Amgueddfa Blog: Lambcam

Lambing in the life and economy of rural Wales and its farming families

Gareth Beech, 24 March 2023

Farming families in Wales who primarily keep sheep are dependent upon lambing for their main income for the year. A successful lambing season is essential for their farming livelihoods. A large proportion of the farm’s income will be from the sale of the lambs for meat. It’s a period of bringing new life on the farm, of care and nurturing the new-born lambs, long hours, sometimes in difficult conditions, to generate income for the farming families. 


The family farm still retains great importance in the Welsh rural economy.  

Many farms have sustained generations of the same families and have been an essential part of the Welsh rural economy and life through producing food, employment, and supporting ancillary rural industries and crafts for equipment, supplies and machinery.  


Lambing and harvesting, the busiest periods on the farm, still often include all the members of the farming families. Everyone is part of the care of the flock, delivering the lambs, their care and rearing, along with the essential tasks of feeding and watering, clearing out pens, applying treatments, and driving the ewe mothers and lambs out to the fields when strong enough. It is now common for a partner to have employment elsewhere with a separate income from farming. They still often work on the farm as well. Lambing continues twenty-four hours a day. It is unpredictable at what time of day or night a sheep might give birth during the lambing period.   


Traditional husbandry skills and knowledge, passed down over generations are combined with modern nutrition and animal health treatments.  The satisfaction, pleasure and relief of seeing new life arrive and flourish, is combined with the tiredness of long hours and night shifts, working in muck and mud, or in cold and wet conditions outside. There are the disappointments and frustrations of losses, which will directly affect income and profitability. The regular, repetitive tasks of clearing out pens, spraying disinfectant, laying new straw bedding, are essential for preventing diseases such as E-coli amongst the vulnerable new-born lambs.   


Modern lambing more likely to be done inside now in large sheds, rather than out in the fields as in the past. Lambing can take place in batches, timed by when the rams released to groups of ewes, to spread the work and lessen the intensity. Scanning ewes in advance will show which ewes are pregnant and with how many lambs, so they can be grouped and given the necessary attention and care. Ewes not pregnant would be kept on the fields. The timing of lambing takes place in Wales can be influenced by location, altitude and weather conditions, or whether aimed to sell at a specific time or for a particular demand.  


Welsh breeds such as Welsh Mountain and Beulah continue to be popular in upland and mountainous areas. The drive for better quality lambs to meet tastes at home and for export markets in Europe, the Middle East and Asia has included using continental breeds such as Texels originally from Holland. Breeds on upland and hill farms in particular need to be hardy and be able withstand cold and wet conditions. Some new breeds haven’t flourished, being vulnerable to conditions such as foot rot because of the not being resilient in a damp climate.  


Lambing, like all aspects of modern agriculture, has evolved considerably based on the application of science and technology. The body for promoting the sale of Welsh lamb, Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales, describes the contemporary approach: ‘As one of the world’s leading producers of lamb, Wales has been at the forefront of developments in the sheep industry. As consumers’ tastes change, so has farming. Agriculture has also evolved, combining traditional husbandry passed down through generations in tune with Wales’s outstanding natural environment with new innovations to make the most of best practice in terms of nutrition and animal health.’  


Nutrition and animal health treatments aim to maximise carcase value, and new methods based on the results of research and development. One method is that of ‘sponging’, using progestogen, a synthetic version of the naturally occurring hormone progesterone. Flocks can be brought into season earlier and at the same time, lambing at a very specific time period, and earlier in the year. It can allow for more planning of labour and resources, and to produce lambs when there may be fewer new lambs for market. It can also mean a very intense, short period, especially if there are twins and triplets requiring more time and attention, or ewes with complications. 


The total value of Welsh lamb exports in 2022 was £171.5 million, an increase from £154.7 million in 2013. 


The number of sheep in Wales went over 10 million in 2017 for the first time in the twenty first century. Sheep numbers had previously fallen from about 12 million after the end of government payments to support agriculture based on the number of animals kept.  


How lambing in Wales will be in the future could be influenced by several factors: the number of sheep; consumer preferences; sustainability; and climate change. New trade agreements might offer new possibilities but also increased competition from cheaper imports. Exports of Welsh lamb to the Unites States finally resumed in 2022, and the countries of the Gulf and China are thought to have potential for increased exports. Changes to government payments in Wales to the Sustainable Farming Scheme will be based on environmental benefits and restoring bio-diversity, as part of a sustainable agriculture industry. Perhaps it is still partly a way of life, with a professional business approach, adapting to meet the nature of markets, with entrepreneurship to create new products for a sustainable and profitable industry.  


