Maybe you prefer pigs rather than sheep?