Lambing time at Calke Abbey

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

One of the delights of spring at Calke Abbey is seeing new life around the estate. It's lambing time for the flock of rare-breed Portland sheep, and the bouncy little lambs are a spring favourite at this pretty time of year.

When is lambing time?

Lambing time is usually between the end of March and the beginning of April. Join us at Home Farm to see the new-born lambs with their mothers – if you're lucky, you might even see a lamb being born.

This year's lambing weekends will take place on Sat 16, Sun 17, Sat 23 and Sun 24 Feb from 11am to 3.30pm. Non-members will need a garden ticket, which you can get from the ticket office.

See the lambs bouncing around the walled garden
Spring is lambing time for the rare-breed Portland lambs at Calke Abbey, Derbyshire
See the lambs bouncing around the walled garden

What happens at lambing time?

During lambing, our countryside team spend a lot of time looking at 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 new-born 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.

New-born lambs with their mother in the walled garden
Spring is lambing time for the rare-breed Portland sheep at Calke Abbey, Derbyshire
New-born lambs with their mother in the walled garden

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.