Most lambs will be sold for meat from 4 to 12 months old. At St Fagans, most of the female lambs will be either sold or kept as pedigree breeding stock. Most of the males will go for meat with a few of the best sold as breeding rams.  


In 2020, Welsh lamb was given Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status by the UK Department of Food Rural Affairs and Agriculture (DEFRA). Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) is a status awarded by the UK Government that protects and promotes named regional food products that have a reputation or noted characteristics specific to that area. It means that only lambs born and reared in Wales and slaughtered in approved abattoirs are legally described as Welsh Lamb. This superseded the previous EU PGI status awarded in 2003.  


In an upland and mountainous country unsuited to many types of agriculture but where the keeping of sheep flourishes, the annual lambing will always be an important part of it, for introducing new life, providing a viable farming business, and sustaining family farms. 

Croeso, welcome to Lambcam 2023!

Ffion Rhisiart, 2 March 2023

As the first signs of Spring start to appear, that can only mean one thing here at St Fagans – it’s time to get ready for another lambing season! We know that lots of you will be looking forward to #lambcam, and with over 380 lambs on the way it’s going to be another busy year for the Museum’s Farming Team. 


Lambcam 2023 is once again brought to you by a small but dedicated team, who will stream the action live from our lambing shed on 6-19 March between 8am-8pm (GMT). We’ll keep in touch with Emma the shepherd and the experienced staff who are on hand during the day and through the night looking after the ewes and their lambs, and we’ll bring you key updates from overnight the following morning. 


This year’s Lambcam team is also joined by two Amgueddfa Cymru Producers, Tom and Mari, who will both take turns controlling the camera as well as filming at Llwyn-yr-eos Farm to bring you some behind-the-scenes footage for Lambcam Extra. We can’t wait to share those videos with you throughout March – keep an eye on the Lambcam webpage and Amgueddfa Cymru’s social media pages to follow the action. 


Our 259 breeding ewes were pregnancy scanned around Christmas time and marked up with orange dots to show if they are expecting 1, 2 or 3 lambs. (We’re not expecting any quads this year, but you never know, they’ve been a surprise both times we’ve had them before!) The ewes were then moved into the lambing sheds in early January for some pre-natal TLC. At this time, they were also separated into pens with those expecting a single lamb in one group and those expecting twins or triplets in the other. 

Here’s a reminder of what the orange dots on the ewes’ backs mean... 

  • No dot = expecting a single lamb 
  • One dot = expecting twins 
  • Two dots = expecting triplets 

Once the lambs are born, the lambs and their mother will be marked with the same number, so we know who belongs to who before they head out to the field. 


We hope you enjoy watching again this year – and please keep in touch with us by leaving a message on the Lambcam webpage or on socials using #lambcam #sgrinwyna 


Many of the returning Lambcam Superfans will be familiar with Bernice, who has worked hard behind the scenes leading Amgueddfa Cymru’s Lambcam project since it started in 2015. Bernice hung up her wellies and waterproof trousers last summer to take a well-earned break and I’m sure you’ll all join us in wishing her well. We have no doubt you will be following the action B, hopefully whilst sipping a cocktail on a warm beach somewhere! 

Sheep Farming In The Past

Meredith Hood - PhD student Zooarchaeology, 22 March 2022

What is my project about? 

Hello! I’m Meredith, a PhD student working at Cardiff University and Amgueddfa Cymru. I am a zooarchaeologist, which means I study animal remains from archaeological sites to find out more about the relationship between humans and animals in the past. So, Lambcam seemed like a great opportunity to share a little bit about my project, and how we can learn about sheep farming in the past! 

For my project, I am studying the animal bones from the site of Llanbedrgoch on Anglesey.  This was an early medieval settlement, occupied from the 5th to 11th centuries AD. Archaeologists recovered over 50,000 pieces of animal bone from Llanbedrgoch, which will provide a really valuable insight into farming practices and diet at this time. You can read about my research in a little more detail here

Image: Volunteers washing animal remains from Llanbedrgoch.

Volunteers washing animal remains from Llanbedrgoch. ©Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum of Wales.


I am currently recording all the bones into a database and trying to identify what animals they came from. This can be tricky, particularly when the bones are very broken. Sheep bones can also be an extra challenge to identify as they look extremely similar to goat bones!  

Image: Recording animal bones in the bioarchaeology laboratory at Cardiff University.

