Normally the Raine family, of Townfoot Farm, East Woodburn, would be juggling the end of lambing with their commitments to the sheep section at their local Northumberland County Show, but with the show cancelled, Rachel Raine has had the opportunity to record her experience of lambing during lockdown.

Rachel is the third generation of the family to hold the esteemed title of youngsRPS sheep section chief steward, with parents, Robert and Jackie, having fulfilled this role in recent years after taking over from Robert's father. Usually, this busy time would involve collating entries, finalising judges and planning pens on the show field, but not this year. Rachel also holds the post of secretary of the local branch of the Blackface Sheep Breeders Association, so life is always busy.

This spring, however, despite the global pandemic and national upheavals, at Townfoot Farm all attention has turned to the family's flock of 350 prize-winning Blackfaces and Texel ewes.

Rachel explained that for farmers, work continued very much as before, but felt even more isolated than ever. “Lockdown has not been as hard for us as for others. We have plenty of space, so we are not under each other’s feet, and there has been lots to do," she said. "We do miss the human contact though and being able to get out to see people.”

In her own words, she describes life with 350 lambing ewes and the satisfaction of seeing all the hard work come to fruition.


“Spring brings with it the hope of better weather and new life as the lambing begins. Sleepless nights and busy days are guaranteed for the next two months.

"Lambing sheep indoors is by no means easy, however it's essential, as there are too many predators to the newborn lambs. The beginning of March saw the first ewes come inside for lambing.

“The arrival of the first pure Texel lamb is a sight for sore eyes. The Texel is not the easiest of sheep to deal with at lambing time. You could describe them as too posh to push! Most of them need some sort of assistance.

“As the month moved on, the Mule ewes came into the shed. This is a new venture for us as this is the first lot of Mule ewes we have lambed. They were all in lamb to a Texel tup and so the arrival of the first Texel cross lambs at Townfoot was hotly anticipated!”


“As we entered April, the Blackface ewes moved into the shed. More suited to the hills, this breed of sheep can be a little difficult to deal with inside – but they are a hardy breed and need very little assistance in lambing. They are not always the most peaceful, however they do settle after a few days inside.

“Most of the Blackface ewes are in lamb to a Leicester tup – the cross between the Blackface ewe and the Leicester tup produces the Mule ewe – the rest of the Blackface flock are kept pure for replacements.

“As an avid enthusiast of the Blackface breed, I very much look forward to the first of the Blackie lambs to arrive. You are always looking for a lamb that could potentially make it into your show team!

“The lambing shed is like a conveyor belt. No sooner is a lamb born, that they are given time to bond with their mother, checked they have a full belly, then it's out into the fields ready for the next sheep to lamb."

The Raines are now coming out of their busiest time and can report a fine flock of lambs that have benefited from the warm, dry weather and the undivided attention of a devoted farming family.


“It has been a really successful lambing. We lost very few lambs, mainly thanks to them being indoors. The Texel cross lambs are fantastic and very high quality. I am so pleased with them!

"After working 20 hours a day, there are now only seven ewes left to lamb. They’re taking their time, but we’ll get there in the end."

Hopefully, after lockdown relaxes, others will agree that the latest generation of Townfoot sheep are a credit to the Raines. Rachel said she hoped that sales would resume in the autumn, albeit maybe in a different form, and looked forward to having the important social contact with other farmers at shows and marts later in the year.

“Lambing time is a 24/7 job, however the sight of a field full of happy lambs playing is the best reward!” concluded Rachel.