Backlogs

Rick and I spent the past week and a half on vacation in Curacao – a small Caribbean island off the coast of Venezuela – and arrived home just before dusk last night. Although the trip was lovely and the warm tropical rays of the sun were relaxing, we returned to fifty-degree rain in Cedar Rapids. I knew that our very conscientious farm sitter had made the rounds of all the animals and finished the chores hours before, so instead of heading out to look over the flock, we shifted our attention to our backlog of household tasks: unpacking, doing laundry, sorting the mail, and buying groceries. Today, however, the focus is definitely on the flock!

The thing about leaving the farm is that it takes extra work and planning to get away — and then it takes additional work to catch up on the backlog when we return. I often wonder whether it’s worth all the extra effort, but the tranquility of a vacation far from phone and email puts me into a better frame of mind. I always come home relaxed and ready to get back to work — whatever that entails!

Today that means checking on each of the breeding groups, confirming the rams’ crayon markings that our farm sitter observed, and then changing the crayon to a new color for the remainder of our breeding season. In each of the past fifteen years, we’ve always pulled the rams by the first of November; but this year I’ve opted to extend things by a week. Because I used a number of ram lambs in the Romney groups at the beginning of the season and I was doubting whether they were actually breeding the ewes, I opted to put all the ewes together on the day before our trip and let Martin, our adult Romney ram, breed all that were not yet bred. If the little boys did their work, Martin would be bored; but if the ewes were still open, at least Martin would ensure Romney lambs for next spring. I decided that if we found a good number of markings upon our return, I’d figure out how long I would leave him there. The end of breeding season this year would be dependent on what I found when we got home.

It seems that Martin, too, has been dealing with his own backlog and has been a very busy boy in our absence! I have yet to do an exact count, but the Romney field seems to be covered in ewes bearing obvious blue crayon markings! This means that we will have a lot of late Romney lambs next spring, and it also tells me that the little boys were not as mature as we had hoped. As a result, for the first time since Peeper Hollow Farm has had sheep, our breeding season will extend into November. I want to make sure that every Romney ewe has the opportunity to cycle at least once while Martin is in their field — therefore we’ll need to count three weeks from the time he entered the pasture on October 16th. As a result, our breeding season will end this year on Friday, November 6th, instead of on October 31st.

That means that we need one more crayon change for our group of rams. The Romeldales (Noa, Muldoon, and Nahe) have been quite inactive for the past couple of weeks, which implies that their ewes are pregnant. Leaving the rams in with their groups for an extra week will do nothing in this type of situation; the rams will not breed the ewes if they are not in heat, and the pregnant ewes no longer cycle through heat. As a result, we will put new crayons on these boys just in case one of the ewes has lost the pregnancy she carried (as occasionally happens due to illness or stress), but I don’t expect to see much breeding in the Romeldale groups between now and Nov. 6th.

The Romneys, on the other hand, are still very active. Since a ewe cycles through heat every two to three weeks (averaging every 17 days), we could still see a number of ewes marked in the next ten days. There is now so much blue crayon on ewes in that field that it’s honestly hard to tell who is newly marked, so a crayon change is definitely in order. The new color — purple — will mean that I can ignore the ocean of blue in the Romney field and just look for purple. Although I’m not seeing that color right now, I expect that as Martin goes through his backlog of ewes in the coming days, I’ll begin to see quite a number of girls sporting purple. Hopefully by the time we reach Friday, Nov. 6th, the Romneys will be like their Romeldale/CVM flockmates: all happily sporting crayon markings and settled (pregnant), and more than ready to return to their normal matriarchal society for grazing. The end of breeding season for our flock is near — but it’s not here yet!

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