Recording animal bones in the bioarchaeology laboratory at Cardiff University. (Photo: Meredith Hood)

How can we find about sheep farming in the past?  

Sheep remains can tell us lots of information about how sheep were farmed and used in the past. For example, we can estimate the age at which a sheep died by looking at how worn their teeth are, or whether their bones have fused. Sheep that were kept for a long time as adults may have been used for their wool or milk. 

Image: A modern sheep mandible/jawbone (top) compared to an early medieval fragment of a sheep jawbone from Llanbedrgoch, Anglesey (bottom).

A modern sheep mandible/jawbone (top) compared to an early medieval fragment of a sheep jawbone from Llanbedrgoch, Anglesey (bottom) (Photo: Meredith Hood)

Image: Two sheep humeri (upper arm) bones. The bone on the left is from a juvenile, and the bone on the right is from an adult.

Two sheep humeri (upper arm) bones. The bone on the left is from a juvenile, and the bone on the right is from an adult. (Photo: Meredith Hood) 

We can also look for things such as butchery or burning marks on bones which might tell us that lamb or mutton was eaten. Certain body parts, like the pelvis, can tell us the sex of the sheep, which can suggest whether breeding might have taken place on a site. 

Image: Part of a sheep metatarsal showing black burning marks.

Part of a sheep metatarsal showing black burning marks. (Photo: Meredith Hood)

What do we know about sheep farming in early medieval Wales?  

Unfortunately, animal bones from early medieval Wales haven’t survived very well in the soil. But from archaeological sites where they have survived, it appears that sheep were predominantly being kept for their secondary products like wool and milk.  

Historical texts can also give us some clues. Law texts surviving from the 13th century which have been attributed to Hywel Dda (a 10th century king) describe, for example, how much sheep were worth (‘One Penny is the worth of a lamb whilst it shall be sucking’1) and that ‘fat’ sheep should be given to the king as render payments.   

The large number of bones from Llanbedrgoch is really exciting and should provide us with more information about early medieval Welsh sheep farming, so watch this space! 

Image: Illustration of sheep from the Laws of Hywel Dda, mid-thirteenth century.

Illustration of sheep from the Laws of Hywel Dda, mid-thirteenth century. From: Peniarth MS 28 f. 25 v. (Image: Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru – The National Library of Wales, Public Domain)

[1] Owen, A. (1841). Ancient Laws and Institutes of Wales. London, p.715

Welcome to Lambcam 2022

Bernice Parker, 11 March 2022

We have over 250 breeding ewes in the flock and we expect over 350 lambs – so this a very busy time of year for the team that care for our sheep. There are experienced staff on hand throughout the day and night once things get going in the lambing shed.

So, what does a normal birth look like? Lambing is an unpredictable business, so it can vary wildly – but here are some of the things you might see:


  • Water bag (intact or burst) and mucus hanging out of the back of the sheep before birth.
  • Pair of feet protruding from the ewe’s back end.
  • In early labour, the ewe will be restlessly getting up and down and pawing at the ground.
  • As labour progresses, she will usually get down to push and stay down. Her contractions will get stronger with lots of physical effort visible.
  • She may have her head thrown back, eyes wide and top lip curled back. This all normal and means that birth is hopefully imminent.
  • Normal labour can take anything from 30 minutes to many hours. The farm team try to keep the shed quiet and calm and allow the sheep to lamb naturally where possible. They will only intervene to protect the welfare of the ewe and her lambs.


  • If the ewe has lambed naturally – both her and the lamb may lie still for a bit after the lamb is born. It’s been hard work for both of them, and all the lamb needs to be doing at this point is breathing. Ideally without the bag (amniotic sac) over its head.
  • As part of the birth, the bag will normally break and be pulled back off the lamb’s nostrils. Sometimes the farmers may nip in to help this process.
  • Lambs will be born covered in mucus, bits of the bag and sometimes smears of blood. This is all normal – the ewe will lick it clean, which will help stimulate the lamb to breathe and warm it up.
  • Sometimes they come out with a yellow or greenish coating. This is called meconium (first poo) where the lamb has opened its bowels before/during birth.

