Contract Lambers are contracted by farmers and travel from farm to farm to assist with lambing in the spring. They generally also help with shearing in the summer months.
A sheep farm will have a range of animals of different ages. Farmers who breed sheep will keep a flock of female sheep or ‘ewes’. Commercial flocks vary from a few hundred to a few thousand. Male breeding sheep, or ‘rams’, are placed with a group of ewes 5 months before the farmer wants for the ewes to give birth or ‘start lambing’.
This is usually in the spring, when there is plenty of grass to feed the ewes and lambs, although some sheep breeds can become pregnant and lamb outside of the natural lambing season.
The ewes rear their lambs until they are old enough to eat only grass and sheep feed, and the lambs are then weaned off the ewes. The group of lambs are kept until they are the correct weight and fatness and are then sold for meat through markets and abattoirs.
Some farmers without a flock of ewes will buy lambs to eat their grass and to fatten for the food chain. Farmers take pride in producing a high quality animal meeting high welfare standards and Contract Lambers are part of this process.
A Contract Lamber may also carry out general tasks such as:
- Maintaining accommodation
- Maintaining the health and welfare of livestock.
They work under the supervision of the Shepherd, Farm Manager or even the land owner who owns or rents the land.
Contract Lambers generally work at least 39 hours per week but may need to do paid overtime during busy periods.
Early mornings, evenings and weekend work can be part of the lambing period.
The working conditions will depend on the farm. Many sheep are kept outside for most of the year but may be brought in for lambing.
Salaries vary with experience, qualifications and between companies, but here's a guide to what you can expect.
Contract Lambers do not need any specific qualifications but they will need to have experience of working with sheep and the lambing process.
It may be possible to enter this career through a Modern Apprenticeship.
What experienced workers can do
- Maintain site bio-security
- Control and restrain sheep using correct methods
- Assist with lambing process
- Care for livestock and young after birth
- Maintain feed and water
- Maintain accommodation
- Deliver basic treatment.
Personal qualities you should have
- Work on own initiative
- Work in a team or with others
- Able to solve problems.
With the right qualifications and experience, Contract Lambers can gain promotion to a Shepherd or Farm Manager. There is competition for these vacancies, and movement from farm to farm to gain experience and promotion is usual.
Working on a larger farm offers more opportunities to specialise.
For those wishing to progress into farm management a degree in subjects such as agriculture and animal or farm management may be an option.
There may also be opportunities to work abroad.