Since we are in the midst of breeding season, every weekend typically brings a new crayon color to our marking harnesses. The recommendation is to change color every cycle or 2-3 weeks, but we’ve found over the years that this doesn’t work well for us for several reasons: 1) the crayon is often very nearly used up after only one week, meaning that the second and third weeks may bring many breedings without readable markings; 2) after just one week, we often have enough markings of that week’s color to make it hard to keep track of which ewes were marked before and which are new that day – changing to a new color resets the count starting with that new color, and 3) even if the crayon is not used up, it isn’t unusual for it to be covered with dirt and gravel after one week, making for some hard-to-see markings. A new crayon brings clear markings so we change the crayon pretty much every week unless there is a good reason not to do so.
This year, we didn’t change from yellow to orange after the first week since I knew we would be gone the following weekend. Instead, we changed from yellow to orange after about 11 days – mid-week, just before we left. We had few markings in the first week, and the crayons all still looked good. Changing later meant that to get back to the weekend schedule, today became red-crayon day. It was time to change from those well-used orange crayons to the next color in the sequence (red).
I usually try to change out our crayons on my own with the assistance of my dog Coda if needed. Rams are the sheep version of men, and they come with just as many different personalities and temperaments. Of the five rams I have working here this year (I have three others temporarily working on our ewes at another farm), probably the award for the most difficult for crayon changing would be a tie between Romney Osiris and Romeldale Sterling. Neither of these guys is bad-tempered – they are just shy, and shy equates with difficult-to-catch. Each provides his own set of challenges.
Osiris is housed with his group inside the Sheep Barn. Because of the close spaces, I can’t use a dog in this setting – the sheep and dog would have to be too close together. In this situation, it is more likely that the sheep would attack the dog rather than move away from him, so I am on my own there. I must convince Osiris that I have something very good in my bucket so that he will come close enough that I can grab him. He doesn’t look like much (he is still young and not fully grown), but he has incredibly strong muscles that allow him to break free, even when I am holding him with two hands. When I am changing the crayon in the harness, I must hold with only one hand and use the other for clipping off or on the harness. Osiris wants nothing to do with people – only to leave for the distant corner. This trait can make for a true challenge when I am holding the harness and trying to clip it in place as Osiris makes for the other end of the barn.
Sterling’s issue is similar, but different. He is in a big open field with his big group of ewes. Like Osiris, Sterling is shy and does not like to be too close to humans. He stands off to the side of the feeders as I pour their grain, waiting until I leave before he comes forward. Because he is in a big field, I can use Coda to crowd the group at one corner, then dive in to catch Sterling while he is boxed in by the ewes. I finally caught him today, but as I unclipped the first buckle of his harness, he saw his opportunity and bolted forward and away across the field. Although I tried, I eventually gave up my attempts and waited until Rick got home; he could hold Sterling in place while I unclipped the harness, removed the pins and the orange crayon, then slid the red crayon into place and replaced the pins on either side of the crayon. It didn’t take long, but I hate not being able to do this myself – this is not Rick’s job, since he works in town. It is mine – but some things are just much easier with four hands working instead of just two.
The easiest ram for crayon changing is definitely colored Romney Korbin. I walked up there this morning with the new crayon and replacement pins in case I lost any. He met me as I opened the gate and I offered him a few graham crackers. He stood there and chewed as I untied the straps and unclipped the harness. I changed the crayon over the board fence where he stood and offered him a few more crackers when I was ready to put the harness back onto him. He continued to stand and chew, sometimes turning his head sideways as if to ask how much longer it would take – but he didn’t move from his spot on the concrete pad. When I finished, he got a couple more crackers to entice him to come back again next week – and I was done, snapping a photo as I pushed back against the gate. I would love a whole flock full of rams like Korbin – he is a really mellow guy.
Each of the other rams here (Romneys Quest and ObiWan) fall somewhere between these two extremes; I can change the crayons myself, but I must hold them in place as I work to keep them from walking away. They aren’t determined to leave, nor are they particularly pleased to stay there with me. They exude the attitude of having other things to do and impatience at my keeping them from doing them. They are all business, but know that if I have my hand under their chin, they are to stay in place – and once caught, they will do just that!
Red week started here today and will end next weekend when we will change to green. It’s hard to believe that we are already about halfway through our breeding season, but the darker colors make that obvious.