I realize the sheep in the above photo are very tiny, but that is somewhat the point. Our breeding rams have been among the ewes for nearly three weeks now. The heat cycle of any given ewe averages about seventeen days. Based on my flock, they tend to run from a short fourteen days to an upper limit of about twenty-one days (three weeks). This means that now, at about three weeks into breeding, each ewe has cycled at least once while in her group, assuming they were already cycling when we put the rams in.
This assumption is likely quite accurate for the Romeldales. Based on marking crayons and flock history, the Romeldales had been cycling through heat for quite a while before we put the rams in. But the Romneys, which are very seasonal breeders, only began in the past week or so. The Romneys need shorter, cooler days before they are ready to breed, whereas the Romeldales have been known to breed during July in a metal trailer when it is 108 degrees in the shade. This is probably the major difference I have noticed between the two breeds, but it is a big one.
As a result of this difference, the Romney rams are just recently getting down to business in their groups while the Romeldales, now having completed one full cycle for each of their ewes, are pretty much finished. We will leave the rams in with them for one more three-week period to ensure that all of the ewes have settled, but things just aren’t the same for those Romeldale boys now as they were three weeks ago! When we first put the groups together, the rams had about nine ewes each and often had multiple ewes cycling at the same time. It was a nearly full-time job trying to determine which ewes were at the right point in their cycles to conceive, and to keep an eye on those getting close.
Now that those Romeldale rams have bred each of their girls over the past weeks, the vast majority of those ewes are in the early stages of pregnancy and are no longer coming into heat. As a result, the rams are becoming bored in their own groups and looking to other groups for a bit of work. And the only place where there is still work to do is in the Romney groups — or perhaps in Parker’s group if some of his early markings were the result of trying to figure out what he needed to do.
And that brings us to poor Noa in the photo above — he is the sheep way off to the left of the picture. Noa is an aggressive breeder, and most of his ewes cycled very early in our breeding season this year. Those that he marked on the first day — as an attempt to breed, even though it was just a bit too late — have been marked again, and the rest of his ewes have likely settled into pregnancy. As a result, there isn’t much for Noa to do in his pasture. His focus is wandering, and he is spending all of his time in the lower corner of his field where he has a clear view of both Parker’s group and O’Connor’s Romney group, both with girls still coming into heat. That is where his focus has now turned: away from his group and toward neighboring groups where there is still a need for a good, fertile ram!
Noa’s girls — at the right side of the photo — have also changed their focus. Now that the breeding business has been taken care of, they would be happy to have me remove the ram from their field. They are much more relaxed when they’re in a girls-only group, and they are eager to return to that more normal state of affairs. Yet although they might be happier with Noa moved out, he will stay another three weeks. He’s likely to remain bored for those weeks, but in case any of the girls didn’t settle or if they lose their pregnancy in the early stages, he will be there to make sure the ewe has another chance at delivering healthy lambs next spring.
The adult Romeldale rams Noa and Nahe are currently using body language to show their boredom, but the bottom line is that a bored ram at this stage is a plus; it means they have done their jobs well. Once they’re out of their groups and reunited with the rest of the ram flock, they will be the focus of attention for all of those other boys, who will catch the scent of ewes on them and dream of having their own groups someday! Those young rams-in-waiting will have no idea that the working boys have spent the last three weeks doing essentially what these other boys have been doing all along: staring at the working breeding groups and wishing they were in there instead! The grass is always greener — and the ewes are always more willing — on the other side of the fence.