Oh, where does time go? We have been swamped with just lots of ordinary things. For the last many weeks, I have been poring over NSIP data and metrics for my ram lambs, as well as scrapie DNA results, deciding which ones to castrate for the butcher channel, and which ones to keep intact for sale. The clock was ticking- for one, I have buyers asking about breeding animals for sale. And two, those intact rams could conceivably breed-back some of my mature ewes at some point soon, so they had to get outta the ewe pasture.

So, last weekend I was pleased with myself to have gotten all the “for sure” castrations done and the intact rams separated for weaning. I used a version of the Burdizzo Crusher for the first time, the more expensive one that Premier offers. I struggled with it a bit at first, especially because I tried to do my bottle rams way early. Having them sit on their butts for the procedure is hard, it makes their tiny testicles fall back into the body, and one-handing the tool is hard for my small hands.

This time, now that the rams are 90 days old, it was much easier, the spermatic cord is very easy to find and the testicle is less determined to “hide.” I kept the lambs standing up and straddled them to hold them still, so that gravity would help keep the testes in the right spot. This allowed me to line things up, then use my second hand to help squeeze the tool closed. Still, the advice to do two crushes on each side, at different heights, seemed too hard to me. It was challenging enough getting the tool on the cord somewhere, I’d have no idea how to ensure that it hit two different spots; unless maybe someone held the lamb so I could see better what I was doing.

I haven’t found banding-style castration to be particularly upsetting for rams, other than maybe a few rams will do the fish flop for the first ten minutes as they feel the numbing affect. But after that they frolic and play and seem no worse for wear. The crusher seemed even better- they reacted as it clamped down, but then stood calmly during the 25 seconds of “hold”. I could tell they maybe felt a little tender in the minutes afterwards- I would imagine it throbs the same as when we pinch a finger by some mechanical means. But they perked up soon afterwards and seemed ok later in the day.

I am hoping that the crusher will decrease my rates of partial castrations. And even if I do “miss one” I can go back and re-crush it later. With banding, this is often impossible, because the scrotum skin is gone, so there is nothing to band or crush, the testicle is stuck up inside the body. Where one would hope it’s not producing viable sperm due to the body heat, but one hates to gamble…

The wethers and ewe lambs all get get to stay with their mamas and continue to nurse, what little nursing those mamas tolerate with such big babies that knock them off the ground. But the ram lambs had to join the mature fellows in the second pasture. They called to their mothers for a day or so, but have already emotionally moved on. It helps having the older guys there with them, to give a calm we-know-the-ropes influence. I am grateful for having a breed where rams can be together and not kill each other.

I still have nine baby boys intact, which is probably too many. But there were a couple who were lower on the ranking, but still very nice looking, and I just didn’t have the heart to consign them as butcher animals just yet. Rams are always hard- there are so many lovely ones, but only the best of the best get to be herd sires. There were several very nice white ones, but I am finding that buyers almost always want colored or spotted breeding animals. So I only kept one solid white on intact, which I am considering keeping for myself.

Last year, I did my weaning by separating groups by Electronet. That didn’t work very well, I think I had three jailbreak incidents that caused me to re-sort. This year I got smarter and just put the boys into the second pasture straightaway. But lo and behold if some didn’t sneak back into the ewe pasture a couple of days later- through an open gate. I have no idea how that got left open or opened by animals, but there it was, wide open.

It was a huge ordeal getting everything re-sorted again. The lambs were as recalcitrant as could be, not wanting to leave their mothers for a second time. Maggie could not push them away and bloodied several noses trying. I tried bringing all the rams to them, and then moving the larger group. Still no. Maggie did good work, but if she was even an inch off in her drive line, a lamb would break past her, she’d have to go stop it, and that would allow the group to retreat.

I tried adding half the ewes, figuring I’d sort them back when I got the rams where they needed to go. Still, no. Maggie had to have several water tank breaks during all this, it was so much work. So I gave up being fancy trying to drive against a draw, and moved all 75 sheep into the channel, then re-sorted everybody through gates, and put the two groups back where they needed to be. <sigh> There went a weeknight where I’d hoped to get other stuff done! Thankfully I’d notched the ear tags of all the wethers, so at least that made sorting visually very easy. And this time, I closed three gates between them: hopefully that’s enough!

Now I’m working away on editing photographs of the ram lambs, deciding on their pricing, and getting bio’s ready to post online for sale. And next, onto the decision-making process for which ewes stay and go- even harder!

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