In the early days, I would set a start date and an end date (sometime in early September) for our breeding season. But I’ve found over the years that the start date is much easier to determine than the finish. The eventual end date ends up being a delicate balance between getting every ewe bred and avoiding a long, drawn-out lambing season. Right now, the excitement of future lambs pushes a shepherd to say optimistic things like “Just one more week isn’t so very much. That way, all the ewes will have lambs!” But I’ve been in this business long enough to know that once lambing comes, I will be checking the monitor every night for six weeks or more, sometimes staying awake all night with a difficult delivery or a sick lamb. After four weeks of this, lambing begins to seem never-ending. I’ve learned that my limit is about six weeks; I’m happiest at five, and I can manage seven if sanity isn’t required towards the end.
Our rams went into their groups of ewes on Saturday, September 16th, putting us today at five weeks and four days of breeding. I have had a few ewes marked again in the past week, so there was good reason not to end our breeding season last weekend. That leaves us with the obvious question: do we pull the rams out this coming weekend (October 28th) or leave them in until the weekend after (November 4th)? Knowing myself, and seeing how bored most of the rams seem right now, I’ve made the decision to pull them this Saturday for a six-week breeding season. How good a decision that is will be seen in early December when we ultrasound the ewes to see what we will be expecting!
The end of breeding season at our farm usually brings a number of flock maintenance tasks since we’ll be handling most of the sheep anyhow. Right now, they are forecasting snow for Friday and Saturday, so it is my belief that at that point parasites in the fields will have gone dormant. Once we pull the rams out, we usually take a look to see whether any of them need to be dewormed before they go into the squeeze pen to once again become re-acclimated to an all-male group. Their grazing season is over since the ewes will now get what edible treats remain in our fields and lawn. After all, they are now carrying the future of our flock!
The ewes will be checked for anemia and treated accordingly. We will also look for other problems like scouring (diarrhea), fever, or anything out of the ordinary. If our first-year Romney lambs have woolly faces, we’ll trim around their eyes so they can see, and if any of the ewes are carrying manure “rattles” under their tails (manure hardened on strands of wool that actually rattle when they walk or run), we will trim them off. We’ll check whether they need a new coat. Basically, we’ll do whatever needs to be done. Since they will still have weeks of grazing, we’ll put off deworming the lambs and yearlings until the grazing season ends.
Once all of the ewes have been brought back together (which this year means bringing back a couple of dozen of our ewes from Brodeur Family Farms where Pine and Parker’s breeding groups have been grazing), they will cycle through the remaining pastures, then out onto our lawn for fall clean-up. Sheep are great at cleaning up fallen leaves, so we will give them some time in the lawn, and then we’ll let them trim the grape vines and clean up the raspberry plants before we button things up for the winter. Hopefully, before too much longer, we will get a load of pumpkins for them too. The more good eating we can offer them at this point, the better their lambs will grow!
We have only three days left for breeding season 2017. I’m already imagining next spring’s lambs!
Shearing update: We sheared our market lambs last week, and I am in the process of skirting their fleeces. On Thursday, November 2 (most likely in the late afternoon), we will email our customers a list of the ram fleeces from our June shearing and the recent market lamb fleeces.