No ewes complaining about the snow

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The Independent Online

For many, the response to the thick blanket of snow has been a slippery journey to work and a desire to sit around a log fire. Spare an admiring thought then for Valerie Honeyfield's flock of Badger Face Welsh Mountain sheep, whose reaction to the wintry weather has been to head out into the cold and give birth, pretty much all at once.

Before the Siberian winds swept in earlier this week, Mrs Honeyfield's flock of 38 breeding ewes had given birth to three new lambs, with the remainder expected to arrive over the next month or two. Yesterday, the Northamptonshire farmer and her husband, John, were looking after 50 lambs born within the space of three days in a snow-covered field.

The mass outbreak of lambing has caused the couple, who have been farming the distinctive black and white-faced breed for 30 years, to set up a round-the-clock maternity ward in their barn to ensure sufficient feed and water for the new arrivals, which include two sets of triplets.

Mrs Honeyfield, from Preston Deanery, near Northampton, said: "We would normally expect the lambs to come over a couple of months, but this year has been rather different.

"They are a very hardy breed so they are perfectly at home out in the field. When the lambs are born they are in a birth coat which means they don't get cold – you can pick them up after a couple of hours and they are still warm.

"We're a little mystified as to why so many have come at once. It seems to be linked to the cold snap," she said. Another possibility was that it was linked to veterinary checks carried out on the sheep recently for blue tongue disease. "The tricky bit is that we normally plan to have about 10 pens in operation to look after the lambs. At the moment we've got 20 – that is a lot of buckets of water and feed," she said. Although the lambing season starts as early as this month, the Badger Facesheep generally gives birth in late March or April, making the events in Northamptonshire even more unusual.

After several years in the doldrums, sheep farming has recently been enjoying a renaissance , spurred by rising meat prices. The Honeyfields' award-winning flock are part of a growing population of Badger Face sheep in Britain; the breed is in demand for its resilience, good temperament and lean, tender meat.

The Badger Face Welsh Mountain Sheep Society says farmers facing swingeing rises in feed costs are turning to the breed because of its thrifty grazing habits and ability to fatten rapidly.

Mrs Honeyfield, said: "They are quite intelligent. People think sheep are stupid, but this breed isn't. They are also tremendous scavengers. If you put them in a new field, they will go around the edge getting all the weeds before they even look at the grass."