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 is seeing new life around the estate. The rare-breed Portland lambs are a spring favourite. When you come to see them bouncing around the walled garden, you're helping us to look after this rare breed.

When is lambing time?

Lambing time is usually between the end of March and the beginning of April. Join us at Home farm on 25–26 March and 1–2 April for an opportunity to see the new-born lambs with their mothers. If you’re lucky, you might even see a lamb being born.

You’ll need a garden ticket for the lambing events – pop into the Ticket Office for more information. This event takes place from 11.00am to 3.30pm.

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

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. The ewe separates herself from the flock and makes a ‘nest’, spending a lot of time resting on 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

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.