Thinking positive thoughts

My old friend, Gabby - our oldest Romeldale/CVM ewe

My old friend, Gabby – our oldest Romeldale/CVM ewe

On Monday, September 26th, I wrote about my good sheep-friend Gabby, who had been a productive ewe for years within our flock. I had decided not to breed her this fall because of the loss of her triplets this past spring, but she was determined to join a breeding group. After a couple of weeks of wearing me down, I allowed her to join Parker’s breeding group in the Rock Pasture — and she was thrilled! I was not so sure.

As far as I was concerned, I wasn’t expecting lambs from her next spring despite her excitement. I knew she was old (nearly ten now) and had had many years of delivering huge triplets — each one weighing around thirteen pounds or more! The stretching and physical drain of huge lambs every year cannot continue indefinitely, and I knew that the likelihood of her continuing to produce at this level was very slim. She delivered her triplets too early last spring, unable to retain the lambs for the entire gestation. In my opinion, her cervix was shot. It had held what it could for as long as it could. She was now old and tired and should be allowed to retire without producing more lambs. Gabby had done what she could do, and I was superbly thankful.

Yet, Parker did breed her — as did Nahe in a battle over her heat cycle — and she was due to deliver lambs from one or both of these rams on March 3, 2017. I would have been thrilled with any Gabby lambs, but lambs that were Gabby’s by Parker were really tempting. I knew it could all go bad, but I was hopeful. I would love to have any or all of those lambs join our flock!

Yesterday my helper Seth and I divided the ewe flock into temporary nutritional groups: the ewe lambs and the ewes who generally produce triplets into the high-nutrition group getting alfalfa, and the other ewes getting grass hay until the last trimester. Because of her history, Gabby ended up in the high-nutrition group — but in the process of moving her, I noticed that the wool around her back end was matted and dirty and needed further investigation.

After I gloved up and Seth had her firmly held in place, I checked out the matted wool, and it was not good. As I expected those many weeks ago, it looks as if Gabby might have lost this pregnancy. The wool around her back end was bloodied, and I cut away all of the stained wool to let things air out and prevent infection. Surprisingly, there was no odor to the mess, and that is a good sign — infection is usually accompanied by odor. Once I trimmed away the wool, she seemed perfectly happy to settle in at the bale of alfalfa.

So now the question is, is Gabby still pregnant? There is no way to know right now, but next Tuesday the ultrasound tech will make her rounds through this part of Iowa. The night before, our ewes will come together as one flock for the last time until just before our January shearing. Carol, our tech, will scan them on Tuesday, giving us a yes/no as to their being pregnant and then, if they are pregnant, an assessment of the number of fetuses and the gestational age. After each ewe is scanned, we will again move her into the appropriate nutrition group. The girls confirmed with triplets and quads and the ewe lambs who are bred will all go back down to the Sheep Barn and eat alfalfa hay for the duration. The ewe lambs who did not breed and the ewes who are carrying only singles or twins will stay at the Storage Barn and get their ration of high-quality grass hay until mid-January. Just before shearing, they will all come back together to finish up their gestation with alfalfa hay for the entire group.

Gabby is enjoying her alfalfa for the time being, and if she has lost the lambs she carried, she will join the low-nutrition group on Tuesday. If she does have to make the move, lambing 2017 will be a rough one for her. Gabby is never so happy as when she has newborn lambs at her side. She has been the epitome of the perfect sheep: a big-bodied, easy-going, attentive mother who produces three large lambs like clockwork every year in addition to a gorgeous, award-winning fleece. They don’t get any better than this girl — and that is why I know it will sting when she sees all of the lambs and none of them are hers.

So for the next few days, I am thinking positive thoughts — for Gabby and for me. Both of us would love the same crazy thing: one more year of Gabby lambs! It doesn’t matter how many — a single lamb is fine with me. Girl or boy, I don’t care — and she wouldn’t either! She just wants to care for one or more tiny baby lambs. I go about my business in the barn and hope my friend has happiness for one more year. Maybe she hasn’t lost them all. It’s a long-shot, but we can hope.

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