York House Outdoor Learning and Smallholding Manager Tara Warren on the impact of springtime additions to the flock at the Hertfordshire prep school

At York House we are no strangers to wildlife. Our onsite smallholding is permanent home to more than 50 different animals, including donkeys, pigs, goats, deer and sheep. In 2021, we welcomed 14 lambs (nine rams and five ewes). Before we lambed, we only had 13 sheep in our smallholding. The flock looked small for the size of the paddock, and it was at this point that we had discussed lambing our ten Shetland ewes.

We were keen for our children to have the chance to experience the miracle of seeing new life. Lambing offers the opportunity to combine the teaching of science topics with real-life examples. Children learn where the lambs come from and are able to witness the birth of a lamb. Teachers have also brought their classes out to see the lambs, some just a few hours old, and the children have been mesmerised.

“Lambing is truly an education in life – it is also something that will live on in our children’s memories”

Lambing teaches many valuable lessons. It highlights the importance of calmness, quietness and understanding around animals. Children are intrinsically drawn to the strong bond and nurturing instinct they see between ewe and lamb, which is helpful when discussing their own families and family values. We find children tend to think more carefully about their actions – the need to be caring, kind and gentle is reflected in how they treat their peers and family.

This year, we selected six of our friendly ewes to be tupped. The children have been involved in the process via our smallholding club and have had the chance to meet ‘Mr Jigsaw’ our new pure bred Shetland ram. We discuss why he is sharing a paddock with the ewes, the difference between an intact and a castrated ram and length of gestation in sheep. The children also get involved in feeding time, ensuring ewes have enough feed to help the lambs grow.

York House on spring watch
Children learn valuable lessons about the care of animals, and also how to interact with them, says Tara Warren

Post birth, the children can visit the lambs during every smallholding club. We follow the path of nature and allow the children only to stroke the lambs if they approach. That way the newly born lamb and its mother have time to bond and create trust. If a lamb needs a top up of milk, then we will allow the children the chance to assist with the feeding and preparation of the milk bottles. There are a multitude of skills to be learnt, patience for one. Children soon learn that you cannot force a lamb to approach and that it is just as rewarding to sit down and watch – and that lambs are more likely to be inquisitive and approach you. What children learn during lambing may even stimulate their own interest in becoming future farmers, vets or smallholders. As well as obvious benefits for academic learning, being around any animal helps to improve mental wellbeing.

Each lamb has its own personality, and the children are able to build long-term relationships with them, watch them play, grow and develop, and to feel part of their life story. Children in our nursery now will recall seeing lambs being born when they leave the school at the end of Year 8 – those sheep having grown and developed alongside them in their own educational journey. Lambing in school is truly an education in life. It is also something that will live on in our children’s memories as they continue taking their own steps towards the future.

York House School york-house.com

Further reading: Bassett House School celebrates pony partnership