Our breeding season began yesterday as we gathered all of the ewes and checked them over one last time before dividing them into their breeding groups. We dewormed any who needed it, changed coats, trimmed dirty wool tags, and generally cleaned each girl up as her turn came, finally weighing her just before putting her into the grouping pen.
This is the best time of year to weigh the ewes: any earlier and they are still rebounding from pregnancy, and any later and we might not get an open weight since they may be pregnant. Our smallest lambs this year were Pegeen (in the Romneys) and Sweet Pea (in the Romeldales): Pegeen came in weighing a slight 52 pounds and Sweet Pea weighed 60 pounds (surprisingly larger than I expected!) – neither likely big enough to breed this fall. Most of the ewe lambs in breeding groups this year weighed in between 80-105 pounds, and are large enough that they may breed. On the other end of the scale was Kiera for the Romneys, tipping the scale at 215 lbs, and January for the Romeldales, at 195 pounds. Both of these are quite a bit larger than our flock average of 159 for both the Romneys and the Romeldales!
Each breeding group was separated out one at a time beginning with those going into the most distant fields. Once the ewes were gathered, we released them into the West Pasture, then also released the correct ram for that group into the same area. The entire group was then walked to the field that they will now inhabit for the next six or so weeks – the entire breeding season. Of course, if they run out of grazing in the meantime, we will move them to one of the empty fields, but for this part of the year, they no longer rotate. Each group has lots of lush grazing where they are, and no group has more than fourteen sheep, so it should last them a while.
Nels was sold just the day before, along with a number of our available ewes, so I had to do some last minute juggling to replace him as the breeder in his group. After looking over all of our boys and the traits that they brought to the table, I decided to try Parker, a new ram lamb from Wisconsin purchased during a flock dispersal. His genetics trace back to our flock on his sire’s side, but brings in new genetics on his dam’s side. He is a very dark moorit with lovely fleece, a great disposition, and really nice conformation – but he is a lamb, and that had me concerned. It can take a while to get a lamb started breeding – they are sometimes too young for what we expect from them. I decided to give him a try, however, and he has not disappointed: Parker has already marked one of the girls in his group!
This year, we have three Romney groups and three Romeldale groups. One of the Romney groups is being run off-site at Brodeur Farms where Josh, Emilly, and their two boys will monitor ObiWan and his fourteen girls from both our farm and theirs. I’ve been reassuring them that the Romneys are much more seasonal than the Romeldales, and so could take a bit longer to get started breeding. True to form, when I checked the five groups here on our acreage yesterday, each of the Romeldale groups had markings on at least one ewe (Noa had marked Hope and Ossidy, Parker had marked Osage, and Nahe had marked Maggie and Odelia), but the Romneys had no markings yet. Even today, the Romney groups are still on hold, both here and at Brodeur Farms! My guess is that in a week or so, we should see a lot more activity there – and until then, the Romeldales should keep us busy enough!
The rams all wear a marking crayon, and the color for this first week is yellow – a really terrible color in comparison to the others. The problem with the yellow crayon is that it is very light and hard to see on the coats – and I imagine that it would be even worse on the wool! In any case, there is usually enough excitement this first week that I can overlook the hassle of the yellow crayons until near the end of the week, when I begin to realize that I am doing a lot of squinting in the fields, trying to discern which ewes are really marked and which are just dirty. By that point, however, the week is almost over and the next color is orange – and much easier to see when present!
Each time a ewe is marked by the crayon the ram wears, I note down the marking date. If she is indeed pregnant after that marking, the ram will no longer show interest in her, whereas if he marks her again at the next cycle (14-21 days, usually about 17 days, on average), we know that she didn’t settle the first time. Most of the girls marked will settle and deliver lambs either 148 days (+2 days for Romneys) or 150 days (+4 days for Romeldales) after marking, so it is important that I keep accurate records.
We reach peak fertility in this area during about the first week of October – but it does vary a bit from year to year. It will be interesting to see how things go this year, since it has been a strange one when it comes to the weather! More to come as this breeding season unfolds!