We are off and running on spring things. It’s been a warm Feb-March, so I  was able to get the sheep on our new south property pasture for grazing at the beginning of this month. I was nervous about it, since we’re pushing into territory that’s been occupied by coyotes for a long time. But, so far so good. I  set up the trail cam on the far edges of the graze strips, to see if any coyotes were lingering there, eyeballing sheep. Not a single one spotted. There are plenty out there, heard singing in that far woods at night. So, the presence of the protection dogs must be doing the trick. It sure is nice to have all that extra grass, tho a lot of labor to string portable fencing there too. I was also hauling water, since that’s many hose-lengths away from the nearest faucet. Fortunately, the sheep don’t drink a whole lot when they are eating wet, green grass. I captured only a few in the picture, but I have 79 adults and yearlings in that grazing group.

My planned lambing season was to start the week of April 3rd. As usual, Mother Nature had a different plan. A week before breeding season, I was moving sheep around, and tossed a group of smaller butcher lambs (wethers) out with the ewes, to get them out of my hair while I managed a group of rams that were imminently going to slaughter or sale. At the end of that week, I noticed one wether pursuing ewes with mighty persistence. Closer inspection revealed that his “Burdizzo job” didn’t quite hit the mark, he had a small, but still there, mini testicle. <groan> So, this guy had an open field with all the ewes for a full week before this discovery. Confirming my suspicions, a large batch of ewes didn’t mark during the planned breeding season. I blood tested them right on the cusp of when I thought they’d test positive from an early breeding, and not if bred later. All were yes’es. Annoyed

So, I am fully braced for several dozen lambs to be born this week, all sired by the guy I’ve now named “Newman!” As in this guy:

Newman

He’s not a bad ram, just not one with as high of EBVs as I’d prefer to use; plus, he’s related to a lot of my ewes. If I didn’t have EBVs to measure quality, I’d be none the wiser, he was a fairly attractive, long-bodied ram with a nice pedigree. His growth was average, but he was mostly castrated, after all. His picture is below, flanked by a red ram “Yeti” out of a yearling, with very high EBVs, which I did keep for breeding. See? You can’t tell by looking. They seem of similar stature, but one is way stronger than the other for genetic potential. So, it is what it is. Most of his ram lambs will likely be earmarked for butcher. His ewelambs, depending on EBVs, may be discounted a bit. And he bred a few of  my really good ewes, which will probably preclude their daughters being kept as replacements. All in all, it’s recoverable, just not what I’d planned.

So far, six lambs are on the ground out of this gentleman. They all look nice so far, except there’s one tiny “Chihuahua” in the bunch; so we’ll see how they turn out.

This month leading up to lambing always has me on edge. If bad pregnancy things are going to happen, this is when they usually do. So far: a found fetus in the pasture, a good 8+ weeks from maturity. It was a pouring-down-rainy day, and I could not, for the life of me, figure out which ewe dropped it. If there was any bloody evidence, it was washed away. All the ewes ate normally like hogs at the trough. This happened a couple of days after I’d vaccinated for CDT and Pasteurella, so maybe some handling stress or other reaction caused it. Or, maybe something else, who knows? Sorry for grossness, by I’m committed to showing both the charming and the macabre side of farming (I promise, some cute lamb photos will conclude…) Here it is, a little hairless monster found in the dirt:

A week or so ago, I noticed a ewe in the morning who didn’t join the group to eat hay. This is not a huge deal, since they are on grass, so I just noted it. But when she didn’t join the ewes for grain feeding in the evening, I loaded her into the barn immediately. I treated her with antibiotics and loads of liquid nutrients, to potentially combat any infection, toxemia or hypocalcemia. She was ambulatory and alert, but not hungry or motivated. The next day, she was dead. Ugggggh. I necropsied her, and all I found were purple lungs, so I assume pneumonia got her. She had healthy looking triplets inside, and was a month away from delivery.

This ewe was part of a batch I’d bought from an acquaintance retiring from sheep, and  was the best performer out of all of them. Most of them only turned out to be average performers, and a few were culls/pets after prolapsing or aborting for the 2nd time. So, I’m feeling like that whole lot was not a good bargain for me. A friend of mine had just been saying, on a different subject, “…and that is why you should always select replacement ewes from within the flock.” Her words could never ring truer right now, as of course there is no proving ground like your own ground for evaluating genetics. Although I will say, my high-EBV ewes purchased from Missouri and Iowa are living up to their scores so far.

The third sad part about this ewe was she was bred by Andrea (Morgan) Ensor; a well-loved sheep enthusiast in our area who died suddenly a couple of years ago. So, I always thought it was nice having one of her ewes around, it made me think of Morgan, and appreciate that her breeding program lived on. I managed to keep two daughters from last year, and I’d used a son of hers a lot. So, the genetics are still here, but I’ll miss this big, sweet ewe.

So we can all learn from her death, here are some interesting pictures of her necropsy, visualizing the fetus in the womb (the purplish sac), next to her bloated rumen (white, fat-covered bulge), and then seeing the size and level of maturity of the lambs, with thirty days left to go. They had hair, but barely, it was like a velvet fuzz.

 

What a cute spotted panda ram. The other two were ewes, also with polka dots. What a shame they are lost as well.

This weekend, I’ve been checking-in on the ewes every few hours to assist with births, if needed. Twice I’ve gone out to find a ewe with one or two live lambs up, clean and nursing, and another stillborn one lying there. Ugggggh again! I was here, right here at home, and these happened in broad daylight, where I might have possibly done something to save them. But, alas, with the expectation of over 100 lambs, if I were to try to stand there and be present for each one of those births, that would sum up to at least 30-60 min per lamb, or 50-100 hours of standing in the pasture watching births, waiting for the few that go awry. When I started with six ewes, I hovered like a helicopter for every birth. Now that I’m expecting over seventy to lamb, this is just not practical.

So, I continue to swing through every few hours. This is frequent enough to hopefully catch a ewe with a stuck lamb, and save at least her, if not the lamb. But clearly not enough to perform heroics on a not-breathing lamb, when every second counts. This week I’ll be going to work, so the ewes will be on their own for nine hour days, unless my husband comes home early and takes a peek out there and calls me if there is trouble. Another risk, but I can’t take a third week of vacation for Newman’s lambs!

So, now, waiting with baited breath to have a string of normal, healthy births; after which, I always breathe a sigh of relief and conclude this is just another normal year. Normal, with all the typical abnormalities that Mother Nature loves to throw our way!

And, as promised, to conclude, here are some happy pictures when things go well:

FirstTwinSet

SecondTwinSet

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