A FARMER has beaten odds of one in a million to welcome a special delivery of five lambs born to one ewe.

The rare quintuplets have shocked Christopher Hird and his wife, Jenny, after being born at their Aspatria farm.

The surprise lambs came on Monday lunchtime, as the couple from Broomhill Farm, were in the midst of their first lambing stint, and mother and babies are all doing well.

This is the second time in just four years that the couple have had a ewe that his given birth to five lambs.

“We had her scanned and we were told she may have quads,” said Jenny 35. “We bought the English Mule ewe about four years ago as a shearling and she has had lots of lambs, but never five or four,” said Christopher, 32.

“I was in the lambing shed when she had her first two relatively easy, so we came in for our dinner and left her to it. She had been scanned for four, but we were expecting triplets. But I jokingly said I bet she has five, and when we went out there were five lambs and all healthy,” added Christopher.

Each of the five lambs, all girls, are all doing well, but Christopher said he would start adopting them on to other ewes in the coming days. “We do need to take extra care of them, so we will leave the ewe with two and foster the other three. Ewes are not built to feed five. We have a few ewes with single lambs, and we will also supplement by bottle feeding,” added Christopher.

“Quads are rare, but for us to have two sets of quintuplets in so many years is unbelievable,” he said.

“We have one little black one and the rest are light coloured,” said Jenny.

The couple, whose flock consists of Suffolks and Mule crosses, have 1,050 sheep to lamb, and are a third of the way through their first stint of lambing 200, with the remainder lambed in April.

And Christopher and Jenny have help from their two children, Ave, 5 and Danny, 4, at what is a busy time on most Cumbrian sheep farms. “They love being involved, particularly at lambing time,” said Jenny.

“We have been farming together six years, but Christopher’s dad owns the farm,” added Jenny.

The odds of a ewe having five surviving lambs from one pregnancy has previously been described as one in a million.

Although multiple births do happen more regularly, it is common for one or more lamb to be stillborn.

The number of lambs born by each ewe varies from breed to breed. First time mums are more likely to give birth to one lamb, although twins are not uncommon. There are some breeds of sheep that average more than two lambs per litter.

Lambing for some farmers can start as early as December, but the majority of farmers will begin in early spring. The sight of lambs bounding in the fields has long represented the onset of spring and the end of winter.

When it comes to delivery, lots of ewes will deliver their offspring unassisted out in the field. But farmers are on hand night and day to keep a close eye in case there are any problems. Some ewes, especially first time mums, will be brought into the lambing shed to give birth in case they need a helping hand.

Lambs are born around 145 days (or about 4.5 months) after the ewe falls pregnant, and lambing can go on as late as June in some parts of the country.

Once the lamb is born, it’s important its gets up on its feet quickly and latches to the ewes teat to get the colostrum (first milk) which is packed with nutrients and antibodies. If this doesn’t happen within the first few hours, the farmer will collect the colostrum from the mother and feed it directly to the lamb using a tube.

“Lambing is going grand for us.We have had a lot of triplets this year and some singles. It’s important to get a routine in place. We like to lamb outside, but the ground has been so saturated,” said Jenny. “We hope the weather will have improved for our April lambing.”

Christopher normally checks the sheep last thing at night. Most of these ewes have lambed two or three times and they know what they are doing in theory. Most like to lamb in the day, but we do get the odd one or two that lamb through the night. It’s a case of keeping an eye on things, in case one might need some help,” he added.

That’s Farming reports that the chances of a ewe giving birth to quintuplets are a million to one. For all five lambs to be born alive and well is even rarer.