My sheep year has mostly wound down into the simplicity of winter feeding. Breeding season, and it’s compartments of breeding groups all individually fed and monitored, is over. The ewes are marked in pastels, depending on what color crayon their ram mate was wearing. Portable fencing and all the summer stuff is put away. The bulk of the sheep- ewes and rams all- are back together in one field and transitioned onto hay, which I can deposit once daily in their feeders. But there are some exceptions, all of which are in the barn.
First, there are some butcher lambs still here. Some going to the butcher in December, and a few stragglers are slated for January. The latter are the miscellaneous triplets, a few ewelambs that got put on the butcher list, and Barbados Blackbelly throwbacks; all of which take a little longer to grow out. More like nine months instead of six or seven. I have been grazing the butcher lambs on the best greenery on the hillside, and just now finished off the grass and moved them indoors. I need to keep them on a high plane of nutrition; lambs need to be “on the grow” all the way up until their butcher date to maintain meat quality. So they can’t be in the field with the ewes, which have transitioned to an early-pregnancy maintenance diet of plain grass hay. Instead, the butcher lambs are enjoying alfalfa and some corn-barely.
Next indoors is ten-year-old #33, who is lame in a rear leg. I cannot figure out why, as her hoof looks perfectly intact, no sign of rot, scald and or any damage. I treated it anyway, but to no avail. Near as I can tell, it’s a soft tissue injury, or an outright bone break. She is indoors to discourage her from walking on it. I hope it heals before she is too loaded-down with pregnancy. We’ll see. She might be in the barn ‘til April, if it doesn’t.
For a while, she might have been alone in the barn, except for Mr. Old Rooster. I found him huddled in a chicken house one day, unable to walk to the feeder, from some strange, killer pain in both legs and/or feet. He is getting old, so perhaps it’s just arthritis, worried by the cold, wet weather. I scooped him up, and drove him on the ATV into the barn, for lack of a better thing to do with him on a late weeknight. He recovered, and has been keeping #33 company. They are an odd couple, but seem to appreciate setting near each other, for lack of any other companionship at times.
Next there are five sold, bred ewes waiting to be picked up by their new owners. It’s good to wait until they’re about thirty days settled in pregnancy before burdening them with the stress of travel and relocation. So those girls will go in a few weeks. I was already doing some sorting, and moved them up the hillside at the same time; to save doing maneuvers later with two or three sheep, which is hard. I like to have them relaxed and ready to load well before a buyer comes to pick them up.
I am worried about one of my purchased rams. As rams do, he has lost a lot of weight before and during breeding season. But, more than he could afford, he is very thin. I’ve double-de-wormed him, and he is up in the barn to also enjoy alfalfa and try to put some weight back on. He is too expensive to risk a wait-and-see approach.
Then, there is Tinkerbelle. She is a pathetic, triplet lamb that just never really grew, and was sickly for quite a while. I’ve pumped so many injections and de-wormers into her to pull her along, and she is so tiny, she’ll never be suited as a butcher lamb nor a breeding specimen. So, I will find her a pet home. In the meantime, she is also reposing in the barn, getting coddled.
And then… there are five ewes which are six weeks away from lambing. I thought you lambed in April, you might query. Why yes, that is the plan. But the rams had other plans. One weekday evening in mid-August, I found they had managed to open a very secure gate and had been in with the ewes for oh, I dunno, maybe something as long as 24 hours. The very next weekend, we went camping. My dad checked up on the sheep. The rams spotted an irregular farm visitor right away, and a gate open seconds too long, and came barreling through. Sheep are dumb, but not about everything. So they had another 24 hour heyday before I got home to re-sort them. The good news was that sheep are only just starting to go into heat in this timeframe. The bad news is, sheep start going into heat in this timeframe…
I’d been contemplating what to do with this wrinkle. Pregnancy-testing all 50-some ewes here was too expensive. So, I waited. I waited until the third week after they’d been turned out properly with marking-harnessed rams in the intended breeding season. Twelve ewes did not mark, half of them ewelambs. I preg-tested those, figuring that if recently-bred, it wouldn’t yet show up on the test, or would be marginal. But if August-bred, they’d be loud-and-clear positive in the test. Sure enough, five ewes are well into pregnancies, surely dating back to August 13.
So they are up in the barn to gear-into their final 6 weeks feeding regimen in the Palace of Being Bored and Eating All Day. And, they will also lamb in the barn. Hopefully smoothly on their own, because I plan on sleeping through the night and going to work. What’s extra, super annoying about this unplanned breeding is that one of the ewes is the one that nearly died last summer, and had hideous gangrene in her udder, half of which is now surely ruined. She looks big, like triplets again big. So I’m bracing myself for having a bottle lamb out of this deal, no less. If so, it may have to go to Grandma’s for daycare…
And so, all this adds up 22 sheep in the barn today, plus one old rooster. Which is way too many. They are going to be pooping, peeing, stinking up the place, eating many dollars in alfalfa, and making work for me in bedding-cleaning and water-bucket-filling. But that is how it goes. And it makes you appreciate the non-exceptions all the more.