The sheep are shorn! Yesterday felt like a long day. It was a wise decision for me to forego worming and hoof-trimming.
After driving Lucy to her ski race, walking the dogs, turning the cows out, and mucking the barn, just standing for 3.5 hours at Roger’s elbow — ready to take the clippers or pass them back (“Scalpel!” “Yes, doctor!”), bag fleeces, and rake up dirty wool tags — was about all I could manage between bouts of coughing and sneezing.
Roger is always quiet, patient, and calm. He seems to hold the sheep effortlessly, and even the frightened yearlings who’ve never been shorn usually relax under his hands. After he sheared Royal, my big ram, he kindly trimmed his feet. (I’ll trim the rest when I’m feeling better.)
As each sheep was shorn, I slipped over her/his head a collar and nametag. These are hard rubber neck straps from the Netherlands (61¢ each, but shipping from Europe brings them to $3) and nylon neck tags from Ketchum Manufacturing ($2.10 each). Ewes have black tags, rams red. I could have purchased simple numbered tags for $1.10, but I spent the extra $1 apiece to have my sheep’s names engraved. This was a frivolous expenditure on my part, and one I’m glad I made some months ago, as dollars are so tight I could not justify it now.
I’ve always wanted my sheep to have nametags. Many years ago a big breeder on our sheep list wrote contemptuously of “backyard breeders with six sheep with names.” I have eleven sheep, and they all have names. My hope is that my ewes will stay with me for a decade. I see them every day for years. Of course they have names.
They also all have eartags, and I can remember their numbers (“11, that’s Cider”) and most of their faces. But nothing is as easy for me as reading. So this is another of my experiments. I’m not sure it will work. The collars are snug on my bigger ewes even without a wool coat. We shall see.
Meanwhile, with the heavy wool removed I was shocked to find that the three ewes that I assumed were due to give birth any day have no udder development. In my records, Magnolia, Petunia, and Larch were all bred in early October and potentially multiple times after (the repeated blue smudges that made me lose track last fall). What could be going on?
It’s a mystery. I have never had such a long and strange lambing season. My ewes almost always become pregnant on their first breeding. Magnolia has twinned every year since she was two. Petunia had triplets last year.
What was different this year? I could only think of three things.
- The girls spent the summer grazing on the farm, rather than at Betty’s.
- I supplemented them with alfalfa pellets.
- The hay I bought last fall from Rick (“I’m giving you second-cut for the same price as first-cut, and you know why? Because you’ve been such a good customer for so many years!”) turned out to be 1/4 inedible chicory stalks.
But would any of these have affected Royal’s fertility or the ewes’ conception?
I have now researched all three variables and have discovered that feeding legumes — alfalfa is a legume — can reduce conception rates. I fed alfalfa pellets through the end of October. Sigh. My mother used to quote my grandfather: “Live and learn, die and forget it all.” (I’ve never been sure of the exact meaning of this motto but have always found it vaguely comforting.)
It’s possible that these three girls and even one of my ewe lambs, all of whom had blue crayon marks, were bred again successfully in November or December. It could be that they are pregnant now, and due at the end of April or even early May. Who knows?
I imagine they know. But they can’t tell me.