Newborn lambs:

  • Newborn lambs often twitch/shiver and thrash about. This is normal, and a good way to get the ewe’s attention. It’s also preparation for getting up and walking within minutes of being born. If you are a prey animal rather than a predator you need to be born ready to run (or hidden away in a den/nest).
  • Lambs will also twitch/sneeze repeatedly as they clear the birth fluids from their noses and throats. Sometimes the farmers stick a bit of straw up the lamb’s nostrils to make it sneeze and help this process. They will also pat the lamb, or ‘cycle’ one of its front legs to stimulate the coughing/breathing reflex.
  • If this doesn’t work - sometimes the farmers will swing a lamb by its back legs. This uses centrifugal force to help clear the lamb’s throat and get it to start breathing.
  • Newborn lambs get a squirt of disinfectant spray on their navels. This helps to stop them getting infections from the shed floor through the newly severed umbilicus.

Moving from the lambing shed to the nursery area:

  • After they have given birth, all ewes and their lambs will be moved out of the lambing shed.  
  • The farmers carry lambs by their legs:
    • Because they have much stronger legs, and are much lighter than human babies.
    • It avoids covering the lamb with human scent when they need to bond with their mothers.
    • The kindest way to move a ewe that has just given birth is to get her to follow her lambs. Sheep’s instinct is to run away from humans – not follow them. But they will usually follow their new lambs when the farmers hold them like this.
    • Each new family ges off to a bonding pen to get to know each other and be safe from the action in the lambing shed.
  • Ewes that are less keen to follow their lambs (or ones that just run off after giving birth) are usually yearlings lambing for the first time.
  • The yearlings are also much wilder, as they are less used to being handled with the flock. You might see the farmers use a different technique to move these sheep and their lambs:
    • They will remove the lambs first, so they don’t get trampled.
    • Then catch the ewe – which can still run fast even thugh she has just given birth!
    • They will walk these sheep out with their legs astride the ewe’s shoulders. This the best way to control the sheep and stop it doing a complete runner. (They are NOT sitting on them).
    • The whole family will be reunited in a bonding pen – where everything usually settles down quite quickly as the ewes come around to the idea of motherhood.

You can find out lots more about our sheep at lambing time in these blogs from previous years:

Lambcam 2021 - FAQs:   | National Museum Wales

A guide to lamb presentation - aka ‘what’s going on in there?’ | National Museum Wales

Wales' First Farmers

Jody Deacon, Curator: Prehistory (Collections and Access) , 26 February 2021

The launch of Lambcam 2021 seems like the perfect opportunity to think about the world of the very first farmers in Wales. This takes us back around 6000 years, to the beginning of the Neolithic period, a time when the hunting and gathering ways that had governed life for millennia were being challenged for the first time. Here we’ll take a quick look at three Early Neolithic innovations – farming, stone axes and pottery. 

Farming fundamentally altered how people interacted with their environment. The wild woodlands that covered most of Britain started to be cleared using axes and fire creating areas suitable for animals and new cereal crops. Seasonal rhythms that had previously encouraged movement around the landscape became tied to the demands of cultivating crops and raising animals for milk, meat, skins and hair. 

Today sheep are a familiar sight grazing on the Welsh hills but before 4000BCE people living in Britain would have been more used to aurochs (wild cattle measuring 1.8m at the shoulder), red deer, wild boar and wolves than exotic creatures like the domestic sheep! That said, a Neolithic sheep might challenge our modern expectations of what it is to be a sheep! They were much smaller with shorter, brown wiry hair rather than having the fluffy white wool we’re more familiar with – something like the modern Soay sheep found in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. 

Polished stone axes were another Neolithic innovation! The Public History and Archaeology department holds over 1,200 ‘roughouts’ and finished axes that have been found across Wales.  

Many stone axes come from specific rock outcrops that were returned to over many years. In these remote places, stone was quarried and roughly shaped before being taken elsewhere to be finished and polished into fine axes. Sometimes axes are found considerable distances from their original outcrops – this helps archaeologists to understand the ways different groups of Neolithic people might have been connected.  

Making and finishing a stone axe was a time-consuming business - it took hours of polishing with sand and water to create the smooth, polished surface.  

Some axes would have been practical tools, used for felling trees, shaping wood or even as weapons. Others are incredibly beautiful and finely made. These may have been used to show prestige, status and connection to special places or groups of people. 

Most of us have a favorite tea mug, breakfast bowl or plant pot so it’s hard to imagine a time when pottery did not exist. For the first farmers, pottery was the latest technology! Wet clay was shaped and changed into hard ceramic in a bonfire – this might have seemed magical at first, but it quickly caught on and pottery use spread across Wales. The first pots were simple bowls with rounded bases that were good for resting on the ground. They could be used for cooking, serving and storing food or to hold liquids such as soups and stews.