As temperatures plummet, farmers and their flocks are feeling the cold, and none more so than tiny lambs left orphaned due to the effects of drought.
But a colourful initiative to keep lambs warm with jumpers this winter has gained worldwide traction and has been saving lives – as well as bringing joy to farmers.
“It’s crazy and absolutely beautiful,” said Marie Knight, a farmer from Coonabarabran in north-west New South Wales.
Mrs Knight first put the call out to the world’s knitters to help create the tiny jumpers one year ago and since then she has distributed more than 56,000 of them to Australian farmers.
“The jumpers certainly help the lambs – and I planned on that – but what I never planned for was the extra support that would come pouring in from the people who knit them,” she said.
“Often we get cards and letters of support to pass onto farmers and that’s the beautiful thing.”
The jumpers have been donated from all around the world and, on any given day, Mrs Knight has been sending from one to 1000 items to farmers in need.
“The furthest afield we have received jumpers was from Belgium and they actually came with beautiful chocolates,” Mrs Knight said.
“Packages have also come from the United States, Canada, New Zealand and all over Australia.”
A colourful contribution
When Wollongong resident Noleen Shaw first heard about the worldwide push to knit lamb jumpers, she jumped with delight.
“I just love knitting of a night-time and my grandchildren don’t like knitted clothes so I thought I’d knit for the poor little lambs,” Mrs Shaw said.
The retiree said she knew few farmers but she recently knitted 12 jumpers – one jumper in each of the team colours within the National Rugby League competition.
“My favourite jumper to knit was the one I did up in the colours of the Illawarra Dragons,” Mrs Shaw said.
She was told the farmer who received her lamb jumpers was delighted, which made her feel great too.
“It makes you feel good knowing that you’re doing something for the farmers,” Mrs Shaw said.
“They’re having a rough trot at the moment.”
Mrs Shaw already has her next knitting project planned – she is going to create jumpers for lambs in all the colours of the AFL competition.
“I’ve got to work out all the colours first, but I’m going to do them too,” she said.
Warm jumpers are lifesavers
While they look cute and cosy, the jumpers help save orphaned lambs’ lives.
Sheep expert Geoff Duddy said lambs are most vulnerable in their first three days of life.
During that time they use a lot of their energy reserves trying to keep warm.
“Lambs have large surface areas so being able to regulate their body temperature is critically important,” he said.
Jumpers are ideal for lambs requiring extra warmth and protection, such as those orphaned, but Mr Duddy said lambs that do not require intervention should not have jumpers fitted.
“If you are entering the paddock and disturbing the ewe to pull a jumper on the lamb that could interfere with their relationship and put the lamb at risk,” he said.
“Further, if lambs get wet while in their jumpers – assuming they’re unlined – that could actually cause them a lot of harm.”
A cold road ahead
As temperatures continue to drop and pasture growth freezes, drought-affected farmers across the country are continuing to supplementary feed their flocks – a practice that Mr Duddy said gives sheep extra energy to weather the cold.
He said it would be a long and cold winter for many farmers.
Forecasts from the Bureau of Meteorology indicated this winter in NSW will be drier than average and the state is likely to see higher surface air pressures than normal, which will mean less cloud at times and a higher risk of frost in susceptible areas.
Mrs Knight encouraged avid knitters to continue donating lamb jumpers this winter.
“As farmers we all want to do the very best for our animals,” she said.