First a note about the title of this post. Readers who are well acquainted with our farm know that we don’t show our sheep. We have developed enough of a reputation for our animals and their wool that we do not need the exposure of the show ring. Avoiding the show ring also allows us to sidestep the nose-to-nose contact with other animals, which can bring illness back to the farm. The “showing” that I’ll discuss here has nothing to do with the show ring and everything to do with pregnant ewes.
There are sheep experts who seem do nothing but inform us regarding all things sheep. I have often wondered who these “experts” might be, since my experience with my own sheep often contradicts the pronouncements they make. Although I don’t know who they are, their knowledge and advice can often be found in various sheep publications, large and small. I mention this because these experts and I disagree on the topic of showing.
Several times over the years, I have read in various sheep publications that sheep do not “show their pregnancy” until the last couple of weeks before they deliver. Different studies may set the time frame somewhat differently, but all seem to agree that it is only two to three weeks before the lamb is born. I’ve always found this rather odd since I seem to be able to see pregnancy much sooner in my flock.
For years I have chastised myself, thinking that I’m seeing something that is not actually there — impossible to see. Yet I find it interesting that this year when I looked across my flock shortly before scanning, I did not see what I expected to see: numerous rounded sheep. Now, post-scanning, I understand why I saw so few big bellies — because there were fewer! I saw, though, what I usually see: pregnancy in those sheep that are actually pregnant. And since I see this usually in early to mid December, it is far earlier than the “last two to three weeks” of gestation, as the experts claim.
Now I cannot say that it’s actually a larger belly that I’m seeing. I think I may be noticing that pregnant ewes have a different way of walking. When I take a snapshot of them or see them standing still, I see nothing to indicate that they’re pregnant. Yet when one of the ewes steps into motion, I’m suddenly struck with the fact that she looks bred. At a certain point, various of my pregnant girls begin to walk with a bit of a sway to their belly and a waddle when viewed from behind. They just look pregnant. For years I’ve told myself this was my imagination. Yet this year before ultrasounding, I mentioned to several people that I was surprised not to notice this same behavior in the ewe flock this year.
Ultrasounding showed that there were an exceptionally high number of open girls scattered throughout the flock. Honestly, I made no connection between this fact and my observations of their lack of showing. Once I separated the open from the bred sheep the next day, the showing became apparent among the bred group. There had obviously been too high a percentage of unbred ewes scattered among the flock for me to recognize those that were showing.
So this makes me wonder why I am observing pregnancies as early as the middle of the second trimester when the experts are telling me that this is not observable until the end of the third trimester. Is it because they are looking at flocks of thousands while I have only a few dozen? Is it because I know each of my sheep as an individual, and I spend so much time among them that I recognize subtle differences? Is it because the national average is 1.2 lambs per ewe and our average is 2 or more, making our ewes bigger with lambs? I don’t know, and there is no one to ask.
Well, that’s not totally true. I did ask January in the high-nutrition group. As she waddled over to check out the two bags of carrots I carried (to sprinkle over their hay), I noticed that both the swaying belly and her pregnancy waddle were clearly evident. She isn’t due until the very end of February. As she did her best to chew a hole in the bottom of the bag, I asked this flock expert on gestation whether she was really showing or if I was seeing things that weren’t actually there.
Unfortunately, her reply came amid a lot of carrot chewing and spitting out of small plastic bag pieces. Her wisdom was lost among the crunching. So I continue to wonder and to second-guess whether I really see what I think I see.