Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Sheep Cycles

Lambing always starts out slow. Usually a couple of ewes will drop lambs within two days of each other. (Julia's bottle lamb Cora is always one of the first. She is a fabulous mama and this year we got a ewe lamb out of her - yippee!) These are Cora's new twins - haven't they grown?

 

Then a few days later - another and another ewe will deliver. After the first initial slow batch, about two to three weeks after the first, the ewes begin lambing in droves. This has to do with how the sheep "cycle." Sheep come into estrus (meaning they become fertile) in mid to late summer when the days are starting to get noticably shorter. They cycle every 16 or 17 days meaning that if they don't get pregnant with the first breeding, they have a second chance in another 16 or 17 days from the first cycle - and then again. This year our first lamb arrived December 27. That is 13 days ago from today.

Now for all you women out there and I am assuming most of you are women reading this, remember how you and your sisters all got your period at the same time? Or all your girlfriends on your college dorm floor all were synchronized. That is the power of nature, even though humans kind of forget that we humans are nature too. Our ewes synchronize themselves and the boys get busy. 


Sheep are pregnant for 5 months. The only way we can tell if a ewe is fertile is if the ram is following around a ewe and then mounting her. That's it - the only outward sign of fertility. This year we used four different rams. I'll try to catch photos of each of the boys over the next couple of days. The rams are still in with the ewes now. They walk around like most men do at a party or after a family holiday dinner - wandering around, not knowing exactly what to do because their job is done - they can't care for the young - they don't have the equipment. They just lie around, take naps, and snack on hay. Sound familiar? Sorry - couldn't resist. I must say, as I have spent time with sheep over the years, I constantly find similarities to humans. It's kind of funny and not - all at the same time.

On Sunday, we began experiencing the results of the synchronized estrus I just wrote about. Lambs, lambs, lambs. I think we have already lost count. Not good - oh well. Maybe we can catch up. 

A new set of twins born outside

The Farmer bringing a set of twins and mama into the barn
We are trying to get them all to survive but it just isn't possible. Some are not viable, some mamas can't deliver. Stuff happens. We do our best but we do not call the vet in. There is not enough money in this sheep business to pay a vet. If a sheep can't do her job, we have a 22. It's always a bit sad but I have gotten over it. Stuff happens. Life goes on. Lambs will be born and lambs and ewes will not make it. Life on a farm is not pretty a vast majority of the time. It is just the way it is. We do our best.

Off to the barn to feed the bottle lambs and see what else awaits.

13 comments:

Melissa Morgan-Oakes said...

Realistic farming. You mean your sheep don't live on trust funds? ;)

MarmePurl said...

Realistic indeed. I do love your no nonsense-tell-it-like-it-is approach.

sheepyhollow said...

You describe life on a farm perfectly. It's not all glam, and too often heart-wrenching, but you learn to cope and trust in God... and I love it! Thanks for sharing. ;)

knitski said...

I do love your honesty since, I spent a lot of time working on a farm in high school. As I saw death on a farm whether it was for the the dinner table or birth it was an eye opener. Thank you for opening up the gate to the farm . . . for all!

Adaliza said...

Stuff certainly happens, for all of us with animals. I lost my horse when he was just 6 and though I could have kept him as a pet, a very lame pet, that wasn't a life he'd have enjoyed or I could afford. Maybe it's my farming roots 'cos I think it's hard but realistic. Money doesn't grow on trees! You look as though you're all working so hard to give your creatures all the help they deserve - in every sense. Hope the weather stays kind for you all.

Lex said...

That is a very realistic way to look at the farming business. I hope you don't have too many losses this year.

Mimi Foxmorton said...

Thanks for sharing that.......

(And those lambies are just right for snuzzling!)

:)

meppybn said...

Yep, that's life indeed on a farm! Kudos to you for keeping it real, Kristen - hope weather is mild and losses are minimal, tho :) :)

Nancy K. said...

One of the reasons I chose Shetland sheep to raise is because they are a Primitive breed and very hardy. I've raised Shetlands for over ten years and never lost a ewe or lamb at lambing. Some breeds just have an easier time of lambing and primitive lambs are up and nursing within minutes ~ if not seconds! I don't think I could have stuck with raising sheep if loss of lambs and ewes was a normal part of the process. I do respect that for most "real" farmers, it is a part of the cost of doing business.

Leslie said...

It's life. Meat doesn't come on Styrofoam trays. Vets aren't always affordable or obtainable. You do what must be done and soldier on.

mascanlon said...

And thats part of the real live on a farm, as you said, sad but true.

Anonymous said...

Ugh! I'm such a city girl. I googled "have a 22" trying to understand the metaphor. It took a few searches before I realized it wasn't a metaphor, but a statement of fact. The most pitiful thing: I'm married to a cop/hunter and I work with a gun manufacturer.

But yes, what everyone else said: there is no deluding yourself about life and death on a farm.

Danielle said...

Wow, great blog! Here I was idealizing your life with these cute lambs and border collies. I was envisioning every challenging birth being supervised closely by a vet. Amazing what we project onto things we haven't a clue about. Thanks for the reality check and for giving me some insight into your day-to-day life.