Thursday, February 5, 2009
I'm hearing this question quite a bit these days, from the kids as they tug on their snowpants and boots, from the chickens (more or less...) as they huddle inside their crowded coop waiting for me to come defrost their water bowl, from the sheep who-- although well equipped for snow-- seem pained by hay rations and limited mobility.
It has been a long, hard winter. Most of the pasture is under more than two feet of snow-- a hard, crusty snow-- and the temperature was a miserable 4 degrees this morning.
Yup, I'll admit I'm a bit of a whiner when it comes to winter. I procrastinate like crazy, futz with snow pants and snow boots and gloves, take another few sips of coffee, stoke the fire in the woodstove, anything to avoid the grip of the wind outside.
Funny thing: Once outside, I love it. I lean on the fence just like in summer and watch the ewes chow down, the ramboys tussle, the dogs attempt to dig out the deermice that scamper under the snow. It's really not so, so bad....
This winter, we've been preoccupied with the usual questions:
Are the ewes bred?
Is our nutritional program adequate?
We hope so. But the internal workings of the flock are, as always, a bit of a mystery. We worry when Charlie and Bombadil (Now back together in an adjoining pasture) curl their lips in ramly romance as a ewe angles by. Is she just teasing them a little, or is she hoping that perhaps she can entice one of them over the fence for a long-delayed tryst?
Last year, we were sure that our ewes weren't pregnant at all. (We worried a lot last year) and every one of them produced a lamb or two. The year before that, half of them really weren't bred! (Due to a dominant wether in with a wimpy ram lamb, we think.)
We hope we've learned a bit from our three winters' worth of worry, but who really knows?
Also, we've been supplementing our ewes with kelp, sheep minerals and selenium yeast this year, and giving them a mix of forage extender pellets, alfalfa and a tiny bit of grain in addition to hay. Hopefully, this will result in the right nutritional combination-- not too much, which would result in birthing complications and gigantic lambs and not too little which would result in birthing complications and tiny lambs.
The most frustrating part is that this is all instinct and guesswork. We base our program on readings, advice from fellow shepherds and hard won experience and we hope-- and hope and hope!-- for an easy spring.
Posted by Perri at 9:52 AM