Our sheep have been in their breeding groups for the past week and a half at this point, and there is good news — and some not-so-good news. It all depends on which group I look at!
The Romeldales got off to a fabulous start. Last Saturday we changed all of the rams’ marking crayons to orange (thankfully leaving behind the very hard-to-see yellow!) and assessed the eight ewes assigned to each: Muldoon had marked five, Nahe had marked four, and Noa had marked six. Oh, and little Oliver, working with a very small group at my friend Jacob’s place, had marked both of his ewes from our farm — both Naya and Millie were sporting yellow crayon. Overall, that meant that among our Romeldales, seventeen of our twenty-six ewes were already marked after the first seven days of breeding!
For those of you who aren’t up on a ewe’s heat cycle, those numbers are actually pretty tremendous. Ewes typically go into heat once every 14 to 21 days, averaging about every 17 days. Statistically speaking, that means that twenty-six ewes in a flock would end up having about three ewes marked every couple of days. After only seven days of breeding season (as of Saturday), we would have expected only about nine ewes marked rather than our total of seventeen! Wow, those rams have been busy!
The Romney group has not been nearly so active. In fact, I began to wonder whether the ewes have even begun cycling through heat yet. Unlike the Romeldales, the Romneys are very seasonal and the ewes don’t begin to cycle until sometime in fall — usually around the middle of September in this region. With no yellow markings at all last week, I wondered what was going on.
Whatever it was, it seems to have passed, at least in the South Pasture where O’Connor — our new white, color-carrying ram lamb from Tawanda Farms in California — currently holds court. I didn’t think he had marked anyone when we changed his crayon to orange on Saturday, so we had a little talk. I explained how important it was that he sire some lambs this year. I told him that I knew he was young, but my breeding program needed him — I was giving him this orange crayon in hopes that he would put it to good use before I had to switch it out for red on October 3rd.
Obviously, O’Connor was listening! When I went out to check on markings in his group on Sunday, Kabernet was sporting a brand new blotch of orange crayon on the back of her coat! Good job, O’Connor! But even better, on Monday morning he had also marked Kiera! Then, to top it off, when I checked on markings yesterday morning in the rain, I noticed that Maisie — also in O’Connor’s group — seemed to have something on the back of her coat. It was hard to tell whether it was my imagination, but it sure looked as if the back of her coat had a yellowish cast to it! And it seemed to show well that particular morning because of the rain. The wet conditions had soaked and darkened the coat, making the yellow crayon all the more obvious. So it seems that Maisie may have been marked last week, before my little pep talk with O’Connor!
The rest of the Romney groups are still fairly quiet, and I’m trying to not let disappointment get to me. I know from past years that these things happen at their own pace; you cannot rush breeding season. In the end, we should see all of our ewes — except for perhaps the very youngest flock members — marked and settled by the end of October when we pull out the rams. Until then, I’ll continue to check each group daily, record what I find, and look forward to a darker (and more easily noticed) crayon each week! The current orange is such a lovely color — and such an improvement over yellow. Next week’s red will be better yet!
And let’s not forget that each marking means lambs in the spring! This is such an exciting time of year!