Sunday, December 9, 2007

Coming Soon to a Barn Near You:

Dan and I finally got all the sheep into their breeding groups last week. It took quite a lot in the way of shoring up fences and jerry-rigging shelters, hay feeders and whatnot. Everybody is squared away and showing that ol' interest: the rams curling their lips and tapping the ewes ever so gently with their forelegs, the ewes wagging their tails and peeing so fetchingly. Ahhhh, sheep love!

We've learned a lot in our first two years of shepherding (At least we like to think so) and I'd like to think this will be our break-out year for breeding and lambing. We'll see... Farming has a way of humbling such lofty dreams!

Our first year, we were utter newbies with two ewes (Copper and Daisy) a ram and a wether. The plan was to separate Daisy, as she was still a "ewe lamb" and we'd read that there could be all kinds of complications. We'd planned on wether, Franklin, hanging out with her throughout the breeding season. Sure. No problem, right? Well, November came, and we didn't have our separate living arrangements arranged and Gus, being the big ramly ram that he was, took the matter out of our hands. Contrary to popular wisdom, Daisy had no difficulty lambing at all. In fact she did it out in the pasture mid-April and just got up and went on with things like a pro. (If only I'd started out mothering half as competently. My first few days were more like this: "Do I really have to leave the hospital and go home now? What will I do with this child? Who will take care of me?") Anyway, that first year, Daisy did alright, and Copper had a lovely set of twins as well. We felt like such successful shepherd that year. What pros! We were sure we could do any farming thing. Lambs? Hey, no problemo!

Well, the next year was quite a reckoning. We had 6 ewes and figured on up to 12 lambs. "Quite a crop," we told our friends and neighbors. "We'll be 'Lamb Central' come spring!" Hah! Ya see, there were some issues that year. First our new ram, Diego, died while we were on vacation. We think it happened when he and Franklin were sparring (As I've mentioned in "Don't Need a Wether, Man", Franklin isn't keen on breeding activity going on under his watch.) and, little did we know, none of the ewes in with Diego ended up being bred. Gus' group had issues of its own. Louise, our super flighty ewe, miscarried at the very top of lambing season. I was home alone (of course!) trying to squeeze in my farm chores while readying the kids for school when I discovered her halfway through the miserable process. I'll spare you the details. Suffice it to say, it was not a positive experience, and I spent all day re-learning and revisiting pregnant ewe care. I called Barb Webb, an amazing resource, and wrote to the Homesteaders discussion group and generally, wrung my hands. Copper had a single ram that year. Then Snazzy had a tiny (I mean TINY!) lamb that seemed, to my inexperienced eyes, like the most vulnerable creature on Earth. Of course, I was home alone for that as well, and fretted over whether the teeny thing was getting any milk and whether Snazzy, an inexperienced and obviously perplexed new mom, would develop a clue. But it worked out okay somehow. Lastly, Daisy, who had lambed with ease as a yearling, ended up with complications. Dan was home with me for that one (Thank God!) and I'll have to write that whole story down one of these days. It is pretty amusing (in retrospect) Suffice it to say: not fun. Not fun at all. Little James did survive however. And all's well that end's well. right? All together, Dan and I got a good dose of "just about everything that can go wrong" that lambing season and our confidence was shaken. Who said lambing was a piece of cake anyway?

So now, with two years under our belts, we are hopeful and eager for a nice crop of lambs. Five of our ewes will be first time moms and two are old pros. We are upping the selenium in our minerals this year and adding kelp. We are making those ewes WALK to their hay rather than delivering it closeby. We are hoping all the things we learned in the last two seasons have prepared us for whatever will happen in this one.

And so, with hopes a flyin' and oodles of drum rolls, I present our three fine breeding groups:

In group one, the polled group, we have mellow Bombadil, our black gray ram lamb with an amazing fleece and interesting black gray coloring. Bombadil is long bodied and broad and we like him lots. Lots.

Bombadil is hanging with Maya, she of the fine, cinnamon/rusty fleece and subtle mouflon patterning...
and Louise, queen of "structure", also long-bodied and broad, (though a bit of a basket case personalitywise). and Acorn and Penny (big broad ewes with Jager and AI bloodlines) Also, Acorn has the sweetest temperment ever!

In group two, we have Harry, a black mouflon ram lamb with great fleece and meaty build. Harry's horns are not terrific (too small and close) and we may not keep him very long, but we'd like to add his genetics to our flock. He has AI blood (Kostur) and the longbodied build we are breeding for.

Harry's hangin' with Copper our veteran ewe, and the most sensible sheep ever. Copper is white, but "white" doesn't really describe the beautiful oatmeal tint of her fleece. All her lambs have been fast growing and well built.

and Leela, a badgerfaced moorit ewe with one of the nicest, most terrific fleeces we've seen. It is highly crimpy and that warm oatmeal color.

And lastly, we are trying our hand at linebreeding. We have Charlie Bucket, a calm, beautiful, fast growing and super parasite resistant ram lamb

with Daisy, Copper's daughter, also with a nice broad build and a terrific personality (as sheep go)

So there you have it folks. With any luck, we'll have 7-14 lambs-- in a sheepy rainbow of colors and patterns-- come spring.

(And if you want more specific information about any of these wonderful Icelandics, feel free to visit the business end of the enterprise ant


Christy said...

Your sheep are so beautiful! And I really enjoyed your webpage. I'm going to try to learn to spin and felt, if it goes well, I may be interested in getting some wool from you.

P said...

Thank you. They are lovely, if I do say so myself :)

Icelandic fleece felts beautifully. (I've been told it spins great as well, though I can't get the hang of spinning enough to vouch for it myself). We are expecting a bunch of fleece back from the mill any day now. I'd be glad to send you a sample to play with.


Christy said...

Oh, that would be so cool. I'll email you my address. I'm getting a drop spindle and a needle felting kit for Christmas so I'm looking forward to trying it all out. It seems if we are going to raise sheep, I should learn how to do stuff with the wool.