ShaggyThis is Shaggy Carpet sheep #903. (With the wooled Jacob ewe behind her, and birds sitting on her back. I don’t know why these birds like to sit on livestock, but they do). I don’t really name any of my sheep. But in my head, they are all indexed by some primary characteristic by which I recognize them. Because I can still, barely, tell them all apart. And her 70’s shag carpet wool is this one’s most distinctive (and undesirable) feature.

Shaggy is #33’s daughter, one of triplets. They are all pretty nice-sized girls, and of course large, triplet-born and mother-raised are very desirable traits. Her two sisters shed out very nicely, but ol’ Shaggy didn’t. I’m not sure if she will shed this year, we’ll see. Here she is sandwiched between her mother and sisters during the summer, sporting her shag while they were all nicely shed out.

ShaggyAndSisters

So originally I thought I’d sell or butcher her, given that her coat type isn’t desirable for a shedding breed. But as my lambs grew last year, all the reasons to sell or keep a sheep were rattling around in my head. I finally decided my most important goal is pounds-per-ewe weaned, and that makes Shaggy and her mother and sisters tops in that category. The bad coat can be bred out over time. Then because I wanted to increase my flock size, I just kept all the ewe lambs I had, since none of them had any real deal-killer traits. And there is something to be said for keeping unstressed ewes on-farm, versus risking purchasing new ones, as I found out from having a loss of a purchased sheep last summer.

August Breeding?

So, OK, fine, Shaggy stayed around for my planned breeding season in October. Except she was the only one that never got a crayon mark from the rams. This likely either meant that she is barren and never went into heat, or that she was already bred earlier in the summer. The second possibility was most likely, as I didn’t finish fencing and removing the rams from the flock until the end of August. There was some risk that some ewes would go into heat before then. But I wasn’t too bothered by that potentially happening, so I didn’t rush to finish the fence.

According to my math, even if Shaggy had been bred the last day the rams were with her, and she had the absolute longest pregnancy ever heard of, she should have lambed by January 30th. But she didn’t. And by now, she looks quite pregnant, like she could easily be carrying twins.

Triplets 

So, what happened? Ok, warning: frank biology discussion ahead!

The Wethers Weren’t Really Wethers…

I had two wether grower lambs in with the flock, sort of. When I banded them, I managed to miss one testicle on each of them! Ooops! Well, in my defense, those things are tiny, the bander is unwieldy and under a lot of tension, the lambs wiggle, and it’s hard to get everything lined up without banding your own fingers or shooting yourself in the eye or something!

I didn’t worry too much about this botched castration, however, because the result is a testicle which has no scrotum sack, it’s way up in the body cavity. Read: too hot for semen to survive. In fact, I’ve read that some people purposely neuter in this fashion, and it results in the wether retaining many desirable masculine characteristics that a totally emasculated wether won’t have. like fast growth, and behaving like a “real” ram, so that he can serve as a teaser ram.

I left these two wethers in with the ewes until butchering time in mid-September. I wanted them to benefit from the graze as they were finishing. Right before butchering, I considered what if they managed to breed one or more ewes despite the semen temperature handicap? They were both very nice animals, I almost regretted castrating them, so having lambs out of them would not be objectionable. As a precaution, I ran DNA profiles on them both before slaughter. This way, if I had to, I could do some postmortem who’s-your-daddy sleuthing on any lambs I’d wish to register. (And as a note: that costs $35 per sheep, so it’s not a cost effective way of sorting out pedigree information in general. You’d only want to do this in extenuating circumstances, like when you have an accidental breeding that results in some very nice progeny that you really, really want to keep).

Shagadelic Valentine Lambs, Maybe?

Well, lo and behold, she’s now past the final due date of birthing any legitimate offspring. So it’s looking like ol’ Shag managed to partner with one of those wether guys, and at least one sperm survived Hades! Unfortunately, they were her half brothers (same sire). So any resulting lambs will probably just be marked for slaughter, as that is pretty tight line-breeding (really, in-breeding) for my taste (though dog show people do it regularly enough).

This now makes her mystery due date, assuming she was bred on the last possible day she was with the wethers, around February 11th (148 days gestation), with a corner case last date of Feb 22 (159 days gestation). Wouldn’t it be fitting if she lambed on Valentines’ Day, considering the scandalous love affair that started this? 😀 Well, not really, they were all just being sheep and sheep aren’t very romantic. But it would make for a funny story anyway.

Here is one of the two sneaky potential fathers, a nice-sized boy at six months of age:

image

Tick Tock, Tick Tock

I hate the suspense! I am looking forward to the rest of the ewes lambing in orderly fashion according to the spreadsheet calculations, and my decision to have them wait until after daylight savings! It’s driving me nuts looking out the window several times a day wondering if Shaggy might be lambing. And due to her shag, it’s even harder to see if the lambs have dropped in her abdomen; though I’m not much good at spotting that anyway.

There are two other more remote possibilities:

1) somehow Shaggy didn’t get marked with crayon during the regular breeding phase in October, and she’s really due March 15th with the rest of the ewes. But considering her carpet-ey covering, I can’t imagine how the crayon wouldn’t have left a mark.

2) she’s not pregnant at all, just open and fat. If that’s the case, she’s going into the freezer in April! And that was what I originally thought would be her fate anyway, because a shaggy Katahdin is a dubious thing.

And that, my friends, is the story of the Shaggy Carpet Sheep and the Mysterious Due Date. I’m waiting, Shaggy! Hurry up!

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