Wintertime is boring for a period, while the sheep quietly eat and gestate. I’ve been jealous of all my friends posting Facebook pictures of lambs, since I still have six more weeks to wait. I lamb later than most people, since I don’t creep feed, I try to time everything around the best grass. But in the last few weeks, some rearranging has been happening.
Late December, I had a couple of ewelambs that were thinner than I wanted. I chose to pull them up in the barn and pump them up with added alfalfa and grain at the beginning of January. I also confirmed on the microscope that an extra de-worming was warranted on those youngsters. My dilemma was that if I separated them from the rest of their “contemporary group” of ewelambs, I’d need to separate their data in NSIP. This lowers the accuracy of the data since the sample size gets smaller. So I brought all ten ewelambs into the barn for this special treatment so they can be in the same gang of data. Most of them didn’t need it, but weren’t so over-conditioned that it would be harmful.
Then in January, it started bugging me that a couple of mature ewes looked a bit thin. I went through all the ewes and put my hands on each one to “score” them. Heavens to Betsy, most of my ewes are pretty over-conditioned, scoring around 4 to 4.5 (out of 5= totally fat). They have only been on grass hay, a testament to a good ewe that she can fatten this way on modest feed.
This chubbiness makes me a little nervous, however, as this may mean I’ll have big lambs and more birthing problems. I’d rather see them at a solid “3” in early pregnancy. It sealed my decision to only grain them the last 4 weeks of pregnancy, with a two-week ramp-up period. Last year I did ten weeks, because I had the opposite problem- many ewes that were too thin. I eventually figured out it was caused by a coccidiosis outbreak, easily remedied with a 7-day treatment in their water trough.
This time I did find a couple of mature ewes that were lean- maybe scoring around 2.5. I ended up selecting seven more to come up in the barn early February to also benefit from some extra luxury eating. One is an old lady-ten, another had a bout of pneumonia that knocked her condition back some late summer. Some others were in Ok condition, but I know they’ll likely have triplets, so will benefit from some coddling now.
So, seventeen ewes pooping in the barn- not my favorite, and I’ll have a lot of cleanout to do later. But I do enjoy being able to tiptoe out there in my slippers to give them a morning feeding. My plan is to pump them up until the end of the month, then kick them back outside. By that time, the whole group will be graining in the final push to lambing. I am really hoping to avoid having any birthings in the barn this year, as I don’t find that works out as well for me as pasture lambing.
Last Sunday was a nice day, and the warming temperatures are a signal that it’s time to let the grass grow. The field she sheep are in is mostly reed canary grass, which dies in the winter; so I don’t feel so bad about letting them loose in there and getting some exercise. But for one, the change in the way we manage pastures has been causing new species of grass to emerge, and I’d like to give those a chance. And, the RCG will start growing with a vengeance any time now, with these warm days.
So I sequestered the sheep in an Electronet square around their winter feeders. They were at the other end of the pasture when I started setting it up, so I assumed I’d need to move them with a dog later. But it’s funny, they strongly associate the sight of me setting the hotwire with getting fresh grass. So as soon as I started, they came running enthusiastically and put themselves right into the enclosure. Then, they seemed confused, where is the lush green grass that’s supposed to magically happen when the fence gets moved?? They baa’ed and looked plaintively at me, so disappointed that it didn’t seem to work out this time. Sorry ladies, it’s still just plain ol’ hay for a few more weeks…