This has been a really easy winter, with long stretches of dry, hoodie-sweatshirt-warm weather. Though it’s not so great for skiers or people worried about the snow pack and water supply, it sure makes outdoor chores pleasant and non-muddy! I run the sheep in our middle pasture during winter. It is predominantly made up of reed canary grass, or RCG. This grass dies back completely in winter, and is one of the later grasses to get growing again in spring.

The sheep came back into this pasture when the RCG was several inches tall, and already starting to go winter-dormant. They tend not to eat the yellowing grass, since it’s probably not very tasty compared to their nice hay. This makes for a fairly clean pasture for them to winter on, the dead grass mat keeps the mud at bay. The moles still kick up plenty of piles of loose dirt, so the sheep do get a bit dirty walking through these mounds. But they don’t have to, which shows that they don’t really mind mud in the same way we do. I like to leave the sheep loose in this several-acre pasture most of the winter, so they have enough room to get a little exercise during early pregnancy. They stroll and nibble on what little green grass and small weed species there are; tiny plants which will get aced-out by the voracious RCG once it comes in.

We’ve already had warm enough temperatures for some of the cool season grasses to start growing again, so our untouched areas are already gaining inches and everything is turning verdant. The RCG will come in later; but I want the sheep off of it well before then. So, last weekend, it was time to sequester them into one section, the winter “sacrifice” area. Now that they are concentrated in one area, it will get muddier, but that’s the point, to limit the mess to one spot. I compensate by frequently adding straw in the most trafficked locations: in front of the feeders, and around the water tanks and mineral bars.

The January accidental lambs are outside now, looking unappealingly dirty; but they are strong and growing. This is the first year I’ve had just a pair born at a different time, and I must say, they are much more serious than when there is a mob of lambs to romp and play with. They are very conservative and stay near their dams much more than typical, and definitely steer clear of me! They are very dedicated eaters, and are right in there at the feeders when the rest of the sheep eat, even though they are only a month old.

I brought my ewelambs into the barn to bump up their nutrient intake, since some of them are lean. I realized I had forgotten to de-worm them for roundworms last fall; that was an oversight. They’d been done earlier in the summer, and I’d given them Valbazen before breeding for tapes, but it doesn’t work on roundworms. Fecal counts showed that they weren’t terribly burdened, but their counts were higher than I’d like for growing yearling ewes which are pregnant. That is now remedied,  I started them on their late-preg grain feeding (earlier than the mature ewes), and am giving them some alfalfa too. This should boost them a bit and make sure their lamb birth weights are good, and that they have enough energy to make good milk. I’ll keep them in for another several weeks, until it gets close to lambing time.

When I erect the hotwire enclosure for the sacrifice area, I leave a four-foot wide lane on one side so the guardian dogs can pass, and still guard the whole pasture. The sheep are in a place mid-field that’s closest to a gate and bridge for convenient feeding. In the picture above, you can see where Moses could comfortably pass between the hotwire and permanent fence. This works fine for Bronte. But poor Moses is so afraid of getting shocked, and his vision is so poor, he is too anxious to walk through this lane. I’m pretty sure Moses’ view looks more like the below photo; so it’s understandable why he doesn’t feel confident he knows where the hotwire is:

For now, he is “stuck” on the south side of the pasture, and cannot run to the road to bark at joggers and slow cars. I might feel sorry for him, except that this 100×200 “kennel” with dog houses and a water bucket is still roomier than his housing when he was a show dog. Moses had this personal crisis last year as well, but I think after a few weeks, he decided to brave the lane, and got over his fear. When I’m down there, I help him practice and give him treats as motivation, but it’s definitely a huge source of anxiety for him.

I used to have the dog houses placed near the road, but I’ve moved them to this end of the pasture because it’s the “coyote end”. I want to encourage the dogs to spend time there, especially at night; even though they find the daytime goings-on at the road to be more entertaining. This results in occasional call to Animal Control from a passer-by who cannot see shelters for the dogs; but no matter, Animal Control is able to quickly verify they’re there, and that settles it.

In the picture above, you can see a white ewe facing the camera, with two red rams lined up behind her. This ewe is age two. She did not lamb as a yearling, which is not preferable (to me), but also not uncommon. This year, she got marked right away when paired with her ram in November. She re-marked right at the end of that cycle, and I thought, oh well, he must have been too late on that first day. I put the sheep back together when breeding time was done, and seventeen days later, the rams were chasing her around again. And this is how it has been going every seventeen days since, seven cycles in a row. Annoyed

I’m betting this means she is not pregnant. It’s interesting that she just keeps cycling and cycling, as most ewes stop during the dead of winter. That reflects well on her fertility, implying desirable out-of-season breeding genetics. But the fact that she’s not conceiving and holding a pregnancy obviously negates that. I noticed in her records the same thing happened last year: I had recorded observing her being bred three different times. I’ll wait until lambing commences, then may blood-test her to be certain she’s open. Then, of course, she’ll be hitting the road.

The other interesting aspect about this is how mellow and respectful my rams are. I have four rams running with the ewes: age three, two, and two yearling rams. The two younger boys mostly stay out of it, deferring to their elders. The mature rams both stick close to the ewe in heat, and they push each other out of the way a bit, but there is no dramatic fighting. This is unheard of in many sheep breeds, but I think fairly typical of most Katahdin rams that are housed together all year and are “friends.”

I thought I had up to three ewes accidentally bred in October, making them due next weekend. One doesn’t look ready at all, so she is probably due at the regular time in April. (Curiously, this implies she “passed” the pregnancy test at 14 days gestation, where it’s usually not sensitive until 30+ days). The other two early-bred ewes definitely look like they are bagging-up, however. So I will jug them Sunday night to keep the mayhem of the ewelambs out of their birthing space.

I have five weeks go to for all of the planned-bred ewes. I suspect our hillsides will be ready to graze in mid- to late-March, with the way they are greening-up now. So, the sheep just have to put up with the boring, semi-muddy sacrifice area for another few weeks, then will get into full spring gear.