Well, lambing season is (mostly) over, here are the results of my year thus far.

The good

The season was extremely easy. Other than the one dystocia instance, almost every other ewe lambed without intervention. The birth rate was really even, with one or two ewes lambing each day. For the most part, I didn’t have to lift a finger. I just strolled out when each ewe was done lambing, and weighed and tagged the lambs. I pulled a couple of lambs where it just happened that I was there, the labor had gone on a while, and I thought it best. But all of them pulled easily and probably would have delivered fine on their own if I hadn’t been there.

I slept through the night every night. Ahhhh.

The lambs were very vigorous, all immediately getting up on their feet and nursing on their own. I helped out two sets of triplets with some supplemental bottle feeding.

Birth weights looked good, just from my general observation. I have yet to graph them to see how they compared overall to previous years. 

The mediocre

I have 62 lambs on the ground out of 35 ewes. That’s a 177% crop of the ewes that lambed. That’s far better than most breeds (national average is about 120%). But still, Katahdins can do better. I still have a high proportion of young ewes, so that’s part of it. But I have some thoughts about how I can influence this more in the future. Strong Katahdin flocks with mostly mature ewes are getting well over 200%, so that’s my longer-term aim.

The bad

Out of the 46 ewes here, ten ewes have not lambed. Ten ewes! One is clearly pregnant, and I believe is due mid-May; as I recorded noticing rams chasing her mid-December. Another is the two-year-old I witnessed re-breeding every seventeen days; so she’s just hanging out waiting for me to make her an appointment with the butcher. Another is my very best, best ewe, who has always been amazingly productive. I did notice her expelling a blot-clot-thing around February, which was obviously concerning; but I could not find any aborted fetuses in the field. It seems, surely I would have seen a four-month-old fetus or two if she had lost them (versus less mature fetuses can be resorbed with no evidence). So, I am stumped about what’s going on with her. There is a yearling ewe that I think is starting to develop an udder, and I had also noted rams chasing her in January, so she is likely due in June.

The remaining six ewes are all yearlings, so not shocking if they didn’t breed. But still: three of them marked, which implies they went into heat, but didn’t manage to hold the pregnancies. And one of them had even blood tested pregnant in November. I’ve sent off blood tests for all of them, to confirm for sure they didn’t just re-breed late and will turn up with lambs in June.

So, that is clearly an area for improvement. Amazing to think that my survival rate and vigor is so high, but my conception rate was so anemic. So, I need to review my management protocol. Of course, the first place I’ll look is nutrition.

Ideas I have immediately are the mineral supplement, with which I’m constantly tinkering to correct for issues I see, and liver test results I get back on culls. And to also consider planing the ewes off their flushing nutrition more slowly after breeding. I suspect that dropping them off too quickly is causing them to lose early pregnancies, and by then, it’s so late in winter, they are less likely to cycle again. I may need to keep them on a higher nutrition plane for the first month of pregnancy, then drop them down for three months, then plane them back up for the last month. I also think that maybe with ewelambs, I need to plane them up earlier in their flushing rations heading into breeding.

Another thought in the back of my head is the pasture they’re on during this time: the RCG field, which has patches of buttercup (Ranunculus Repens). It has mild toxicity properties, and a bitter taste; and they usually self-limit on it. Sheep are known for being more tolerant of it than other livestock; and the Repens variety is considered more benign than others. So, I’ve never worried about its presence much. But in winter, once the RCG is going dormant and the sheep are transitioning to hay, it could be that some are eating more buttercup than is tolerable for them. Some quick searching implies that not a lot is known about the specifics of its effects. But various varieties have been linked to facial swelling, photosensitivity, neurologic distress, and abortions. All things which I have seen on this field, albeit in singular instances.

The third thing I’ll be reviewing is whether I can just avoid handling the ewes at all in the two months after breeding: no vaccinating, no major pasture migrations, no jostling, stress or running; just pure boringness and eating.

But, despite this downside in percentage, overall, I’m very pleased with the lamb crop and the performance; it has been a really easy year so far!

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