Monday, November 29, 2010

The Old Switcheroo

We were very careful this year with our rams and our ewes. Red is related to half our flock, as in paternal relations. It would be no good to breed him to his daughters and granddaughters, especially when our vet-in-training is trying to improve the herd, not create freaks of nature.

But, as the saying goes, "the grass is greener on the other side" and Red and Duke (our other ram) decided, just for an afternoon, to pull a switcheroo and mess with Annie's charting. Really, it didn't seem quite fair since the girl had gone to all the trouble of keeping good records and having a plan.

People in the know (that would be those who have raised or been around sheep) will nod their heads in sympathy and understanding. "That's a ram for you!" "Always messing with the system." "Doesn't follow the rules, only the ewes." "It's all about the ewes." "What a bunch of hussies!" (That last comment would be mine)

We keep our rams in with the girls usually for about two months. At six weeks, we were feeling good about our system. At six weeks and a day, we almost didn't have a system. It was only about four hours that the flock intermingled when the gate popped open. Except it wasn't obvious until feeding time when it seemed there were way too many ewes in Duke's group. At which point it became an overnight slumber party, because I had left the feeding until almost dark and I couldn't tell one ewe from another. No one seemed to mind.

Annie came home late from work. I almost couldn't choke out what had happened over at the barn. No, I couldn't separate them in the dark. No, I wasn't sure how the gate had popped open. No, I had no idea when this had actually happened except sometime before feeding.

The next morning we scanned the crowd. The sheep weren't inclined to gather back in their original groupings. We cut Red out of the flock and shuffled him back into the barn field. A few of the ewes followed him and we had to hope these were the original group because, without getting right on top of them to see their ear tag numbers, we could only tell if they 'sort of' looked like his original harem.

We did the math. Everything lamb born before 4/29/2011 could be predicted. Those born for at least two weeks after were a crap shoot for the 'who's your daddy' prize. Just like last year, we were going to have to look for droopy ears and white and black coloring to tell if the daddy was Duke. Small ears and brown coloring - probably Red.

Our records are better than they ever have been and I suspect that most breeding records have some guesses in them. Sheep can be relentless when they want to get somewhere and fencing and gates are merely an inconvenience that will wear down with time. The baling twine breaks. The fence wire pops. And, soon enough, there is the mingling of sheep in a late season romp. All in the name of the lambs.

Photos:(top) Piglet (couldn't find a duo photo with Duke) and Red in their 10-month-a-year retirement pasture; (bottom) eager young rams (before they were sent off to graze the power lines in WA)

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