Sheep Anxiety


I have no lambs yet. This is making me very, very nervous. In fact, when I think about it too much I feel a little sick.

Lucy and I drive to Florida in three weeks and a day. I need all the lambs safely born, up, and nursing vigorously before I go. Though I have seven fat pregnant ewes, none of them has yet developed that “any minute” waddle. I’m very afraid that some of the ewes may still be carrying when I have to leave town.

How did this happen? Now, when I consider the matter, it seems obvious but unfortunately last fall I was not mentally firing on all cylinders.

All I knew was that between family crises and the terrible drought, last spring and summer had been grueling on every front, and I was forced to drastically downsize my livestock population. Lucy’s horse Birch had to go to a new home. My cattle herd would be halved and the sheep flock cut by more than two-thirds — from 32 to 9. (In the end I kept a ewe lamb that I hadn’t intended to; I now have seven adult ewes and three ewe lambs. I also have Birch, whose scheduled departure was cancelled by Hurricane Sandy.)

In all the sadness and sheer drudgery of trying to find good new homes — and arranging for slaughter — for so many creatures of whom I was so very fond, I had no time, wit, or financial resources to buy a new ram for fall breeding. I made the decision that I would simply breed all the ewes to a strapping ram lamb I’d already sold that was awaiting pick-up in early November.

To sweeten the deal for buyers, I told them they could leave their purchased ewes at my place until that time, which would give the ewes their best chance at being bred by departure. I knew that by committing myself to an extra six weeks of feeding, I was eliminating any possibility of profit, but a happy future for those girls was my top priority. A similar calculation went on with my heifer sale.

In juggling all the dates, numbers, advertisements, and sales inquiries, I forgot one thing.

The ram was a teenager.

So although the sheep were disporting themselves happily from early September when the ewes first came into season, it is clear now that despite his size and enthusiasm, the ram was then too young to be fertile. As the saying goes, he was “firing blanks.”

I should have thought of this possibility, especially as it was my top concern as I bred the heifer to my young bull (I even brought up the question of the bull with my vet, who said, “Don’t insult him so! He’s a beauty!”) Unfortunately the issue didn’t cross my mind with the sheep. I have always put my ram into the flock by September 8 — and this year was no different except for that one, teeny, tiny, (oh, dear) crucial detail.

Therefore, my ewes were bred later. How much later? I do not know. But if I did not want any possibility of births during our vacation away, I should have removed my “keeper” ewes from the ram by October 9.

I did not do this. The ram was removed November 1.

Thus: Sheep Anxiety.

There is of course nothing I can do but hope and pray those seven ewes go into labor and deliver their lambs in the next twenty-one days.


One Response to Sheep Anxiety

  1. Jessika says:

    I have used a teenage ram 2 years in a row now and both times it has seemed that they settled the ewes a month after I put them with the ewes. I got 4 East Friesian ewes and a E.F. ram this year to add to my 3 Island/ Icelandic sheep. Jessika

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