This is the last week of breeding season at Peeper Hollow Farm. Nearly every week through this breeding season, we have changed the crayons that the rams wear to mark the ewes when they are bred; we’ve gone through yellow, orange, red, and green over these past weeks, and are now on blue. Changing crayons nearly every week gives me peace of mind, leaving me knowing that there likely is still plenty of crayon there to mark the ewes, even though the ram might have been very busy that week. It is, in my mind, worth the expense of the crayon.
All of the adult ewes have been marked at least once, and a few have been marked again in a later week, telling me that the earlier marking did not result in a viable pregnancy. Most of the lambs have also been marked and settled, and our focus now begins to shift towards our ultrasounding of ewes in early December. The ultrasound not only helps us know how many lambs each ewe likely carries, but it also helps me figure out thoseewes who were oddly marked during breeding; those whose markings were either not clear or for some reason did not follow the typical pattern – like Ilaina and Maisie.
Ilaina is a sweet and quiet ewe who we purchased as a three-year-old in a flock dissolution in 2012. She is quite dependable, having produced an average of two lambs per year for every year she has been here. Yet Ilaina has developed an unusual habit. For the past three breeding seasons, she has been marked multiple times by the ram in her group, and this year – well – she was quite the overachiever. You see, Ilaina has been adorned by Noa in every single crayon color that we have used! Yes, that’s right. Ilaina has been marked five times over these six weeks!
I am including a recent photo of the markings so that you can see how difficult this can sometimes be to discern. If you look closely, you can see remnants of her first (yellow) markings just to the right of the 40 coat size and also just above the elastic at the bottom of the screen. The orange is more difficult to see, but is most obvious a few inches above the first big fold in the fabric at the bottom right. The red caryon is well distributed, casting a pink overlay on much of the rear of the coat. Last week’s green crayon is most obvious over the zero of the coat size. Finally, today’s blue can be found most readily by looking just t the right and below the four of the coat size. Noa has obviously been really busy with Ilaina!
The rainbow of colors that this ewe currently wears does little to help me figure out when she might be due. In most cases, the ewe will only stand for the ram when she is in heat, and that cycle comes around every 17 days, on average. Yet, from her marking dates, it is obvious that Ilaina is either standing for Noa when not in heat, or Noa is really good at catching her unawares every week – and I have no way to know exactly what is going on!
That is were the ultrasound will come in. I have every marking date for Ilaina written down in my records, and once we ultrasound, I will get a gestational age for her fetuses (assuming that she does settle). I can then compare the ultrasound due date with her many marking due dates and try to figure out which of the many is the actual date of impregnation and when she will most likely deliver her lambs. The ultrasound gives me just one more piece of information to factor in – and that piece is critical in cases like this when a marking date is not obvious.
In fact, Maisie is the other ewe who has me wondering about her due date, too. Sheis in Luthor’s group of Romneys, and she has – to my knowledge – never been marked this year. Now that breeding season is nearly over and I have seen how Luthor marks his ewes, I suspect that I missed her marking in the first week – that of the yellow crayon. Luthor marks his girls only very lightly in whichever color he wears – and yellow is a very light color in any breeding group. In fact, many people skip the yellow color because it is so hard to see that first week. With Luthor’s very light touch, I suspect that she was marked and settled in the yellow week and we just missed the very, very pale marking that he left. Unfortunately, there is no way to confirm this by staring at the coat’s markings, since we ended up changing Maisie’s coat for a bigger size after the second week of breeding. It was long ago washed, mended and sent back out for another ewe, leaving us to wonder what we might have seen had we known to look!
So, we have just over a month to go before we can ultrasound our ewes and get a better idea as to the total number of lambs we will be expecting in a few months. We will also learn which, if any, ewes did not settle and will remain open for this season. Hopefully, we will figure out what to make of Ilaina and Maisie, too. The clock to ultrasound has started, and although it seems a long way off, lambing will be here before we know it!