The switch to orange

When we put our rams into their breeding groups, we fitted each with a marking harness equipped with a yellow crayon – the lightest of the six crayons that we will use over the course of the breeding season. When to change out a crayon color is up to the shepherd, but we usually move to the next color after about a week of use – sometimes a bit more or a bit less, depending on what we find as we walk the fields.

When we went out into the pastures on Saturday to check markings on the ewes, I took along my “breeding bucket” that always has all that I need to change crayons – just in case. I wasn’t sure we would be changing to the next color, but wanted to be prepared. As we approached Luthor and his Romney girls in the East Pasture, I made the decision to wait a while; he has not yet marked any of his ewes, and his crayon was still in very good condition, with plenty of thickness and very little embedded gravel. It looked fine for the time being, but I will check again later this week.

Next, we moved to Noa’s field, and his situation was much different. Of the nine Romeldale girls in his group, six had been marked since last Sunday, and his crayon was worn down to the frame that holds it in place. Besides that, I was getting tired of counting the marked ewes to see whether I had to find one that was newly marked – with a new orange crayon, I could forget the yellow markings (since they are already recorded on my chart and in my computer), and begin anew looking for orange. As soon as he was fitted with this next color, he immediately went to work to see whether any of his girls wanted to celebrate his new crayon! He is nothing if not determined!

Right next door waited Parker and his group of Romeldale ewes in the Rock Pasture. Parker has only marked one ewe, but he has attempted to mount many more. It is not unusual to see random yellow markings on several of the girls, and for this reason, we decided to give him a new orange crayon, too. He has heavily marked Osage in yellow, so I know that he knows his job. I just need to be patient with him. He is a lamb – and he is surrounded by adult rams in their groups, and that can intimidate any young ram. It will just take a bit of time, I think, and now he can mark them with an orange crayon that will show up better on their coats.

Our next stop was with Romeldale ram Nahe and his group in the Timber. Nahe has only two things on his mind this time of year: breeding his ewes and graham crackers! Whenever I come to visit, he runs to my side to make sure that if I am doling out his favorite treat, I play “one for this girl and one for Nahe, one for that girl and another for Nahe!” He seriously wants nothing except his girls and his favorite treat! Since Nahe has also well used his yellow crayon among his girls and had quite a bit of gravel stuck into the waxy surface, we switched his crayon to orange, too. The new color is much easier to see on the coats than the yellow and I won’t have to worry that the yellow will fail to mark because he has used it up.

That left one field to go – that of O’Connor in the South Pasture. O’Connor leads our second Romney group. So far, we had changed the crayons on all of the Romeldale rams, but had left Luthor’s Romney group with yellow for at least a bit more time. I was curious to see whether O’Connor had been hard at work, or whether all of the Romneys were still on hold. As we walked, I decided that if I saw no markings in his group then he, too, would keep the same color for a bit longer – and that’s exactly what happened.

It is easy to become worried about why the Romney groups are not breeding, but I know from experience that this worry is usually unfounded. Romneys are much more seasonal in their breeding and not always ready yet when we put groups together – although they often begin cycling shortly thereafter. In addition to this, ewes often cycle with their friends, meaning that it is more common to see groups of markings than it is to see them one a day, here or there. Since the average cycle lasts 17 days and our breeding season has been less than half of that period, it is entirely possible that, even if our Romney ewes are already cycling through heat, they just may not have done so yet while in the presence of the rams – we may very well see a lot of markings in the coming week! I have learned to be patient – breeding season is always a waiting game!


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