Lambs and livestock at Calke Abbey

Lambing time | National Trust Calke Abbey | Derbyshire

Calke Abbey is home to a flock of rare-breed Portland sheep, as well as lots of livestock that you can see roaming around the estate in spring and summer. Find out about lambing season, how this rare breed came to Calke, and how you can help look after the livestock here.

Lambs and other livestock

Lambing season begins as spring sweeps across the estate in March and April. The rare-breed Portland lambs, symbolic of the Calke Estate, are born at Home Farm, where the ranger team can keep an eye on them while the newborns find their feet.

When they're old enough, the lambs and their mothers are moved to the walled kitchen garden, where you can see them bouncing around in the long grass or taking a snooze in the sun. It's a lovely sight to see if you're strolling through the gardens in spring. 

Calke is also home to lots of other livestock, including a large flock of sheep, owned by local farmers Joe and Sue Hallifield, and the long-horn cattle who roam the estate throughout the spring and summer months. Sadly, we've seen in increase in dogs worrying the sheep this year, which has resulted in livestock injuries and fatalities.

Even the friendliest dogs can be unpredicatable, so please help us look after the sheep by keeping dogs on leads at all times around livestock. Thank you. 

Rare-breed Portland lambs at Calke Abbey
Portland sheep and lambs at Calke Abbey in Derbyshire
Rare-breed Portland lambs at Calke Abbey

What happens at lambing time?

During lambing, the ranger team observe the flock for the tell-tale signs that a ewe is ready to give birth – for example, she may appear restless, pacing and pawing the ground.

Once the lamb is born, it can stand up within a few minutes! The newborn then gets its first drink of milk, which it needs to keep it healthy.

The lamb and mother are then taken to a pen for 24 hours, where the ewe has her hooves trimmed and a dose of worming medication. The lamb is vaccinated against infections and given two ear tags, so we can identify it.

Spring is lambing time for the rare-breed Portland sheep at Calke
Spring is lambing time for the rare-breed Portland sheep at Calke Abbey in Derbyshire
Spring is lambing time for the rare-breed Portland sheep at Calke

Calke’s rare-breed Portland flock

The Portland is a small sheep breed, identifiable by their tan coloured face, small hooves and long tail. Unlike many other breeds, both the ewes and rams have their horns – although in rams they’re much thicker and more spiralled.

Portland sheep have been associated with Calke Abbey since they were introduced to the estate by Sir Henry Harpur in 1770 to graze the parkland around the newly built mansion. They were chosen for their ability to survive on the nutrient-poor soils in the area.

" We were bound in search of Farmer Lowman, of whom I wished to purchase some of the sheep of the island, to take home to Calke, as an addition to my flock."
- An extract from the 1835 journal of Sir George Crewe Bart.

Most of the flock was sold after Sir Henry’s grandson passed away, but the small flock was revived again in the 1950s by Charles Harpur Crewe. If it wasn’t for the flock at Calke, it’s likely that Portland’s would have become extinct. There are now around seventy Portland sheep in Calke’s flock.

Every time you visit the lambs at Calke, you're helping us to protect this rare breed which is part of Calke's heritage. Thank you for your continued support.