Monday, February 18, 2008

Yea, Heavy and a Bottle of Bred

Icelandics, like other "primitive" sheep breeds are seasonal breeders. No mid-winter lambsicles for them. They come into season once a year, in November or so, and by February, they are no longer in any sort of mood. It’s February now, down to the wire for this year, and as we have two seasons’ lambing under our belts (so to speak), Dan and I know enough to expect that this is the time for the serious doubts to kick in. Are there really lambs growing under all that lovely fleece? The answer should be simple. Take one ram, one group of ewes, plunk ‘em down in the same pasture and viola! Lambs! Right? Well…. Probably.

Last year, it didn’t quite work that way. Our beautiful ram lamb, Diego, um, didn’t. And we ended up with four (Four!) unbred ewes come spring.

Gus, our former (dangerous) ramly ram, was as reliable as they come. But he is gone now and in his place are three unproven ram lambs.

Before long, we began to worry about both Charlie and Harry. It seems strange to worry over the virility of a sheep but, hey, this is part of the deal as far as we can tell. A lot is riding on those rams getting in the mood. Unfortunately, both Charlie and Harry seem positively placid—no lip curling, pacing or chasing from them, just a lot of happy, lazing nibbling and poking around in the snow (The sheep equivalent of couch surfing with a bag of chips, near as I can tell).

Now, likely this is because their ewes are already “in lamb” so to speak.... and, to be fair, there was some of that macho ramly stuff early on) But how to know? Especially, when Copper and Leela seem to be giving that “come hither” look, parking themselves in front of said rams and wagging their tails madly. More worrisome yet, Bombadil (The supercute little polled guy) seemed to be taking an interest in them from across the fence. But Harry? Nada. Charlie? Zip-o.

So, Dan and I thought we’d hedge our bets a little. If Leela wasn’t bred by now, we reasoned, Harry wasn’t the ram for her. And Leela, she of the beautiful luxurious fleece, must lamb to pass that wonderful fleecy trait on! Last year, she was one of the disappointing unbred four I mentioned earlier. So we decided it might be worthwhile to scramble around in the snow and ice until we managed to catch Leela and put her in with Bombadil’s group. This involved a lot of shaken grain buckets, slipping, sliding and cussing. It also isn’t the best of arrangements because Leela is horned and Mr. B is polled. But we figured better a scurred lamb with a beautiful fleece than no lamb at all. And we’ll be able to tell who the lamb-daddy is by the date (and horn situation).

We tried to put matriarch Copper (Below) in with Mr. B as well, but she was having none of it. When he came over to check her out, she knocked him clear across the feed trough! And she kept at it. It was clear she was not about to allow any little pipsqueak so much as nuzzle. We figured it wasn’t worth an injury to leave the two of them together, and carted Copper back to Harry’s pen.

In a perfect world, all the original pairings “took” and we will have a nice crop of lambs come spring. In the worst of all possible outcomes, our ram lambs were just too mellow or whatever to bother and we’ll get no lambs at all come spring. Likely, the outcome will be somewhere in the middle. Short of expensive ultrasounds, we’ll just have to wait and see. This is one of those things they just don’t tell you about in shepherding school: The anxious wait and hope and hope some more of late winter.

Here are the three "Ramboys", Bombadil, Harry and Charlie Bucket, before the breeding season began:


Susanna Donato said...

Very interesting! We were just at an Icelandic farm this weekend, where the shepherd was saying, "We HOPE these ladies are pregnant!"

Christy said...

I hope you get some babies!